Saturday, January 16, 2010

Drinking Tea...

Day 0
27 Days to The Games

Keara, Dharra, and me, with Dr. Greg Mortenson, humanitarian,and author of Three Cups of Tea and Stones into Schools. Through his work as the head of the Central Asia Institute, he has built over 130 schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Anybody who has read the New York Times Bestseller, Three Cups of Tea, will agree that Dr. Greg Mortenson is one remarkable man. He is a humanitarian and accomplished author, whose second book, Stones Into Schools, was just recently released. His speeches move audience members to tears, and inspire children to give up their worldly possessions to raise money for their peers in the Middle East. Over the past dozen years, he has risen to almost mythical status; the courageous mountaineer who got lost in Pakistan's fierce Karakoram mountain range, and ultimately found his calling. He has even drawn comparisons to "a modern day real-life Indiana Jones."

Needless to say, I was unsure quite what to expect as I settled down in a classroom at Southridge School in Surrey, a set of interview questions in front of me, and Keara and Dharra, two fellow Sharing The Dream Team members, at my side. The room was filled with a sense of excitement at the prospect of finally meeting such a heroic figure.

When Dr. Greg Mortenson finally did arrive, a good half hour late after getting lost, I can't say that Indianna Jones was the name that came to mind. Instead, he reminded me of a beloved uncle or older brother. Keara compared his peaceful demeanor to the Dalai Lama, but where the Dalai Lama has a certain fragility, Greg was more sturdy, like a giant, soft spoken, teddy bear. At over 6 feet tall, he smiled benevolently down at each of the team members, pulling out a cue card to write our names down on, so he wouldn't forget them. He also put his name down on the card, just in case.

We launched into questions on the importance of girls' education, forming relationships, and promoting peace through schools. He answered in a warm, deep voice, pulling statistics from the air and thuroughly explaining his hopes and endeavours. There was no questioning his firm belief in what he does.

Dr. Greg made it clear to us that only through education, can peace, sustainability, and health be acheived. Especially, he stressed, through education of women. He quoted an African proverb he'd learned growing up in Tanzania, "Educate a boy, and you educate an individual, but educate a girl, and you educate a community."

Partway through his first response, I found myself so fascinated in his words of wisdom, that I completely forgot to make eye contact with the camera. I was sorely dissapointed when we ran out of interview time, but thrilled when he stuck around to sign our books and get a couple photos, including one for his personal album.

After staying to watch Greg speak to a large audience about Afghanistan, Pakistan, and achieving lasting peace, I walked into the crip, sunny, air, feeling inspired. It was then, that I realized that it had been a team of three, happy, healthy, highschool-educated girls who had conducted the interview today. Thinking of this, I felt both immensely grateful for the opportunities I've had, and hopeful that girls in rural Pakistan and Afghanistan will someday share similar ones.