Three Cups of Tea

by Greg Mortenson, David Oliver Relin

Troy Shu
Troy Shu
Updated at: April 24, 2024
Three Cups of Tea
Three Cups of Tea

Discover the transformative power of education through the inspiring story of Greg Mortenson's quest to build schools and empower communities in remote Pakistan. Explore the book's key insights and actionable takeaways to drive positive change.

What are the big ideas?

Transformation through Education

Greg Mortenson’s dedication to improving education in remote regions of Pakistan shows a powerful transformation from a personal passion for mountaineering to a lifelong mission centered on education and empowerment for impoverished communities. His initial focus on climbing K2 shifts toward building schools, demonstrating a profound change in priorities influenced by the experiences and hardships of the local people.

Building Bridges, Literally and Culturally

The strategic decision to construct a bridge before a school in Korphe highlights the importance of understanding and respecting local needs and cultural practices. Mortenson’s willingness to adapt his plans based on the village's priorities, rather than imposing his own ideas, fosters trust and collaboration, showing a novel approach to sustainable development.

Empowerment of Women through Education

The narrative strongly emphasizes the importance of educating girls in traditional societies like Korphe, where Greg Mortenson and the Central Asia Institute focus on breaking cultural barriers. This approach not only changes the lives of individual girls but also has the potential to transform entire communities by empowering women to take leadership roles and contribute to societal development.

Cultivating Local Relationships for Lasting Impact

Mortenson’s success is largely attributed to his deep relationships with individuals such as Haji Ali. These relationships, built on respect and mutual understanding, allow him to navigate cultural complexities and establish projects that are well-supported by the community. This method of integrating into the community before initiating projects provides a unique strategy contrasted to typical development approaches.

Leveraging Setbacks as Learning Opportunities

Throughout the story, setbacks such as funding challenges and logistical issues are turned into learning opportunities. Mortenson’s journey showcases resilience and adaptability, emphasizing that failures are not endpoints but chances to learn and grow. This insight offers a unique perspective on dealing with obstacles in any ambitious project.

Global Literacy Advocacy from Local Action

Mortenson’s story begins with a personal challenge and evolves into a global advocacy for literacy and education, particularly in regions affected by poverty and conflict. His approach of starting local, with one small school, and expanding to a broader mission illustrates a grassroots strategy that effectively addresses global issues. This method stresses the power of starting small to achieve big changes.

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Transformation through Education

Greg Mortenson's journey undergoes a remarkable transformation. Initially, his focus was on the personal challenge of climbing the formidable K2 mountain to honor his late sister. However, his experiences in the remote Pakistani village of Korphe catalyze a profound shift in his priorities.

Witnessing the children of Korphe sitting in the dirt, diligently studying without proper educational resources, profoundly moves Mortenson. He recognizes that education is the key to empowering these communities and creating lasting change. This realization sparks Mortenson's lifelong mission to build schools and provide access to quality education in impoverished regions.

Mortenson's dedication to this cause demonstrates the power of empowerment through education. By investing in the education of children, he aims to break the cycle of poverty and ignorance, ultimately fostering a more just and peaceful world. Mortenson's journey exemplifies how a personal passion can evolve into a transformative mission centered on uplifting and empowering marginalized communities.

Here are examples from the context that support the key insight of Greg Mortenson's transformation through education:

  • Greg initially set out to climb K2 mountain in order to honor his late sister Christa by leaving her amber necklace at the summit. However, after failing to reach the summit and witnessing the hardships of the local people, his priorities shifted.
  • When Greg saw the children of Korphe village sitting outside in the cold, quietly working on their lessons without a teacher, he was deeply moved. He said "I felt like my heart was being torn out...I knew I had to do something."
  • Greg made a promise to the village chief Haji Ali that he would build a school for the children of Korphe, rather than continuing his pursuit of climbing K2. This demonstrated a profound change in his priorities.
  • Greg struggled to raise funds for the school, but the support of the students at his mother's school, who collected over $600 in pennies, inspired him to keep working towards his new goal of improving education.
  • Building the Korphe school was just the beginning - Greg went on to establish the Central Asia Institute and build dozens of schools across Pakistan and Afghanistan, showing his lifelong dedication to education and empowerment.

The context shows how Greg's personal experiences and interactions with the local people transformed his priorities from mountaineering to a mission centered on providing education and opportunity to impoverished communities. His shift from an individual goal to a broader humanitarian effort is a powerful example of transformation through education.

Building Bridges, Literally and Culturally

The decision to build a bridge before a school in Korphe demonstrates the value of understanding local needs and cultural practices. Rather than imposing his own agenda, Mortenson adapted his plans to align with the village's priorities. This fostered trust and collaboration, showcasing a novel approach to sustainable development.

Mortenson could have stubbornly pushed forward with his original school-building plans. Instead, he listened to the village elders, who explained that a bridge was the more pressing need. This bridge would connect Korphe to the outside world, enabling the school supplies and construction materials to be transported. Mortenson recognized that building the bridge first was essential to making the school viable.

Mortenson's willingness to adjust his plans based on local input, rather than imposing an external vision, demonstrates cultural sensitivity and a commitment to community-driven progress. By respecting Korphe's needs and processes, he built a foundation of trust that allowed the school project to move forward successfully. This approach contrasts with top-down development models that often fail to account for on-the-ground realities.

Here are some examples from the context that support the key insight about building bridges, literally and culturally:

  • When Greg arrives in Korphe, Haji Ali tells him that before building the school, the village needs to build a bridge across the Braldu River. This shows how Greg needs to understand and respect the local priorities and needs, rather than just imposing his own plans.

  • The villagers discuss the logistics of building the bridge, including needing to blast dynamite, cut stone, and transport materials like steel cable and wood. This demonstrates the practical challenges they must overcome to build critical infrastructure.

  • Greg is initially disappointed that he can't immediately start building the school, but he decides to stay in Korphe to fully understand what is needed. This willingness to adapt his plans and learn from the community builds trust and collaboration.

  • As Greg meets with the village elders to discuss where to build the school, this represents him engaging with local leaders and integrating their input, rather than working in isolation. This cultural sensitivity is key to sustainable development.

  • The context describes how the Balti people are used to patiently waiting and overcoming challenges, like a hunter tracking a mountain goat for days. Understanding these cultural norms helps Greg appreciate their perspective.

In summary, the examples show how Mortenson needs to literally build a bridge to connect the village, but also needs to build cultural bridges by respecting local priorities, collaborating with community leaders, and adapting his plans based on the realities on the ground. This approach fosters trust and lays the foundation for sustainable development.

Empowerment of Women through Education

The book highlights how education empowers women in traditional societies like Korphe. By building schools and providing educational opportunities for girls, Greg Mortenson and the Central Asia Institute are breaking down cultural barriers that have long prevented women from reaching their full potential.

This approach has a transformative impact, not just on individual lives, but on entire communities. Educated women gain the knowledge, skills, and confidence to take on leadership roles and contribute to the social and economic development of their societies. They become agents of change, challenging outdated gender norms and paving the way for more equitable and prosperous communities.

