Virginia Festival of the Book--Three Cups of Tea and Greg Mortenson

The lights were bright and the theater was full, but Greg Mortenson was exactly how readers would expect him to be as he addressed 600 people in UVA’s Culbreth Hall: humble, knowledgeable, and passionate.

Standing on the Charlottesville stage was the man who lived in his car and wrote to Tom Brokaw and Oprah Winfrey on a rented typewriter. His message was consistent and steady: education is the answer to fear and ignorance.

The subtitle of his book, however, was not consistent, he noted. Publishers had to teach him “a little about book publishing” by insisting the word “terrorism” be in the subtitle of his book, not the word “peace,” as he wanted. Instead of arguing, he said he bargained like a Pakastani: if the book did not sell as well as the publisher hoped, use “peace” in the subtitle of the paperback.

The hardback sold 20,000 copies, so the publishers agreed to the new subtitle. The paperback spent 58 weeks (and counting) on the New York Times bestseller list.

“Terrorism is based in fear,” he said. “Peace is based in hope…. Three Cups of Tea gives a message of hope.”

In his presentation, he stressed the importance of educating all children — but he was sure to indicate why girls had to be in the classrooms. He cited an African proverb: "Educate a boy and you educate an individual. Educate a girl and you educate a community."

Studies show that in communities where girls are educated to the fifth grade level, infant mortality drops, “population explosions”, drop and the communities have improved basic qualities of life and health. One girl in particular made a huge difference in her community: after a health care course costing $800 (the cost of Starbucks for less than a year), she returned to her community and literally ended maternal mortality.

The benefit is as subtle as it is direct. The number of jihadists dropped in areas where women had received educations. In Muslim countries, man can go on jihad only if their mothers gave their permission — and “educated women were not allowing their sons to go on jihad,” Mortensen said.

While his good work continues, it is by no means near completion. Thousands of schools were destroyed in Pakistan in 2005 from devastating earthquakes, and more than 400 schools educating girls have been destroyed in Pakistan in the past 16 months alone. Only a fraction of them have been rebuilt. U.S.-identified terrorist organizations have built camps with “schools” that teach boys religious extremism, intolerance, and hatred. Neither Rome nor schools can be built in a day, but Mortensen’s organization, Central Asia Institute, cannot even alleviate the educational situation within the camps until the schools are built — because to do so would be aiding a U.S.-identified terrorist organization, and they would be closed down (at best). So he works as quickly as he can.

“To overcome ignorance, you have to have courage,” he told the audience. He shows courage everyday — courage evident on the stage Thursday afternoon.

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