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Northern Pakistan has perhaps come to be best known to the American public as the effective refuge of Osama bin Laden, its rugged unwelcoming terrain sheltering its tribal villages from outside influence beyond the terrorist groups seeking safe haven.
But to Greg Mortensen, the region is a place to build schools and educate children who would otherwise have no nonreligious classrooms. In doing so he promotes peace and understanding starting with children.
Nearly 16 years ago, the American mountaineer found himself descending through the region's villages after a failed attempt to reach the summit of K2. As he trekked through one area, he saw children. "Why weren't they in school?" he asked. The answer was simple: there weren't any. He vowed to raise money and return to build one.
It took him three years to raise enough funds to build a school, and the village had to construct a bridge first. Now, to date, Mortensen's Montana-based Central Asia Institute has raised millions of dollars and built 78 schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
He chronicled his story in his best-selling book, Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace ... One School at a Time, which he co-authored with David Oliver Relin. Now Mortensen is launching a youth version of his book and a companion story for younger children called Listen to the Wind, which is written in the voices of the Pakistani students.
With recent U.S. interest in the region centered on military action, Mortensen's work shows there might be another way to campaign for peace. His answer is much simpler.
"What motivates me to do this?" he writes. "When I look into the eyes of my own children full of wonder — and hope that we each do our part to leave them a legacy of peace instead of the perpetual cycle of violence, war, terrorism, racism, exploitation and bigotry that we have yet to conquer."
Greg Mortensen will speak and sign books at 6 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 24, at the Huron High School Auditorium, 2727 Fuller Rd., Ann Arbor, and at 1 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 25, at the Berkley High School Auditorium 2325 Catalpa Dr., Berkley. Admission is free but space is limited. For information about Saturday's event, call the Ann Arbor District Library, 734-327-4265, and for Sunday's event, call the Book Beat, 248-968-1190.