The narrative illustrates this through examples like the Korphe Women's Vocational Center, where women gather to learn new skills and earn extra income for their families. It also shows how girls like Jahan, once too shy to interact with outsiders, now dream of becoming "great ladies" thanks to the educational opportunities provided by Mortenson's schools. This empowerment of women through education is a powerful and transformative force that can reshape traditional societies.

Here are some examples from the context that support the key insight about the empowerment of women through education:

  • Jahan, Twaha's daughter and Haji Ali's granddaughter, was one of Korphe's best students. When Greg visited, she boldly approached him and demanded that he keep his promise to help her pursue medical training, showing how education had empowered her to advocate for herself.

  • Jahan was described as "the first educated woman in a valley of about six hundred people." This highlights how the CAI's focus on educating girls was transformative for a traditionally conservative community like Korphe.

  • The passage notes that Jahan "didn't defer to anyone, sat down right in front of Greg, and handed him...a proposal, in English, to better herself and improve the life of her village." This demonstrates how education enabled Jahan to take on a leadership role and work to better her community.

  • The reporter Kevin Fedarko was amazed to witness "this teenage girl, in the center of a very conservative Islamic village, waltzing into a circle of men, breaking through about sixteen layers of tradition at once" to advocate for her educational goals. This illustrates how the CAI's work was empowering women to challenge cultural norms.

  • The context emphasizes that the CAI's approach to educating girls had the "potential to transform entire communities by empowering women to take leadership roles and contribute to societal development." This highlights the broader impact of the organization's focus on women's education.

Cultivating Local Relationships for Lasting Impact

Cultivating Meaningful Local Relationships Drives Lasting Impact

Mortenson's success stems from his ability to build deep, respectful relationships with individuals within the communities he serves, such as Haji Ali. By taking the time to truly integrate himself and understand local customs and perspectives, Mortenson is able to navigate cultural complexities and establish projects that have strong community support.

This approach of embedding himself in the community before initiating projects sets Mortenson's work apart from typical development efforts. Rather than imposing external solutions, he partners with locals to identify needs and co-create sustainable solutions. This focus on relationship-building and community ownership is a key factor in the lasting impact of Mortenson's school-building initiatives.

Mortenson demonstrates that meaningful connections with community members are essential for driving positive, enduring change. By prioritizing these local relationships, he is able to build trust, foster mutual understanding, and ensure his efforts truly meet the needs and align with the values of the people he aims to serve.

The descriptions of Greg's friendships with individuals like Haji Ali, Twaha, and others help readers feel more connected to the Pakistani and Afghan people in the book in the following ways:

  • Greg's close relationship with Haji Ali, the village chief of Korphe, is highlighted. Haji Ali becomes Greg's mentor and helps him navigate the cultural complexities of building a school in the village. Their respectful and trusting bond is evident, such as when Haji Ali supports Greg's promise to build a school.

  • Greg's friendship with Twaha, Jahan's father, is also portrayed. Twaha welcomes Greg into his home and family, allowing readers to see the warmth and hospitality of the local people. This humanizes the Pakistani characters and makes their experiences more relatable.

  • The book describes Greg's interactions with other community members, such as the schoolteacher Hussein and his daughter Tahira, who become scholarship recipients. These personal connections demonstrate how Greg integrates himself into the local culture and builds lasting relationships.

  • The quotes and perspectives shared by Muslim leaders like Syed Abbas, as well as schoolchildren and other Pakistanis and Afghans, provide direct insight into their thoughts and feelings. This helps readers gain a deeper understanding and empathy for these individuals and their communities.

Overall, the rich depictions of Greg's friendships and interactions with the local people allow readers to feel more connected to the Pakistani and Afghan cultures portrayed in the book, moving beyond stereotypes and fostering a sense of shared humanity.

Leveraging Setbacks as Learning Opportunities

Turning Setbacks into Stepping Stones

Mortenson's journey demonstrates the power of resilience and adaptability. When faced with obstacles, he refuses to see them as failures, but rather as opportunities to learn and grow. This mindset is crucial for anyone pursuing ambitious goals.

For example, Mortenson struggled to raise funds to build a school in Korphe. Rather than giving up, he creatively leveraged technology and community support to overcome this challenge. He learned to use a computer, sending out hundreds of letters seeking donations. The students at his mother's school also rallied behind his cause, collecting pennies to contribute.

Similarly, when Mortenson fell short of reaching the summit of K2, he reframed this setback. Instead of simply honoring his sister's memory by placing her necklace at the peak, he decided to do something even more meaningful - build a school. This shift in perspective transformed a personal disappointment into a life-changing opportunity to make a lasting impact.

Mortenson's story underscores the importance of adaptability. When faced with obstacles, he did not stubbornly adhere to his original plans. Instead, he remained open-minded, adjusting his approach and finding alternative paths forward. This flexibility enabled him to turn seemingly insurmountable challenges into stepping stones towards his goals.

The key insight from Mortenson's journey is that setbacks are not endpoints, but rather chances to learn, grow, and ultimately achieve greater success. By embracing resilience and adaptability, individuals can transform obstacles into opportunities, unlocking their full potential to make a meaningful difference in the world.

Here are some examples from the context that illustrate how Mortenson turned setbacks into learning opportunities:

  • When Mortenson failed to reach the summit of K2, he realized his true purpose was not to place his sister's necklace on the mountain, but to build a school in Korphe village. This setback led him to his life's work.

  • After sending out 580 letters requesting funding and receiving only one $100 donation, Mortenson's friend Dr. Tom Vaughan suggested he try a different approach - holding a fundraising event. This allowed Mortenson to creatively overcome the funding challenge.

  • When Mortenson didn't know how to use a computer to send his letters, a Pakistani store owner named Kishwar Syed took the time to teach him. This allowed Mortenson to be more efficient in his outreach efforts.

  • The students at Mortenson's mother's school started a "Pennies for Pakistan" drive, collecting over $600 in small donations. This showed Mortenson that even small contributions could make a big difference, a lesson he later applied through the Pennies for Peace program.

These examples demonstrate how Mortenson displayed resilience and adaptability in the face of setbacks, turning them into opportunities to learn and grow. His willingness to try new approaches and accept help from others allowed him to overcome obstacles and ultimately achieve his goals.

Global Literacy Advocacy from Local Action

Mortenson's story demonstrates the power of grassroots advocacy to drive global change. He starts with a personal challenge - failing to reach the summit of K2 - and transforms it into a mission to build schools and promote literacy, particularly in impoverished regions affected by conflict.

Mortenson's approach emphasizes the importance of local action. He begins by building a single school in a remote Pakistani village, responding directly to the needs of the community. From this small start, his work expands to establish a network of schools across Central Asia, showing how targeted, community-based initiatives can scale up to address global issues.

Mortenson's story underscores the transformative potential of education. By providing access to schools and learning opportunities, he empowers marginalized communities, especially girls and women, to build brighter futures. This grassroots work challenges the notion that global problems require top-down solutions, demonstrating instead how individual actions can catalyze far-reaching change.

Here are some examples from the context that support the key insight about Mortenson's global literacy advocacy from local action:

  • Korphe Village: Mortenson promises to build a school in Korphe after seeing the children studying outdoors without a proper classroom. This small, local action in one village kickstarts his broader mission to build schools and promote education across Central Asia.

