The Girl Effect

This came across my reading/viewing list a while back, but it means more today after having listened and spoken with Greg Mortenson.

Mortenson, recently nominated by the U.S. Congress to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, was an one of those figures you just jump at the chance to meet and talk to. What strikes you immediately about him is his supreme lack of urgency about his time. Here he was, scheduled to catch a flight to take him to a flight to Afghanistan, yet he sat and gave pictures and autographs, a 30 minute interview with three educational bloggers, and then signed over 50 books for people at the conference. He joked to us that he is notorious for missing flights, and I can see why.

His chronicle of his life since 1992, the New York Times bestseller Three Cups of Tea, continues to change the mindsets of those who read it. It details his experiences after a failed attempt to summit Mt. Godwin-Austin, known more commonly as K2. Upon his descent and exodus from the region, he happened upon a village name Korphe. After resting and taking in the hospitality of the villagers, he discovered the schoolchildren there both lacked a school and a teacher. He described the moment in which an elder of the village had passed away and he was visiting his grave site. That elder had given him one piece of advice before dying: “Listen to the wind.” And so he did.

What he heard were the voices of the children in the village of Korphe, and that changed everything. He promised those villagers and those children that he would return and build them a school.

That same wind carried him back to build that school, and several others since then.

Individuals like Mortenson astound me. Meeting him and finding him so relaxed, calm, and giving was a revelation. I had fully expected him to be full of energy and movement–I would expect that from someone who affects as much change in the world as he has. Yet, he was placid and warm, truly concerned about what his message was.

He spoke of girls. He spoke about why education and empowerment were crucial to creating change in the world of our children. He spoke of the real importance of schools, and not once did he mention any of the words we often use when we talk about how we want school to change here in the United States. His message involved community empowerment and the need to be patient enough to wait for change in education, or anything for that matter, because the affect may not be visible for a generation or two. That is why, he says, education is a hard sell to politicians and community leaders.

If you haven’t heard of his program, the one that ultimately worked to raise the money needed to build schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan, it’s called Pennies for Peace. Please visit the site, or if you have already heard of it, donate your little Abraham Lincoln’s to help change the world.

It’s not lost on me that for the longest time I did not think deeply about geo-political issues in the Middle East and the effects of terrorism on the world at large. Now, twice within the last week, two very influential thinkers and doers have pointed at very similar solutions to combating terrorism in the world.

And they both begin and end with two words: Education and Empowerment.


2 thoughts on “The Girl Effect

  1. Thank you, Patick, for such thoughtful commentary on meeting Greg Mortenson. His keynote today is one that will stay with me for a very long time–he truly astounds me too and inspires me to find ways to work for change.

  2. Lee Ann,

    Thanks for your kind words regarding this post. Meeting Greg was a wonderful opportunity–one that as I move further away from that day has more and more meaning.

    His demeanor was stunning. I wrote to a friend that day something to the effect that I’ve never been one to buy into the whole idea of people having “auras,” but he definitely radiated some force that was hard to ignore. I’ve never felt that from anyone else.

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