In the last few days the media has created a furore about Greg Mortenson’s stories. Surprisingly these are comments by people who have never been to the areas about which he writes nor have they seen the projects he has completed; they have quite unjustly tried through their negative comments to put down a great man. It seems to me that the people who have commented on the blogs about him are shooting in the dark, perhaps in the hope that they will gain some kudos. In fact the kudos should go to the one who has managed to provide hope in the lives of those so much less fortunate than us.
To me he is a courageous, honest and hard working philanthropist who has achieved amazing results through the sound practices of his Institute. I am not just supporting him for the sake of support; I have seen personally the projects he has established. I was trekking in Baltistan in 2000 where I saw Korphe, and Hushe schools with my own eyes; I talked with the locals and they were really thankful for the work he had done to enhance the lives of the young people in their area.
In Afghanistan when I was working with the Aga Khan Foundation, I visited Sarhad Broughill in 2005. I was surprised to see a well constructed and furnished school, which possessed a local cultural touch. People who have been to Afghanistan and have worked there will understand how difficult it is to initiate such a project in these remote areas and will pay their respects for what has been achieved. In Sarhad the school which was a CAI project was the first building to be constructed to a high standard ever seen in this area. I bear witness to the fact that in the spring of 2005 in the same valley of Wakhan in Afghanistan when an avalanche destroyed a school building it was the Central Asia Institute and its employees who were the first to come to support the school and the locals; the Institute provided the school with tents and later reconstructed the school building.
I have read both the books which Mortenson has written; it would appear to me that whatever he has discussed within the framework of his writings must be based on truth,that is the truth as Greg Mortenson saw at the time. Fortunately through my work and because of the time spent I have spent in Afghanistan I have met most of the people he mentioned in his books; I have been to the places he sites and have seen the projects he and his institute have completed. It is my opinion that as far as maintaining the projects or running the schools and clinics is concerned, philanthropists may give aid, establish schools, build clinics and bridges, guide and advise, but it is and will always be the responsibility of the local people to maintain the projects so that they have some sense of ‘buy in’ and so that future generations may benefit from the projects.
As far as the basis of the stories of the books is concerned, the reality of the storyline is really based on individual perception, it depends how each sees and responds to the events told. Perception is in and will always be in the eye of the beholder.
I really believe that the Central Asian Institute has done and is doing amazing work. The Institute and those it employs have made a hugely significant difference to the lives of those people who live in the remote areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan. The people who work for the Institute have an amazing sense of dedication, justice, loyalty and pride in what they do and in what they have achieved. They truly care! It is they who possess a highly developed sense of what is important, of what is right…. of what the needs of the people are. Whoever the donor agencies are it is vital to the development of these isolated areas that the Central Asia Institute and Greg Mortenson continue to be supported.
The contributor is an educationist hailing from Shimshal Valley and is currently based in New Zealand. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org