  • Jahan and Tahira: Mortenson provides scholarships for these two girls from Korphe to attend high school in Skardu, expanding his impact beyond just building schools to supporting individual students' educational journeys.

  • Pennies for Peace: Mortenson encourages children in the US to donate their spare change to support his school-building efforts, demonstrating how local, grassroots fundraising can fuel a global initiative.

  • Parade Magazine Article: A single magazine article about Mortenson's work reaches millions of readers, showing how focused local efforts can gain widespread attention and support.

  • Donations and Volunteers: Mortenson receives an outpouring of support, including financial donations and volunteers, from people all over the US and around the world after his story is shared, highlighting how a local project can inspire global engagement.

The key is that Mortenson starts small, with a promise to build one school in Korphe, and then grows this into a global movement to promote education and literacy, especially in underserved regions affected by poverty and conflict. His grassroots, community-based approach illustrates the power of local action to drive large-scale, global change.


Let's take a look at some key quotes from "Three Cups of Tea" that resonated with readers.

Once you educate the boys, they tend to leave the villages and go search for work in the cities, but the girls stay home, become leaders in the community, and pass on what they’ve learned. If you really want to change a culture, to empower women, improve basic hygiene and health care, and fight high rates of infant mortality, the answer is to educate girls.

Investing in girls' education has a profound impact on their communities. Educated girls are more likely to stay in their villages, take on leadership roles, and share their knowledge with others, leading to positive changes in health, hygiene, and infant mortality rates. In contrast, educated boys often leave their villages in search of work, reducing the potential for direct community benefit. By empowering girls through education, entire cultures can be transformed.

In times of war, you often hear leaders—Christian, Jewish, and Muslim—saying, ‘God is on our side.’ But that isn’t true. In war, God is on the side of refugees, widows, and orphans.

In times of conflict, leaders often claim divine support for their cause. However, this assertion is misguided. The true victims of war are innocent civilians, including those who have lost their homes, loved ones, and livelihoods. It is these vulnerable individuals who deserve our compassion and empathy.

Osama, baah!" Bashir roared.

"Osama is not a product of Pakistan or Afghanistan. He is a creation of America. Thanks to America, Osama is in every home. As a military man, I know you can never fight and win against someone who can shoot at you once and then run off and hide while you have to remain eternally on guard. You have to attack the source of your enemy's strength. In America's case, that's not Osama or Saddam or anyone else. The enemy is ignorance. That only way to defeat it is to build relationships with these people, to draw them into the modern world with education and business. Otherwise the fight will go on forever.

The root of the problem lies not in individual enemies, but in the lack of understanding and knowledge that breeds fear and hatred. To truly overcome adversity, one must address the source of the issue, which is often ignorance and misinformation. By building bridges through education and mutual cooperation, we can create a more harmonious and enlightened world, ultimately leading to lasting peace and prosperity.

Comprehension Questions

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How well do you understand the key insights in "Three Cups of Tea"? Find out by answering the questions below. Try to answer the question yourself before revealing the answer! Mark the questions as done once you've answered them.

1. What causes a person's priorities to shift from personal achievements to broader humanitarian efforts?
2. How can education empower marginalized communities?
3. What is the impact of investing in the education of children in impoverished areas?
4. Why is considering the more immediate needs before starting with the planned project important in community-driven projects?
5. How can cultural sensitivity contribute to the success of development projects?
6. What role does effective communication play in collaborative community projects?
7. Why is adapting project plans based on community feedback important?
8. How does education influence the ability of women in traditional societies to challenge cultural norms?
9. What kind of impact does educating women have on their communities?
10. In what ways does providing educational opportunities to women empower them?
11. What is the primary benefit of integrating oneself into the community before starting development projects?
12. How does building deep, respectful relationships in a community contribute to the success of development projects?
13. Why is it important not to impose external solutions on a community?
14. How does understanding and respecting local values impact project outcomes?
15. Why is it beneficial to view setbacks not as failures but as opportunities for growth?
16. What are the advantages of staying open-minded and flexible when encountering obstacles?
17. How can small contributions from multiple sources be significant in overcoming challenges?
18. How does grassroots advocacy contribute to global change?
19. What is the significance of addressing local needs in achieving broader, global goals?
20. How can education transform marginalized communities?
21. How can individual actions catalyze far-reaching changes?

Action Questions

0 / 7

"Knowledge without application is useless," Bruce Lee said. Answer the questions below to practice applying the key insights from "Three Cups of Tea". Mark the questions as done once you've answered them.

1. In what ways can education serve as a tool to empower and transform communities, and how can you contribute to this transformation?
2. How can you ensure that the solutions or projects you implement are aligned with the actual needs of those you serve?
3. How can you support or initiate educational programs that specifically target women and girls in underrepresented communities?
4. How can you deepen your understanding of cultural practices within your community to foster better relationships?
5. What steps can you take to ensure that your community projects or initiatives include input from local stakeholders?
6. What is a recent setback you have encountered, and how can you view it as a learning opportunity?
7. How can you initiate a small, local project in your community that addresses a pressing global issue?

Chapter Notes

The Promise

  • Witnessing the Hardships of Education in Pakistan: Greg observes a fourth-grade class in Pakistan where the students are working on their lessons without a teacher, using slates and sticks to write in the dirt. This stark contrast to the educational resources available in America deeply affects Greg, making him realize the need for action.

  • Shifting Priorities: Greg's initial goal of reaching the summit of K2 to place a necklace there in honor of his sister Christa becomes less important to him. He realizes he can do something more meaningful to honor her memory.

  • The Promise to Build a School: Inspired by the scene he witnessed, Greg makes a promise to Haji Ali that he will build a school in Pakistan, rather than focusing solely on his mountaineering expedition.

  • Overcoming Financial Constraints: Despite having barely enough money left to travel back home, Greg is determined to find a way to fulfill his promise of building a school, even though the financial resources appear limited at the moment.

  • Prioritizing Education over Personal Goals: Greg's shift in priorities demonstrates his willingness to put the needs of the Pakistani children and their education above his own personal mountaineering ambitions, showing his compassion and commitment to making a meaningful impact.


  • Greeting and Introduction: The chapter begins with the traditional Muslim greeting "As-salaam alaikum," which means "Peace be with you." The author, Greg Mortenson, introduces himself and expresses gratitude for the reader's interest in his story, the young readers' edition of "Three Cups of Tea."

  • Importance of Reading and Literacy: Mortenson emphasizes the importance of reading and literacy, sharing his own childhood experiences of being read to by his parents and continuing that tradition with his own children. He highlights the value of going to the library to choose books.

  • Global Literacy Crisis: The chapter outlines a significant global issue, stating that there are around 110 million children aged 5 to 15 who do not have access to education and the opportunity to learn how to read and write. This is due to various factors, such as slavery, poverty, discrimination against girls, religious extremism, and corrupt governments.

  • Examples of Child Labor and Exploitation: Mortenson provides specific examples of children around the world who are forced to engage in various forms of labor, including begging on the streets, working on rice farms, in sweatshops, on cocoa plantations, as soldiers, and in the production of soccer balls and carpets.

  • Right to Education: Mortenson emphasizes that every child should have the right and privilege to receive an education, as mandated by the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. He believes that educating children is a crucial way to stop the spread of ignorance and hatred.

