Friday, October 13, 2017

Book Review: 'Stones into Schools' by Greg Mortenson

"And let our people also learn to maintain good works, to meet urgent needs, that they may not be unfruitful." -- Titus 3:14

Stones into Schools is a book that will change your life: Greg Mortenson impressively demonstrates that by following your heart to do what you can to help those in need, much can be accomplished . . . far beyond your wildest dreams.

The book is beautifully written: The structure and story-telling provide a sense of observing a heroic saga about an epic battle between ignorance and knowledge.

Most importantly, this is a book that can change the world by providing an example of seeking to listen to others, understanding them at the deepest level, selflessly helping to provide what they cannot do for themselves, and trusting that those in need will eventually take care of themselves and others like them.

I hope that many young people will read this book and decide to start up activities that follow a similar path of service to those who are being ignored . . . and need a helping hand.

If you read Three Cups of Tea, you would be foolish to miss this book. The opening briefly recounts those events (to refresh your memory if you didn't read it recently, or to fill in the gaps if you have never read it all). From there, the story mostly moves to Afghanistan as Greg Mortenson and his colleagues from the Central Asia Institute (CAI) seek to keep the promise to bring a school to what may be the most difficult location in that challenged country. If providing schools in remote locations isn't enough, CAI also had to brave the ongoing war there. The story moves into its highest gear as Mr. Mortenson recounts the horrible devastation that a major earthquake (about the same power as the 1906 quake in San Francisco) brought to the mountainous regions, wiping out almost all the schools and killing many of the students and teachers.

In telling the bigger story, you'll be astounded by the ongoing deprivations that teachers, students, and the CAI staff go through to build and support the new schools. This is beyond a labor of love: It's self-sacrifice at a high level for the good of future generations.

As the organization's size and influence have increased, Mr. Mortenson's role has increasingly focused on being the public face of CAI through the books and doing fund-raising speeches. On the ground in Asia, his colleagues have developed an astonishing ability to work wonders. I was left hoping that the organization will be able to attract even more resources so that even more can be done. What a blessing will it be when a third book can be written with a title something like "Schools into Nations."

There's another major theme here: Liberating women from ignorance. When women gain more knowledge, families and communities advance. The book is filled with practical examples of that point.

The book's title alludes to the many deaths that occurred during the last 30 years of war in Afghanistan. As one of the leaders pointed to the rocky hills around him, he noted that there had been as many deaths as there were rocks. But now, the time had come to turn those rocks into schools. In many cases, explosives were actually used to turn boulders into building material for the schools. It's a powerful metaphor that you won't forget.

As the United States ups the military force in Afghanistan, it's good to remember that you can build and staff more than 20 schools in the high mountains there for the cost of one cruise missile. I hope that we get our priorities straight. I was encouraged to read about the interest that many people in the U.S. military have in supporting development of schools in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Let's hope that is what our legacy will be there.

What can you do to help Central Asia Institute to accomplish more? The book provides answers on pages 405 and 406. Don't skip over that part.

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Donald Mitchell. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.