Read Stones Into School Online

Authors: Greg Mortenson

Tags: #Non-Fiction, #Historical, #Biography, #Autobiography, #Memoir

Stones Into School

To the noble people of Afghanistan and Pakistan

and to the 120 million school-age children in the world

who are deprived of their right of education



Who's Who

Ali, Haji
: Greg Mortenson's first mentor and chief of Korphe village, Pakistan; passed away in 2001

Ali, Jahan
: Granddaughter of Haji Ali and Central Asia Institute's first female student to graduate from high school

Ali, Niaz
: Spiritual leader of the Kirghiz in the Wakhan, Afghanistan

Ali, Twaha
: Haji Ali's son and father of Jahan; from Korphe, Pakistan

Al-Zawahiri, Ayman
: Egyptian physician; second in command of Al Qaeda

Baig, Faisal
: Wakhi elder from Charpurson Valley, Pakistan, and the CAI's security manager

Baig, Nasreen
: CAI student from Charpurson Valley who is now studying to be a maternal health-care worker

Baig, Saidullah
: The CAI's manager in Charpurson Valley, Pakistan

bin Laden, Osama
: Saudi Arabian leader of Al Qaeda who is now either in hiding or dead

Bishop, Tara
: Greg Mortenson's wife and a psychotherapist

Boi, Tashi
: Village chief of Sarhad, in the Wakhan Corridor, Afghanistan

Chabot, Doug
: Climber, avalanche expert, and CAI volunteer

Chabot, Genevieve
: CAI scholarship program manager; married to Doug Chabot

Chaudry, Shaukat Ali
: Former Taliban member, now a teacher in the CAI girls' school in Azad Kashmir, Pakistan

Dostum, General Rashid
: Uzbek ethnic leader based in Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan

Ghani, Dr. Ashraf
: Former minister of education of Afghanistan

: CAI Afghan student killed by a land mine in 2003 at the age of twelve

Hoerni, Dr. Jean
: Silicon transistor pioneer and cofounder of CAI with Greg Mortenson; passed away in 1997

Hosseini, Khaled
: Physician, philanthropist, and best-selling author of The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns

Hussain, Aziza
: First maternal health-care worker in Charpurson Valley, Pakistan

Ibrahim, Haji Mohammed
: Shura (elder) leader from Uruzgan Province, Afghanistan

Karimi, Wakil
: CAI manager for Afghanistan

Karzai, Hamid
: President of Afghanistan

Khan, Abdul Rashid
: Amir (leader) of the Kirghiz people in the Wakhan Corridor, Afghanistan

Khan, Sadhar
: Tajik leader in Badakshan who was CAI's first supporter in the region

Khan, Sarfraz
: CAI's remote areas project manager; from Pakistan

Khan, Shah Ismael
: Pir (leader) of the Wakhi people in Afghanistan

Khan, Wohid
: Badakshan border security commander in Afghanistan

Kolenda, Colonel Christopher
: Former commander of Forward Operating Base (FOB) Naray and currently a key U.S. military strategist in Afghanistan

Kosar, Parveen
: The first female high school graduate in the Wakhan, and now a maternal health-care worker there

Leitinger, Christiane
: Director of Pennies for Peace

McChrystal, Major General Stanley
: Commander of ISAF (and U.S.) military forces in Afghanistan; proponent of counterinsurgency methodology

Massoud, Ahmed Shah
: Tajik military commander called the Lion of the Panjshir for his role in driving out the Soviets; assassinated by al Qaeda on September 9, 2001

Minhas, Suleman
: CAI's Punjab Province manager, based in Islamabad; formerly a taxi driver

Mirza, Colonel Ilyas
: Retired Pakistani military aviation officer and general manager of Askari Aviation, a civil aviation charter company

Mohammed, Mullah
: Former Taliban bookkeeper and CAI accountant for the entire Wakhan region

Mortenson, Amira and Khyber
: Children of Greg Mortenson and Tara Bishop

Mortenson, Christa
: Younger sister of Greg Mortenson; passed away in 1992 when she was twenty-three

Mortenson, Irvin “Dempsey” and Jerene
: Greg Mortenson's parents

Mughal, Ghosia
: CAI student from Azad Kashmir

Mullen, Admiral Mike
: Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff and the military leader who inaugurated a CAI girls' school in Afghanistan in July 2009. Married to Deborah.