  • Call to Action for Kids: Mortenson encourages kids to make a difference, starting in their own schools and communities. He highlights the Pennies for Peace and Jane Goodall's Roots & Shoots programs as ways for children to learn how to help one another, promote peace, and improve their communities, countries, and the world.

Chapter 1: Failure

  • Greg Mortenson's Failed Attempt to Climb K2: Greg Mortenson, an experienced mountain climber, was part of an expedition to reach the summit of K2, the second-highest mountain in the world. However, he was unable to reach the summit, and his attempt ended in failure.

  • Rescue of a Teammate: During the expedition, another member of the team, Etienne Fine, became seriously ill due to the high altitude. Greg Mortenson and his friend Scott Darsney, along with the expedition leaders, helped to rescue Fine and carry him down the mountain.

  • Challenges of High-Altitude Climbing: The human body does not function well at the high altitudes of mountains like K2. Climbers experience headaches, weakness, nausea, and exhaustion, and even simple tasks become extremely difficult.

  • Reliance on Porters: Greg Mortenson and Scott Darsney hired local porters, Mouzafer Ali and Yakub, to carry their gear as they struggled to make their way down the mountain. This highlights the importance of local knowledge and assistance in high-altitude expeditions.

  • Greg's Disorientation and Isolation: After becoming separated from his team and the porters, Greg found himself lost and alone on the Baltoro Glacier, with only a small backpack containing limited supplies. This situation left him scared and uncertain of his surroundings.

  • Christa's Amber Necklace: Greg had planned to leave his sister Christa's amber necklace on the summit of K2 in her honor, but his failure to reach the summit meant that he was unable to fulfill this goal.

Chapter 2: The Wrong Side of the River

  • Greg's Struggle with the Cold: When Greg woke up in the morning, he was struggling to breathe due to the ice that had frozen over his mouth and nose. This highlights the harsh and challenging conditions he was facing in the mountains.

  • Greg's Newfound Appreciation for the Mountains: As Greg reached the top of a small crest, he was stunned by the beauty of the surrounding peaks, which he had previously seen only as goals to climb. This moment of appreciation for the natural beauty around him is significant.

  • Greg's Encounter with Mouzafer: After getting lost and retracing his steps, Greg finally encountered Mouzafer, the porter he had hired, who was overjoyed to find him alive. This reunion was a crucial turning point in Greg's journey.

  • Paiyu Cha: Mouzafer brewed a traditional Balti tea called paiyu cha, which Greg found unpalatable due to its strong, sour flavor. However, he recognized the importance of the hot liquid for his body's needs.

  • Mouzafer's Constant Vigilance: Mouzafer never let Greg out of his sight, even during his daily prayers, to ensure Greg's safety as they continued their journey off the Baltoro Glacier.

  • Greg's Encounter with the Korphe Village: After leaving the glacier, Greg mistakenly took a different path and ended up in the village of Korphe, rather than the expected Askole. This unexpected detour led him to meet the village chief, Haji Ali.

  • Haji Ali's Hospitality: Haji Ali welcomed Greg into his home, provided him with food and drink, and ensured that he could rest and recover, despite Greg's initial confusion about being in the wrong village.

Chapter 3: I’m Going to Build You a School

  • Greg's Hospitality and Generosity: When Greg woke up in Haji Ali's house, he was covered with a valuable maroon silk quilt, indicating the generosity and hospitality of his hosts, who gave him their most prized possession. Greg, in turn, gave away many of his own belongings to the villagers, including his camping stove, fleece jacket, and parka.

  • Greg's Medical Assistance: Greg, an emergency room nurse, used his medical knowledge and supplies to treat injuries and illnesses in the village, earning him the title "Dr. Greg" among the villagers, despite his attempts to correct them.

  • Korphe's Lack of Educational Resources: The village of Korphe had no school building, and the children were left to study on their own for most of the week, with only a teacher visiting three days a week. The children sat on the frosty ground, using sticks and mud to write on, which deeply affected Greg.

  • High Rates of Malnutrition and Infant Mortality: Greg learned that many of the children in Korphe suffered from malnutrition, and one out of three children died before the age of one, highlighting the challenging living conditions in the village.

  • Greg's Promise to Build a School: Moved by the lack of educational resources and the children's perseverance, Greg made a promise to Haji Ali that he would build a school for the village, as he felt this would be a better way to honor his late sister, Christa, than reaching the summit of K2.

Chapter 4: Growing Up

  • Greg Mortenson's Childhood in Tanzania: Greg Mortenson spent his childhood in Tanzania, where his parents worked as teachers. He grew up in a diverse, multicultural environment, learning to speak Swahili fluently and participating in African dance troupes. He also climbed Mount Kilimanjaro at the age of 11, sparking his love for mountaineering.

  • Christa Mortenson's Challenges: Greg's younger sister, Christa, faced significant health challenges, including a severe reaction to a smallpox vaccine and a diagnosis of epilepsy. Greg became her protector, helping her with daily tasks and shielding her from teasing.

  • Dempsey Mortenson's Legacy: Greg's father, Dempsey, worked hard to establish the Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Centre in Tanzania, ensuring that it would be run by local Tanzanian doctors and staff. This instilled in Greg a sense of pride and belief in the ability of people to accomplish great things.

  • Adjusting to Life in the United States: When the Mortenson family returned to the United States, Greg faced some challenges in fitting in, including being bullied for his African background. However, he was able to excel academically and athletically, though he struggled to adapt to the more rigid American concept of time.

  • Greg's Pursuit of Higher Education and Career Exploration: After serving in the U.S. Army, Greg attended college, studying chemistry and nursing. He considered pursuing medical research to help his sister Christa, but ultimately decided that he wanted a more adventurous lifestyle, focusing on mountaineering.

  • Christa's Passing and Greg's Newfound Purpose: The tragic death of Christa, Greg's sister, was a turning point for him. It inspired him to honor her memory by attempting to climb K2, the second-highest mountain in the world. However, he was unable to reach the summit, leading him to a new challenge: raising funds to build a school in the village of Korphe.

Chapter 5: 580 Letters, One Check

  • Greg's Lack of Fundraising Experience: Greg was skilled in mountaineering and emergency medicine, but he lacked experience in raising money for a school project. He initially struggled to effectively communicate the importance of his cause to potential donors.

  • Embracing Technology: When Greg's usual typewriter rental store closed, the store owner, Kishwar Syed, encouraged him to use a computer instead. Syed provided Greg with lessons on how to use the computer, allowing him to efficiently send out 580 fundraising letters in a single day.

  • Student Engagement and Grassroots Fundraising: Greg's mother, the principal of Westside Elementary School, invited him to speak to the students about his project. The students were immediately engaged and started a "Pennies for Pakistan" drive, collecting $623.45 in pennies to contribute to the school's construction.

  • Serendipitous Connections and Networking: Through a chance article written by his friend, Dr. Tom Vaughan, Greg's project came to the attention of Jean Hoerni, a wealthy mountain climber and scientist. Hoerni, impressed by the project's potential, provided the full $12,000 needed to build the school.

  • Personal Sacrifice and Determination: Greg lived frugally, sleeping in his car and selling his personal belongings, including his books, climbing gear, and car, in order to fund his trip to Pakistan and ensure the successful completion of the school project.

