Greg Mortenson Takes Lessons from Pakistan to U.S. Troops in Afghanistan

Mortenson with Schoolgirls in Lalander village, Char Asiab Valley Afghanistan.
courtesy Central Asia Institute
Chairman Joint Chiefs Of Staff Admiral Mullen and Greg Mortenson at the inauguration of a school in Panjshir valley, Afghanistan.
Courtesy of the Pentagon

Bill Clinton says he's the "the ultimate social entrepreneur."

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates quotes him to world leaders.

Special Ops troops read his book before deploying to Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq.

Pakistani schoolgirls like Shakila Khan and Aziza Hussain could call him "hero."

Greg Mortenson's been building schools for girls in Pakistan - now thriving, successful women - like Khan and Hussain for over 17 years.

Mortenson founded the Central Asia Institute (CAI) in 1996 after living in Pakistan for three years and seeing the devastating difficulties facing girls who never had a chance at educations.

Since then, 145 schools have been built and over 64,000 students - 52,000 of them girls -- have moved their educations from haphazard lessons in outdoor classrooms with dirt and stick chalkboards into real schools with qualified teachers.

Editor's note:
An April 17, 2011 "60 Minutes" report quotes multiple sources saying that some of the most inspiring and dramatic stories in Greg Mortenson's best-selling books are not true, and that Mortenson's charity, the Central Asia Institute, has spent more money in the U.S. talking about education in Pakistan and Afghanistan than actually building and supporting schools there, according to an analysis of the organization's last financial report.

Schools are built and students go to school despite the remote and turbulent surroundings. For CAI students, snow and sleet won't often deter them, but heat, gloom of night, rugged mountains, roadside bombs, occupying troops and insurgents might. Nonetheless, CAI builds the schools and students get to them.

Greg Mortenson with Afghan students in Sarhad village.
courtesy Central Asia Institute

This unparalleled success is attributed entirely to the locals in each of the 145 communities that support a school.

Mortenson champions the idea that projects anywhere are only successful when the ideas are initiated, implemented, and managed by locals.

And the only way to discover locals' ideas, encourage their implementation, and help them to manage a project? Sit down, have a cup of tea (or three), and listen.

That's how CAI's schools come about, and that's the message troops are supposed to take away from reading Mortenson's first book Three Cups of Tea.

Three Cups of Tea has become a field guide of sorts for troops' counterinsurgency efforts.

Mortenson's latest book, Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan makes a more direct appeal to counterinsurgency training with its title, but really it's a continuation of the story started in Three Cups of Tea.

Mortenson with Schoolgirls in Lalander village, Char Asiab Valley Afghanistan.
courtesy Central Asia Institute

In Stones Mortenson tells the story of CAI venturing into Afghanistan to attempt what it did in Pakistan.

Stones came out in 2009, but the story is far from over. Throughout now war-torn areas and up and down rugged mountain terrain from Afghanistan and Pakistan, girls are still denied educations.

As long as that continues, Mortenson and CAI will keep climbing towards the elusive peak that is education and empowerment for all.

"We'll get to the summit when every child in Pakistan and Afghanistan is in school," he told CBS News this week.

Hear more from Mortenson this Sunday morning on Face the Nation where he will be interviewed by CBS News Chief Washington Correspondent Bob Schieffer.