Musharraf, Pervez
: President of Pakistan from 1999 to 2008; former Pakistani army chief of staff

Myatt, Major General Mike
: Former commander of the Marine Expeditionary Force who led the invasion into Kuwait

Najibullah, Mohammed
: Afghanistan's communist leader and former president; killed by the Taliban in 1996

Nicholson, Major Jason
: U.S. military officer based at the Pentagon

Olson, Admiral Eric
: SOCOM commander of the combined U.S. Special Forces. Admiral Olson and his wife Marilyn are advocates of girls' education and introduced Mortenson to several senior military commanders

Omar, Mullah
: Afghan Pashtun tribal leader of the Taliban; thought to be hiding in Quetta, Pakistan

Parvi, Haji Ghulam
: CAI's Pakistan-based manager and accountant, who has overseen the establishment of over fifty schools

Petraeus, General David
: U.S. CENTCOM commander. It was from his wife, Holly, that General Petraeus first learned about Three Cups of Tea.

Rahman, Abdullah
: Former medical librarian and CAI driver in Afghanistan

Razak, Abdul
: Former expedition cook from Baltistan; eldest CAI employee; also known as Apo (old man)

Sen, Amartya
: 1998 winner of the Nobel Prize in economics

Shabir, Saida
: Headmistress of Gundi Piran girls' school in Pattika, Azad Kashmir, Pakistan, which was destroyed by the 2005 earthquake

Shah, Zahir
: King of Afghanistan who fled to Italy in 1973 and returned to Afghanistan after 9/11, remaining there until his death in 2007

Shaheen, Farzana
: CAI student in Azad Kashmir, Pakistan

Sipes, Jennifer
: CAI's operations manager in Montana



The muddled war in Afghanistan is now in its eighth year, and has become the most urgent foreign policy challenge facing President Obama. Against a backdrop of rising conflict, respected think tanks like the Atlantic Council have published reports calling Afghanistan a failing state. The country indeed faces enormous problems: a violent, spiraling insurgency that is hampering the rule of law and developmental efforts, the growth of record crops of poppies, extreme poverty, criminality, homelessness, joblessness, lack of access to clean water, continuing problems with the status of women, and a central government that has struggled to protect its people and provide basic services.

But there are success stories as well in post-9/11 Afghanistan, and the most meaningful of them is education. If we accept the premise that education is the key to achieving positive, long-lasting change in Afghanistan, then it is impossible to overstate how encouraging it is that this year nearly eight and a half million children will attend school in Afghanistan, with girls accounting for nearly 40 percent of enrollment.

No one understands this better than Greg Mortenson, the founder of 131 schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan that provide education to nearly 58,000 students. No one grasps better the profound impact and ripple effect of even one child's education. And, arguably, no single individual or organization has done more to advance the American cause in Afghanistan than Greg Mortenson, a courteous, soft-spoken man who with his genial smile and warm handshake has shown the U.S. military how the so-called battle for the hearts and minds is fought. And how it is won.

Greg's philosophy is not complicated. He believes quite sincerely that the conflict in Afghanistan will ultimately not be won with guns and air strikes, but with books, notebooks, and pencils, the tools of socioeconomic well-being. To deprive Afghan children of education, he tells us, is to bankrupt the future of the country, and doom any prospects of Afghanistan becoming someday a more prosperous and productive state. Despite fatwas issued against him, despite threats from the Taliban and other extremists, he has done everything he can to make sure that this does not happen.

Very crucially, he has spearheaded efforts to educate girls and young women. Not an easy task in a region where parents routinely keep their daughters out of school and where long-standing cultural traditions have deprived women of the right to education. But in village after village, Greg has reached out to religious leaders and elders to help convince parents to send their girls to school. This is because Greg believes, as I do, that if Afghanistan has any chance to become a more prosperous nation, it will require the full engagement of its women as part of the process. And for that to happen, women have to be given access to schools, and their education has to be one of the corner-stones of national reconstruction and development. As he says repeatedly, mantralike, “If you educate a boy, you educate an individual, but if you educate a girl, you educate a community.”