Chapter 6: Hard Way Home

  • Greg's Preparation in Rawalpindi: Greg returned to the same hotel in Rawalpindi where he had stayed before his attempt to climb K2. He worked with Abdul Shah, a hotel watchman, to purchase all the necessary supplies to build a school in Korphe, including lumber, cement, tools, and even new clothes. Abdul helped Greg negotiate with the store owners to get the best prices.

  • The Journey to Korphe: Greg loaded all the supplies onto a truck and embarked on a three-day journey to Korphe, riding on top of the load for most of the way. The journey was treacherous, with the truck navigating steep, winding roads and narrow passes.

  • Detours and Diversions: Upon arriving in Skardu, Greg encountered several unexpected obstacles. Changazi, who had helped with Greg's previous expedition, informed him that it was too late in the season to build the school. Greg was then diverted to visit Akhmalu's village, Khane, where the villagers believed Greg had promised to build a school for them. This led to further confusion and arguments.

  • Changazi's Intervention: Instead of taking Greg to Korphe, Changazi took him to his own village, Kuardu, where the elders had already agreed to have the school built in their village before winter. Greg was outraged by this, feeling that his plans for Korphe were being hijacked.

  • Greg's Emotional Breakdown: Frustrated and distraught, Greg broke down and cried in a clearing outside Changazi's village. He began to doubt the people of Korphe, wondering if they were as kind and generous as he had remembered, or if they were just as greedy and dishonest as the people he had encountered.

  • Connection with Local Children: While in the clearing, Greg encountered a group of local children grazing goats. He engaged with them, teaching them English words and helping them with math. This interaction helped restore Greg's faith in the local people and their willingness to learn.

  • Greg's Determination to Reach Korphe: Despite the obstacles and diversions, Greg remained steadfast in his determination to build the school in Korphe, refusing to discuss any alternative plans with Changazi until he could reach the village.

Chapter 7: Korphe at Last

  • Greg's Reflection on His Approach: During the drive to Korphe, Greg reflects on his previous harsh and angry approach towards Changazi and the other villagers who tried to scheme and plot to get the school he had planned to build. He decides to be more patient and listen to everyone before insisting that the school should help every child in Korphe.

  • Crossing the Braldu River: Greg crosses the Braldu River in a rickety wooden box hanging from a steel cable, which he describes as a harrowing experience where he tries not to think about the obvious risks of the cable breaking and him falling to his death.

  • Haji Ali's Welcoming and Expectations: Haji Ali, the village chief and Greg's mentor, warmly welcomes Greg back to Korphe, praising Allah for his return. However, Haji Ali informs Greg that the villagers have decided that before building the school, they need to build a bridge first, as this is what Korphe needs now.

  • Villagers' Perception of Greg: Haji Ali's granddaughter, Jahan, expresses her surprise at seeing Greg again so soon, noting that many climbers make promises to the Balti people and forget them when they return home. She also comments on Greg's unusual physical appearance, as he is much taller than the Braldu people.

  • Greg's Eagerness to Deliver Good News: Greg is eager to tell Haji Ali that he has kept his promise and brought everything needed to build the school. However, he has to wait patiently to be served tea before he can share the news.

  • Korphe's Priorities: Haji Ali informs Greg that the villagers have decided that before building the school, they need to build a bridge first, as this is what Korphe needs now. This surprises Greg, who was expecting to start building the school immediately.

Chapter 8: A Bridge Before a School

Here are the key takeaways from the chapter:

  • Greg's Disappointment and Resolve: Greg was disappointed to learn that he could not build his school in Korphe as originally planned, as the village first needed a bridge across the Braldu River. However, instead of getting angry, Greg decided to stay in Korphe and understand what was needed to make the school possible, demonstrating his determination and willingness to adapt his plans.

  • The Bridge Project: Building the bridge in Korphe would be a significant undertaking, requiring the use of dynamite, cutting of stone, and the procurement of steel cables and wooden planks. The cost was estimated to be thousands of dollars, which Greg did not have at the time.

  • The Patience of the Balti People: The people of Korphe were accustomed to waiting and being patient, having to endure long winters and limited resources. They did not seem worried about the delay in building the school, demonstrating their resilience and understanding of the challenges involved.

  • Greg's Struggles upon Returning to America: When Greg returned to the United States, he faced a series of setbacks, including losing his job, running low on money, and dealing with a broken relationship. This left him feeling like he had failed the people of Korphe and unsure of how to secure the funding for the bridge.

  • Encouragement from Dr. Reichardt: A phone call from Dr. Louis Reichardt, a renowned mountaineer, encouraged Greg and helped him regain his determination. Reichardt advised Greg to reach out to Jean Hoerni, the original donor for the school, and ask him to fund the bridge project, as Hoerni had the means to do so.

  • Greg's Renewed Hope: After the conversation with Reichardt, Greg began to feel more hopeful about his ability to succeed in his mission, recognizing that the challenges he faced, while significant, were not insurmountable. This renewed sense of purpose led him to reach out to Hoerni, setting the stage for the next steps in the story.

Chapter 9: Hunting Ibex

  • Millionaire Jean Hoerni's Generosity: Greg was able to secure an additional $10,000 from Jean Hoerni, a millionaire, to help build the school in Korphe. Hoerni only requested that Greg send him a photo once the school was completed, as he was getting older.

  • Acquiring Supplies for the Bridge: Greg faced challenges in Skardu, Pakistan, to find the necessary supplies, such as steel cables, to build a bridge for the village of Korphe. After multiple attempts, he was able to secure the needed materials.

  • The Balti People's Communal Effort: When the road to Korphe was blocked by a rockslide, the men of the village, from teenagers to the elderly, worked together to carry the heavy steel cables to the village, demonstrating their commitment to improving their community.

  • Sakina's Welcoming Gesture: When Greg entered Sakina's kitchen, a traditionally female-only space, it was seen as a significant gesture of acceptance and Greg being treated as part of the family.

  • Ibex Hunting Tradition: The Balti people highly value the ibex, a large mountain goat, for its meat and horns. Greg accompanied the men of Korphe on an ibex hunt, which was an important cultural tradition for the community.

  • Twaha's Tomar Amulet: Before crossing the glacier, Twaha tied a tomar, a colorful wool medallion, to Greg's jacket to protect him from evil spirits, demonstrating the Balti's spiritual beliefs and practices.

  • Hussein's Potential as a Teacher: Greg recognized that Hussein, the only Korphe man who had received a full education up to the 12th grade, would be an ideal candidate to teach at the school once it was built, as he understood both the village life and the educational needs of the children.

Chapter 10: Building Bridges

  • Building the Bridge: The chapter describes the construction of a bridge over the Braldu River in the village of Korphe. This involved building two 64-foot-high stone towers on each side of the river, and then stringing a cable between them to support the bridge. The villagers, including men, women, and children, all participated in the construction process.

  • Greg's Relationships with the Villagers: Greg developed close relationships with the people of Korphe, particularly Haji Ali, the village chief, and Twaha, an unmarried man. They shared meals, conversations, and a sense of community on the rooftops of the village.

