Gratitude for ‘Cups of Tea’ author

Editor’s note: Instead of his regular column, James P. Gray this week has decided to share a letter he sent to “Three Cups of Tea” author Greg Mortenson.

Mr. Greg Mortenson

Central Asia Institute

P.O. Box 7209

Bozeman, Montana 59771

Dear Greg,

In your travels, and carrying out your many obligations in helping to establish schools for boys and girls in Pakistan and Afghanistan, you meet many people. As such, you will probably not recall me, but I was the last person for whom you signed a copy of your latest book, “Stones into Schools,” after you gave your presentation at Freedom Fest in Las Vegas in January.

During our short time together, I tried to communicate to you my pride in what you are doing for Pakistan, Afghanistan, our great country and the world in helping to educate so many people — especially girls. This is certainly not easy in Central Asia! Now that I have finished reading your new book, I am even more in awe of your accomplishments.

Not only has your Central Asia Institute been successful in building schools and educating people, you have put into reality the lesson we tried to learn in the Peace Corps, which is that a project is only really successful if it can get along without you as the founder. This you demonstrated by CAI’s assistance, but without your personal involvement, in the building of its most distant school — almost literally on the roof of the world — in Bozai Gumbaz in Northern Afghanistan. Congratulations!

From my perspective, you are actually doing what other people and even governments only really dream of doing. For only modest amounts of money you are building institutions of literacy, self-confidence, self-sufficiency and global good will. In other words, like the sub-heading of your book says, you are promoting peace with books not bombs in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

To further that wonderful effort, please accept not only this enclosed financial contribution, but also my fervent thanks and best wishes. And also please receive my strong hope that you will take extra precautions for your safety in the future while you travel in these dangerous and remote areas in these difficult times!

But this letter also comes with a request. During our brief discussion, I mentioned to you my deeply felt belief that our nation’s policy of drug prohibition is literally causing almost unimaginable problems here and all around the world. Yes, many of these drugs can be harmful, but it really is the drug money that is causing the greatest harm. So I particularly noted the comments in your book about the damage inflicted by the Taliban due to the growing of the poppy flower to make opium and heroin, and the resultant problems with addictions and smuggling that come from these acts.

So my request is that you use your future presentations in part to tell people the truth as you have seen it on this subject, wherever it is. My own understanding of that truth is synthesized by a quote from Winston Churchill, who said that “If you destroy a free market, you create a black market.” From your perspective, and using your insights, please tell the world what this black market has done in Afghanistan and surrounding area, and the results you have seen.

From the deepest part of my heart, thank you again for what you have done and for what you continue to do. I know that CAI is not faith or religious-based, but nevertheless you are truly doing God’s work.

Of course, so much remains to be done. Like you say at the end of your book, today there are over 120 million school-age children on this planet who remain illiterate and are deprived of education — two-thirds of them being girls — due to gender discrimination, poverty, exploitation, religious extremism and corrupt governments.

You further tell us from your own observations that educating girls leads to increased income not only for the girls, but also for their families and nation. At the same time educating girls generally increases nutrition and sanitation and reduces the birthrate, and infant and maternal mortality. Plus, educated women are more likely to insist upon the education of their own and neighboring children — especially the daughters. And in addition, educated girls and women are more likely to stand up for themselves, resist violence, and take part in government, which, in turn, reduces violence and corruption in government.

In our military actions in the regions you serve, our government is also trying to achieve the same goals as you are, but with fewer positive results, and a great deal greater human and financial cost. Why has the Taliban not attacked the schools your organization has established? Because the elders and other leaders of those communities requested the schools to be built in the first place, and actually provided the land, labor and some of the materials for the construction. Thus, attacks on those schools are seen as an attack upon the communities themselves, and the Taliban does not want to alienate those communities. In fact, in some cases the communities have persuaded the Taliban that an attack upon the schools would be seen as an insult to Islam itself!

Greg, you have been responsible for effective and lasting positive change in one of the most difficult regions of the world. I have met you, and even with all of your success, you are truly a humble man. But in reality you are a gift to us all. So thank you again for what you are doing for the world. Bless you, and go with God!

Judge Jim Gray (Ret.)