Lastly, Greg has done all this with charm, grace, patience, and unfailing humility. He has listened carefully, built relationships with village leaders based on trust and respect, and involved people in shaping their own future. He has taken the time to learn the local culture--courtesy, hospitality, respect for elders--and to understand and appreciate the role Islam plays in people's daily lives. No wonder the U.S. military has recruited Greg as a consultant on how to fashion better relationships with tribal leaders and village elders. They have a lot to learn from him. We all do.

Tashakor, Greg jan, for all you do.


Author of the international best sellers

The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns


Every leaf of the tree becomes a page of the Book

Once the heart is opened and it has learnt to read


Nasreen at home in Zuudkhan village, Pakistan

In September of 2008, a woman with piercing green eyes named Nasreen Baig embarked on an arduous journey from her home in the tiny Pakistani village of Zuudkhan south along the Indus River and down the precipitous Karakoram Highway to the bustling city of Rawalpindi. The three-day trip--first on foot, then on horseback, and later by jeep and bus--took Nasreen, her husband, and their three small children from the sparsely populated Charpurson Valley, in the extreme northern part of Pakistan, directly into the heart of the Punjab, home to more than eighty-five million people. With the exception of a few farming tools, most of their worldly possessions, including a Koran, were crammed into a black suitcase that was cinched together with baling twine. They also carried a bulging burlap sack whose contents--every stitch of spare clothing they weren't wearing on their backs--were as jumbled and mixed up as the pieces of Nasreen's own story.

In 1984, at the age of five, Nasreen started attending one of the first coeducational schools to open up in the north of Pakistan, a region where women were traditionally denied the opportunity to learn reading and writing. Excelling at her classes, she distinguished herself as one of the smartest students in the school until 1992, when her mother unexpectedly died of pneumonia and Nasreen was forced to abandon her studies in order to care for her blind father, Sultan Mehmood, and her four siblings. Eventually her father remarried, and Nasreen's new stepmother, a woman who believed that girls had no business pursuing education, would taunt Nasreen late at night when she tried to continue her studies by the light of a kerosene lantern. “Women should work instead of reading books,” her stepmother would rail. “Books will poison your mind and you will become a worthless wife and mother!”

Nasreen didn't see it that way. During her school years, she had acquired a rather bold dream for someone with resources as limited as hers: She had resolved that one day she would become a maternal health-care provider--a profession she had first been exposed to when roving government health-care teams would make their annual rounds through the local villages. She vividly remembers the joy with which she anticipated immunization shots, just so she could interact with the workers in their white cloaks. “My favorite smell was the antiseptic they would use,” she says. “Also, I envied how they would write down all the babies' names, heights and weights, and immunization details in tidy rows in a spiral notebook.”

Fueled by her dream, Nasreen studied relentlessly, despite her stepmother's harassment. “After tending to my brothers and sisters and doing all the household work,” she recalls, “I would wait till everyone was asleep, and then late at night I would read.” She persisted in this manner until 1995 when, at the age of fifteen, she received her metric diploma--the equivalent of a high-school degree--becoming one of the first of a handful of women from northern Pakistan's Hunza region ever to do so. As the brightest student and one of the first female graduates for miles around, she was now poised to make good on her ambition.

In 1999, Nasreen was offered an annual scholarship of $1,200 by our nonprofit Central Asia Institute, a stipend that would pay her tuition, room, and board for a two-year course of study and enable her to obtain her rural medical assistant degree. With these qualifications, Nasreen could then carry her skills north over a treacherous 16,335-foot pass into the Wakhan Corridor--a remote portion of Afghanistan just a few miles north of Zuudkhan where Nasreen's ancestors originally came from and where more women die each year during childbirth than anywhere else on earth.

By this point, however, Nasreen had been betrothed to a handsome but lazy young man from a nearby village, and her mother-in-law, Bibi Nissa, feared that Nasreen's scholarship would rob her household of the new daughter-in-law's labor. Even though there were no other qualified girls in the Charpurson Valley to replace Nasreen as a scholarship candidate, Zuudkhan's tanzeem--the council of elders who decide all matters of local importance--upheld Bibi Nissa's objections and forbade Nasreen from accepting her stipend, thereby consigning her to a life of near slavery that remains the destiny of so many promising young women in the remote villages of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

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