  • Arrival of George McCown: George McCown, a board director of the American Himalayan Foundation (AHF), visited Korphe and met Greg. The AHF had previously published an article about Greg's school project, which led to funding from Jean Hoerni. McCown helped pay the workers for their work on the bridge, further strengthening the connection between Greg and the villagers.

  • Preparation for the School: As Greg prepared to leave Korphe, he made arrangements for the construction of the school. He secured a plot of land from Hussein, who also agreed to become the school's first teacher. Greg also left money for the villagers to start laying the foundation for the school before his return.

  • Significance of the Bridge: The completion of the bridge was a significant event for the people of Korphe, as it connected them to the outside world for the first time. The villagers celebrated the bridge's completion, and Greg saw it as a symbol of the progress and development he hoped to bring to the community.

Chapter 11: Six Days

  • Greg's Relationship with Jean Hoerni: Greg initially felt afraid of Jean Hoerni, a prominent figure, but Hoerni was very kind and supportive of Greg's efforts to build the Korphe School. Hoerni was excited about the challenge of the project and believed Greg had a good chance of succeeding.

  • Funding for Greg's Work: At the American Himalayan Foundation dinner, George McCown offered Greg $20,000 to support him while he worked on building the Korphe School, which stunned Greg as he had not expected such significant financial support.

  • Greg's Encounter with Sir Edmund Hillary: Greg was deeply inspired by Sir Edmund Hillary's speech, particularly his emphasis on the importance of building schools and medical clinics rather than just achieving mountaineering feats.

  • Greg's Meeting with Tara Bishop: Greg met Tara, a woman he was immediately attracted to, at the dinner. They connected and ended up getting married just six days later, which was a surprise to many but felt right to Greg.

  • Greg's Postponed Departure: Greg was reluctant to leave Tara and postponed his flight to Pakistan multiple times, with the support of the airline staff who were charmed by their romantic story.

  • Greg's Certainty about Marrying Tara: Despite the speed of their relationship, Greg was completely sure that marrying Tara was the right decision, reflecting the values of his parents' generation.

Chapter 12: Beginnings

  • Changazi's Deception: Changazi, the local official in Skardu, was supposed to be keeping supplies for the school in Korphe, but he had sold the building where the supplies were stored. Greg was able to recover about two-thirds of the supplies with the help of Ghulam Parvi, an accountant Changazi had hired.

  • Korphe's Approach to Building the School: The villagers of Korphe decided to cut the stone for the school themselves instead of hiring workers from other villages, even though this meant the construction would take longer. They saw this as an opportunity to contribute to the project themselves.

  • Importance of Traditions and Celebrations: When the foundation for the school was laid, the villagers sacrificed their prized ram and had a massive feast, which was a much more significant event for them than the actual construction work. This highlighted the importance of cultural traditions and celebrations in the community.

  • Greg's Marriage to Tara: Greg got married to Tara, and this brought him great happiness. Twaha, Greg's friend, was curious about the American marriage customs, as they differed from the Balti culture's practice of paying a bride price.

  • Establishment of the Central Asia Institute (CAI): Jean Hoerni, a friend of Greg's, offered to endow a foundation that would allow Greg to build a school every year. This led to the creation of the Central Asia Institute, which Greg became the director of, enabling him to hire help and expand his efforts.

  • Mouzafer's Dedication: Mouzafer, the porter who had helped Greg on his previous trip, went to great lengths to ensure that the cement needed for the school's construction was delivered to Korphe, even though the road was blocked by a landslide. This demonstrated his commitment to supporting Greg's mission.

  • Empowerment of Korphe's Women: The construction of the bridge in Korphe made it easier for the women to visit their families in neighboring villages, which Greg recognized as an important step in empowering the women of the community.

Chapter 13: Haji Ali’s Lesson

Here are the key takeaways from the chapter:

  • Patience and Relationship-Building are Crucial: Haji Ali teaches Greg that in order to be successful in Baltistan, he must slow down, respect the local ways, and focus on building relationships with the people, rather than just rushing to complete the project. Haji Ali says "You must make time to share three cups of tea" to become part of the community.

  • Humility and Listening are Important Leadership Qualities: Haji Ali demonstrates humility by taking away Greg's tools and forcing him to sit and listen, rather than micromanaging the project. This teaches Greg that he has more to learn from the local people than he can teach them.

  • Sacrifice for the Greater Good: Haji Ali is willing to sacrifice half the village's wealth (by giving up 12 prized rams) to the corrupt chief Haji Mehdi in order to ensure the school can be completed. He sees the long-term value of education for the children, even if it comes at a great personal cost.

  • Illiteracy as a Profound Sadness: Haji Ali reveals that his greatest sadness is that he cannot read the Koran, the most precious thing he owns. This motivates him to ensure the children of Korphe have the educational opportunities he never had.

  • Overcoming Adversity and Resistance: The community faces resistance from the corrupt chief Haji Mehdi, who tries to stop the school's construction. However, the villagers, led by Haji Ali, are determined to complete the school despite the obstacles.

  • Community Collaboration and Collective Effort: The entire village, including the religious leader Sher Takhi, comes together to help carry the roof beams back to Korphe when the road is blocked. This demonstrates the community's shared commitment to the school project.

Chapter 14: “A Smile Should Be More Than a Memory”

Here are the key takeaways from the chapter:

  • Greg's Dangerous Situation in Peshawar: Greg arrived in Peshawar, Pakistan, during a chaotic time when the Taliban had just attacked the Afghan government, and Osama bin Laden had arrived in Afghanistan to make it his new home. This was a dangerous time for a foreigner in Pakistan.

  • Haji Ali's Warning: Before Greg left Korphe, the chief Haji Ali warned him to be careful and not go anywhere alone, but to find a trusted host and wait to be invited to their home for tea. Greg did not heed this advice.

  • Greg's Blunder into a Smuggling Operation: Greg accepted a guide named Badam Gul to take him to the village of Ladha, where he ended up in a warehouse filled with guns and weapons, realizing he had stumbled into a large smuggling operation.

  • Greg's Kidnapping: Greg was then taken from the warehouse, blindfolded, and brought to a simple room, where he was held captive for several days, unsure of his fate.

  • Greg's Attempts to Communicate: During his captivity, Greg tried to communicate with his captors, reading a 17-year-old Time magazine and praying with a Koran, in an effort to connect with them.

  • Encounter with Khan: On the sixth day, Greg was visited by a man named Khan, who spoke English and seemed more sympathetic. Khan allowed Greg to have a meal and watch a soccer match, leaving Greg unsure if he would be released or killed.

  • Greg's Release and Celebration: Ultimately, Greg was blindfolded and taken to a celebration where the Wazir men were dancing and shooting guns in celebration. Khan explained that Greg's fate had been decided by the village council, and they were now returning him to Peshawar to continue his work building schools.

Chapter 15: A Picture

  • Greg's Promise to Jean Hoerni: Greg made a promise to Jean Hoerni, a donor who was terminally ill with leukemia, to bring him a picture of the completed Korphe School before he died. This promise drove Greg to leave his newborn daughter and wife shortly after Amira's birth to fulfill his commitment.

  • Haji Ali's Advice: Haji Ali, a village elder, advised Greg to not travel alone in Pakistan and to work with the local community to identify villages that were ready to donate land and labor for the construction of schools. This advice helped Greg expand his school-building efforts in a more sustainable and community-driven manner.

