When your heart speaks, take good notes

Greg Mortenson, co- author of the #1 New York Times bestseller “Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace…One School at a Time” and “Stones into Schools,” visited the LKYSPP and shared his experiences as a humanitarian building schools in rural areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Mortenson’s easygoing attitude, something that he attributes to his spending his early days in rural Tanzania and his time away from big cities, is in stark contrast with the discipline he has shown in bringing education to areas where little development has taken place.

A strong advocate of education, particularly girls’ education and bridging the inequalities amongst the genders, Mortenson engaged in an open dialogue where he discussed the importance of building relations, the value of speaking with elders and learning about our past through them, the dangers of ignorance, the importance of actively listening, the effects of empowering people, and finally how all these elements have come together in his efforts to educate children. The education pedagogy promoted by Mortenson seeks to teach children how to read and write in their local languages as well as in English and Arabic. Teachers are selected from within the community and trained in teaching skills as well as the art of building an engaging curriculum. The objective is to make teachers the center of the school and to increase the community’s human capital by providing teachers with incentives to continue extended education. A conscious effort has been made to ensure that the schools play a larger role in the community, as community centers, where alongside kids managing work and education, locals can learn about household finances and receive hygiene and sanitation training. Apart from illiterates, his team of educators also involves former members of the Taliban to enable them etch out a respectable life.

Mortenson’s dialogue went beyond what could be easily extracted from his biography or gathered through reading his books. Beyond the description of how many schools and where, the definition of literacy, and the “how to train teachers” lays a foundation rooted in values and an outlook towards life that anyone could well relate to and seek to emulate. Calling Martin Luther King’s statement “Even if the world ends tomorrow, I will plant my seed today” as an inspiration, he displays a very easy and empathetic approach to the problem of poverty and says “we cannot solve others’ problems, if we have our own problems” and urges the young to build resolve and fight cynicism in pursuing their endeavours.

In a world where instant gratification seems the norm, it is important to move beyond the self-imposed short timeframes thought constraints and think long term, perhaps even in terms of generations. This of course requires patience and speaks directly to our past as well as our future, making it vital to understand our true identity and keep history alive. This led Mortenson to suggest that we bring in our elders, as speaking with them and having them offer a live transmission of knowledge, folklore, and the storytelling tradition would be most beneficial. Building on a solid understanding of our past and forging an identity that recognizes the importance of our physical, emotional, and mental wellbeing equips us better to face the future: a future in which we should exercise patience and humility and a future towards which we should head with an open mind and an open heart. We are all used to paying attention only to our rational side; perhaps we should also heed Mortenson’s suggestion: “when your heart speaks, take good notes.”

— by Andrea Restrepo Mieth and Raman Venkataramanan (MPP 09/11)

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