Bright and early Easter morning, my daughter, Martha, and I hopped into the car and headed for Syracuse, NY, to show her son, my youngest grandson, Adam, Syracuse University. We visited Henricks Chapel, showed Adam the Noble Room, named for my father, and visited the Dean’s office. Unfortunately, most of the buildings were closed, but we walked around, or were blown around the campus (it was cold and windy!), accompanied by the well-known artist, Scott Bennett (www.scottbennettart.com), and his daughter, Sarah. In the evening we arrived in Troy at the home of an Emma Willard classmate of mine, Nina Pattison, and spent a lovely night in her fabulous Victorian home not far from RPI and Russell Sage College. The next morning we were privileged to hear Greg Mortenson, author of Three Cups of Tea, speak to an audience filled with eager Emma Willard and RPI students and alumnae.
Many of you have read Greg’s book and are aware that his non-profit organization, Central Asia Institute, has already been instrumental in building 78 schools for children (mostly girls) in Pakistan and Afghanistan. His aim has been to build peace, one school at a time, thus breaking down barriers between cultures, and changing the world for the better. A lofty goal, which is being achieved by the hard work and dedication of thousands of people—people who are fed up with violence and know that a better future for their children starts with education.
This has not been an easy task, and is still fraught with danger in places mired in political upheaval, war, and poverty. But, Mortenson’s willingness to talk about things like hope, love, and compassion in a nonsectarian way is refreshing and appeals to people who are hungry for peace and nonviolent solutions to complex international problems. He has empowered these people to create their own solutions, giving them help along the way. I was especially moved when he said, “Don’t try to be like me. Listen to your heart. And when your heart speaks, take good notes. This will lead you in the direction of your own goals.”
Recently, Greg has talked with the military commanders who are in charge of the war in Asia and the Middle East. General Petraeus, who read his book, told Mortenson that it made him realize the importance of listening, of building relationships with the people and their communities, and of learning to respect and understand their culture. Greg’s book is now required reading for every person, from combat troops to government officials, who is deployed to Afghanistan. It says to me that our government and military are listening as well.
At the beginning of his remarks, Mortenson asked how many students talked to their grandparents, or an older relative, listened to their stories about growing up, and asked what traditions were treasured when they were young. He stressed the Importance of listening to your elders, learning from their experience, and, in turn, building a relationship that engendered respect between the generations.
Adam has been inspired by Greg’s work, especially the Pennies for Peace program started by his daughter. When Martha and I returned from Africa and told him about the Tamiha Orphanage we had visited in Tanzania, that is now caring for 100 orphans, Adam immediately started making plans to help the director, Crispen Mugarula, raise money for his new school. He put together a prospectus and handed it to Greg, who accepted it and told Adam to be in touch by email. During his presentation Greg had told the students to come up with their own projects to raise money for schools, and said that he is hoping for the establishment of an internet portal at which many organizations promoting peace through education can exchange ideas and find funding. His work is in Central Asia, but he encourages projects that lift up and educate people in all parts of the world, especially girls and women. As he said, “You educate a man, and you have one educated person. You educate a woman, and you educate a whole community.”
You may also know that Greg has been nominated for a Nobel Prize. I cannot imagine anyone who is doing more at this crucial time in history to promote peace through education than this man.
My theater report this month includes four excellent productions: Neil LaBute’s Reasons to Be Pretty; a revival of The Master Class; Michael Laurence in Krapp 39; and the amazing Janet McTeer in Mary Stuart.