  • Korphe School Completion: The Korphe School was completed in early December 1996, with the last nail being pounded in as the first snowflakes of the season fell. Haji Ali had prayed for the snow to hold off until the school was finished, and his prayer was answered.

  • Financial Accountability: The villagers of Korphe kept meticulous records of every rupee spent on the construction of the school, demonstrating a high level of financial accountability and transparency.

  • Jean Hoerni's Reaction: When Greg finally delivered the photograph of the completed Korphe School to the terminally ill Jean Hoerni, Hoerni was overjoyed and boasted to a childhood friend in Switzerland about his accomplishment. This moment marked the fulfillment of Greg's promise to Hoerni.

  • Greg's Role as Hoerni's Nurse: In Hoerni's final weeks, Greg became his nurse, ensuring his comfort and showing him videos of the Korphe village and children. This was the last time Greg would work as a nurse, a role he was glad to have the skills to perform for his friend.

  • Hoerni's Legacy: Before his death, Hoerni donated one million dollars to the Central Asia Institute, ensuring the organization's financial stability and the continuation of the vision he had started with Greg.

Chapter 16: New Schools—and More

  • Establishing the Central Asia Institute (CAI): Greg Mortenson set up the CAI in the basement of his house in Montana, USA, to coordinate the construction of schools in Pakistan. He hired local Pakistani staff, including Ghulam Parvi, Mouzafer, Haji Ali, Twaha, and others, to work for the institute.

  • Rapid School Construction: The CAI was able to complete three schools in Pakistan within three months, including one in Changazi's village of Kuardu, in contrast to the three years it took to complete the first school in Korphe.

  • Korphe Women's Vocational Center: The women of Korphe, led by Hawa and Sakina, requested a center where they could gather, talk, and sew to earn extra income for their families. The CAI established the Korphe Women's Vocational Center in an unused room in Haji Ali's house.

  • Korphe School Inauguration: The inauguration of the Korphe school was a significant event, with the school being freshly painted, decorated with banners and Pakistani flags, and equipped with new desks, carpets, and books. The event was attended by Greg's family, as well as the villagers, who were excited to receive their own books and new school uniforms.

  • Balti Porter School: Greg, with the help of Mouzafer and Tara's brother, created a school for Balti porters, training them in climbing, first aid, and environmental conservation, including cleaning up trash from mountain base camps.

  • Clean Water Initiative: Greg, in collaboration with the religious leader Syed Abbas Risvi, recognized the need for clean water in the villages, as more than a third of the children were dying before the age of one due to lack of access to clean water. They worked with the villagers to dig trenches and install pipes to bring fresh spring water to several villages.

  • Mouzafer's Retirement: As Mouzafer grew older and weaker, he decided to retire from his work with the CAI and focus on tending to the gardens and orchards in his village, saying that his "work now is to give water to the trees."

  • Hushe School: Greg agreed to build a school in the village of Hushe, after being approached by the village chief, Mohammed Aslam Khan, who was determined to provide education for his daughter, Shakeela, and other girls in the village.

  • Emphasis on Girls' Education: Greg realized the importance of educating girls, as they tend to stay in the villages and become leaders in their communities, passing on what they have learned. He encouraged the villages to increase the enrollment of girls in the CAI-built schools by 10% each year.

  • Shakeela's Story: Shakeela, the daughter of the Hushe village chief, was the first girl from her town to go beyond elementary school. Despite initial resistance from the villagers, she persisted in her studies and became the top student in the Hushe school, inspiring other families to send their daughters to school as well.

Chapter 17: Running from War

  • Conflict between India and Pakistan over Kashmir: The chapter describes the ongoing conflict between India and Pakistan over the region of Kashmir, which has led to increased fighting and the displacement of many Kashmiri refugees.

  • Arrival of Kashmiri refugees in Baltistan: As a result of the fighting, thousands of Kashmiri refugees fled their homes and sought refuge in Baltistan, a region in Pakistan. The refugees faced significant hardships, including a lack of access to basic necessities like water and food.

  • Involvement of the Central Asia Institute (CAI): The CAI, an organization founded by Greg Mortenson, became involved in providing aid and assistance to the Kashmiri refugees in Baltistan. This included efforts to drill for water and establish a school for the refugee children.

  • Mullah Gulzar's story: The chapter introduces Mullah Gulzar, the religious leader of the village of Brolmo, who recounts the harrowing journey his community took to reach Skardu and the challenges they faced in their new home.

  • Fatima and Aamina's experience: The chapter follows the story of Fatima and her sister Aamina, who fled their home in Brolmo and endured a difficult journey to Skardu. Tragically, Aamina did not survive the journey, highlighting the immense suffering experienced by the refugees.

  • Establishment of the Gultori Girls Refugee School: Despite the hardships, the CAI was able to establish the Gultori Girls Refugee School near the Skardu airport, providing education to the refugee children, including Fatima and Nargiz.

  • Appreciation for American aid: The chapter concludes with Fatima expressing gratitude for the American aid and support, which she and other refugees viewed as a rare source of compassion and assistance during their time of need.

Chapter 18: Too Much to Do

  • Fundraising Challenges: Greg Mortenson, the founder of the Central Asia Institute (CAI), struggled to raise funds to continue the organization's work of building schools and providing education in isolated villages and refugee camps in Pakistan. Despite his efforts to give talks and collect donations, he often faced small or empty audiences, making it difficult to generate the necessary funds.

  • Balancing Work and Personal Life: Mortenson's intense dedication to the CAI's mission led to him neglecting his personal life and health. His wife, Tara, had to intervene and convince him to set boundaries, such as limiting his trips to Pakistan to no more than two months at a time, to ensure he was taking care of himself and his family.

  • Learning from Other Organizations: Mortenson traveled to Bangladesh and the Philippines to learn from other organizations that were successfully educating girls and empowering women. He was particularly inspired by the "girls' education initiative" in Bangladesh, which he saw as aligned with his own philosophy of using education to change cultural norms.

  • Inspiration from Mother Teresa: The death of Mother Teresa, one of Mortenson's heroes, had a profound impact on him. Seeing her small, frail body and reflecting on her life's work of serving the "poorest of the poor" reinforced Mortenson's commitment to helping those in need, even in the face of overwhelming challenges.

  • Failure to Help Afghan Refugees: Mortenson was deeply troubled by the plight of Afghan refugees who were stranded between Afghanistan and Tajikistan, living in dire conditions and facing starvation. Despite his efforts to raise awareness and advocate for their assistance, he was unable to garner the necessary support, which left him feeling frustrated and disillusioned.

  • Renewed Hope with the Birth of His Son: The birth of Mortenson's son, Khyber, in 2000 lifted his spirits and provided him with a renewed sense of purpose and hope, even in the face of the ongoing challenges he faced in his work with the CAI.

Chapter 19: A Village Called New York

  • Zuudkhan Village: The McCowns and Greg Mortenson visit Zuudkhan, a remote village in northern Pakistan, to see the improvements made by the Central Asia Institute (CAI), including a water project, a small power plant, and a dispensary. The villagers, led by Faisal Baig, welcome them warmly.

