Schools, Not Bombs: A Review of Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin and Stones into Schools by Greg Mortenson
By Hansulrich John Gerber and Myrna Frantz
Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin, and Stones into Schools by Greg Mortenson, are two titles that turn our attention to those things which make for peace. Terrorism and the wars on terror, in Iraq, Afghanistan, with repercussions in Pakistan, the Middle East and worldwide, have kept our minds and hearts troubled. Many have felt over the years that Western and especially U.S. policy and intervention is the very ingredient that is fertilizing the seedbed of terrorist mentality and preparation. The organization Voices in the Wilderness has said for years that illiteracy and lack of education create a ready potential for violence and terror. Now there are two powerful books witnessing to community development efforts that document this in a compelling and beautiful way. By reading Three Cups of Tea you learn about the beauty, culture and landscape of places hardly accessible and thought of as hiding places for terrorists. You enjoy the hospitality, and begin resonating with the joyfulness and hopes of people living basic lives, but under threat from both Western and Taliban bombs.
Three Cups of Tea serves as a bright light in the darkness of the war against terror with a simple but huge message: rather than sending troops and bombs, build schools for the people of the rugged and nearly inaccessible hills of Pakistan and Afghanistan. As a result, you will have fewer and fewer heads, hands and feet ready to join the Taliban. The issue at stake is that in a globalized world with instant communication via Satellite, and CNN and Coke everywhere, not to speak of firearms and rocket launchers, it is irresponsible to keep children from education. Emmanuel Todd has shown repeatedly the correlation between education and reduction of radical fundamentalism.
Greg Mortenson, a grown-up missionary kid and mountaineer from Minnesota, was on return from a failed attempt to climb K2 when, nearly dead, he literally stumbled onto the desperate need for elementary education. Wishing to thank his Muslim hosts who literally brought him back to life after his dangerous climb, he asked how he could help what appeared to him to be a desperately poor village. The local leader asked not for help for himself or for a change in their way of life: he asked for a school for their children. When Greg asked to see their school, he was shown a ledge on the hillside, where the children were scratching their math problems into the dirt with sticks.
Greg spent the next year of his life living out of his car in San Francisco, working full time as an ER nurse, in order to fulfill his promise to raise money for a school in rural Pakistan. He did not act nor does he argue out of ideological or political conviction. His insights and convictions come from his intimate and deeply human insight into the lives, souls, needs, and potential of the people, who are too often stereotypically viewed as violent thugs capable of the worst crimes against freedom and democracy. By first showing respect for others and their culture, and living and working with the local decision-makers of the most remote communities, Mortenson developed the non-profit Central Asia Institute as a people-to-people effort to empower the people of this region to realize their first priority--the education of all their children, including girls.
The good news in both of Mortenson’s books is this: give people schools instead of bombs. You turn the stones of the incredibly beautiful and unconquerable mountains of Pakistan and Afghanistan into schools and you end up with partners instead of enemies. If you don’t, they could easily be manipulated by terrorists, who are the only ones offering development to these communities. Instead, Mortenson, sharing his personal experiences through these two books, celebrates the strength and incredible hospitality of the region, whose residents share one cup of tea with any visitor; by two cups of tea, you are ready to do business; and if you are offered three cups of tea, you are family.
I have traveled through U.S. and Canadian airports frequently enough to understand that the titles out front of airport bookshops reflect a current mood in the air. I was struck in December 2009 that Stones to Schools was everywhere. This is good news indeed, for it means people are interested and getting the message. We can have a positive response to poverty and terrorism through supporting education and the type of development that communities choose for themselves. This broad interest in alternatives to war is the only way public policy and the Administration’s behavior will eventually change from overspending on military means to increased investment into education for the world’s children, which is essential for their ultimate survival and freedom.
Hansulrich John Gerber is a Swiss Mennonite pastor, former board chair of Church and Peace, and recently served as Coordinator of the Decade to Overcome Violence at the World Council of Churches. He also spent some time at the Mennonite Seminary AMBS in Elkart, IN. He works on issues related to violence prevention, peace building and reconciliation. He believes that violence is preventable, not unavoidable.
Myrna Frantz ('83) is a graduate of Manchester University, majoring in Peace Studies and German. She served 2 years in Brethren Volunteer Service at Church and Peace in Germany and co-organized the Marburg Peace Fest in Germany before the 2008 300th Brethren Anniversary celebration in Germany. She currently serves on the boards of Iowa Peace Network and Global Women's Project. Myrna has worked in the fields of social services with domestic violence and foster care programs, and computer programming.