  • Aziza Hussain and Healthcare: Aziza Hussain, the first healthcare worker in Zuudkhan, has been trained by the CAI and now provides basic medical care to the villagers, helping to reduce the number of deaths from easily treatable illnesses.

  • September 11, 2001: On the day of the 9/11 attacks, Greg and the McCowns are in Zuudkhan. They learn about the attacks on the World Trade Center and are concerned for their safety, but the villagers reassure them and ensure their protection.

  • Kuardu School Inauguration: Greg and McCown attend the official inauguration of the Kuardu School, where Syed Abbas delivers a powerful speech condemning the 9/11 attacks and emphasizing the importance of education and the peaceful nature of Islam.

  • Haji Ali's Passing: During his visit to Korphe, Greg learns that Haji Ali, the village chief who had become a mentor to him, has passed away. Haji Ali's final lesson to Greg is to "listen to the wind" and think of the children of Korphe.

  • Compassion and Understanding: The chapter highlights the compassion and understanding shown by the Pakistani villagers towards Greg and the McCowns, even in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, which challenges the stereotypes of Muslims as terrorists.

Chapter 20: Afghanistan

Here are the key takeaways from the chapter:

  • Greg Mortenson's Commitment to Education in Pakistan and Afghanistan: Despite the warnings from the U.S. Embassy about the dangers of staying in Pakistan during the war between the U.S. and Afghanistan, Greg Mortenson refused to leave and continued his work of visiting and supporting the CAI schools in the Afghan refugee camps. He believed that education was the key to preventing terrorism and promoting peace.

  • Backlash from Americans: When Greg's interview expressing his views on the importance of not stereotyping all Muslims as terrorists was published, he received hate mail from fellow Americans calling him a "traitor." This was the first time he had faced such criticism for his work, and it made him consider quitting, but his wife encouraged him to continue.

  • Encounter with Afghan Nomads: A year before 9/11, Greg had met a group of Afghan nomads from the Kirghiz tribe who asked him to come build a school for their children. This encounter planted the seed for Greg's future work in Afghanistan.

  • Devastation of Afghan Schools: After the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, Greg visited Kabul and saw the extensive damage to the city's schools, with many being reduced to rubble. He was particularly moved by the story of Uzra Faizad, the principal of Durkhani High School, who was trying to reopen her school despite the lack of resources and support.

  • Greg's Advocacy in Washington: When Greg returned to the U.S., he was invited by Congresswoman Mary Bono to speak to members of Congress about his experiences in Afghanistan and the importance of supporting education as a means of combating terrorism. He argued that without providing a "bright enough future" for children in countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan, the cycle of terrorism would continue.

Chapter 21: The First Educated Women in Korphe

  • Jahan's Ambition and Determination: Jahan, a young woman from the conservative Braldu Valley, boldly approached Greg Mortenson and demanded that he fulfill his promise to help her pursue her dream of becoming a doctor. She presented a detailed plan and tuition cost, and was unwilling to wait or defer to the men around her, demonstrating her strong ambition and determination to further her education.

  • Breaking Tradition: Jahan's actions were seen as "breaking through about sixteen layers of tradition" in the conservative Islamic village of Korphe. As the first educated woman in the valley, she challenged the traditional gender roles and norms by asserting herself in a room full of men and advocating for her own educational and career goals.

  • Greg's Commitment to Education: Greg Mortenson's promise to help the students of the CAI schools reach their goals is highlighted through his immediate support for Jahan's request. He provided the necessary tuition funds without hesitation, demonstrating his dedication to empowering the students, especially young women, through education.

  • Transformative Impact of Education: The chapter illustrates how education can transform the lives of young women like Jahan and Tahira. Tahira recognized that the opportunity to study in Skardu had changed how she was perceived by her community, and she aspired to ensure that other girls from the Braldu Valley could have a similar experience.

  • Generational Change: Jahan's father, Twaha, expressed his willingness to sell his land to support Jahan's education, a stark contrast to the traditional gender roles. This suggests a generational shift in mindset, where the value of education for women is being recognized and prioritized, even in conservative communities.

  • Jahan's Aspirations: Jahan's ambitious goal of becoming a "Superlady" and starting a hospital to address the health needs of women in the Braldu Valley demonstrates her vision for using her education to make a significant impact on her community. This reflects her transformed self-perception and the empowerment she has gained through her educational journey.

Chapter 22: Stones into Schools

  • Greg Mortenson's Encounter with the King of Afghanistan: Greg met Zahir Shah, the former king of Afghanistan, on a flight to Kabul. The king was surprised to see an American in Afghanistan, as most Americans had left the country to go to Iraq. The king gave Greg a business card with his thumbprint, which could be helpful in introducing Greg to Commandhan Sardhar Khan, a powerful warlord in the region.

  • Dangerous Journey to Reach the Wakhan Region: Greg faced numerous challenges in his journey from Kabul to the Wakhan region, where he had promised to build schools. He had to navigate through the Salang Tunnel, which was filled with land mines, and narrowly escaped a shootout between two gangs of opium smugglers.

  • Meeting with Commandhan Sardhar Khan: When Greg finally reached the town of Baharak, he met Commandhan Sardhar Khan, a powerful warlord who ruled the province of Badakhshan. Initially, Greg was nervous about meeting Khan, as he was known to be harsh and cruel to his enemies. However, Khan was excited to meet Greg and welcomed him warmly, as he had heard about Greg's work from one of his men, Abdul Rashid.

  • Sardhar Khan's Support for Greg's School-Building Mission: Khan was enthusiastic about Greg's plan to build schools in the region and provided him with valuable information about the specific villages that needed schools the most. He also expressed his desire to turn the "stones" (representing the many lives lost in the region's conflicts) into "schools," which would be a more meaningful legacy for the region.

  • Greg's Dedication to His Mission: Despite the numerous challenges he faced, Greg remained committed to his mission of bringing education and hope to the children of Afghanistan and Pakistan. He saw this as a higher mountain to climb, just as he had once climbed the second-highest mountain in the world in his sister's honor.

Who’s Who in Three Cups of Tea

  • Key Figures in Three Cups of Tea:

    • Greg Mortenson: Cofounder of the Central Asia Institute (CAI) and co-author of the book.
    • Tara Bishop: Greg Mortenson's wife, a psychotherapist.
    • Haji Ali: Greg Mortenson's mentor and the village chief of Korphe.
    • Fatima Batool: A young girl who survived her village's bombing and attended the CAI's school for refugees in Skardu.
    • Brigadier General Bashir Baz: A retired Pakistan army officer who helped Greg after 9/11.
    • Dr. Jane Goodall: An English primatologist and anthropologist who is famous for her study of chimpanzees and her global efforts to protect them.
    • Dr. Jean Hoerni: A silicon transistor pioneer and co-founder of the Central Asia Institute with Greg Mortenson.
  • Locations and Organizations Mentioned:

    • Korphe: A village in the Hushe Valley where Greg Mortenson built his first school.
    • Skardu: A city in Pakistan where the CAI's school for refugees was located.
    • Central Asia Institute (CAI): The organization co-founded by Greg Mortenson and Dr. Jean Hoerni, focused on building schools in Central Asia.
    • National Geographic: The organization where Barry Bishop, Tara's father, led the department of research and exploration for 30 years.
  • Significant Events and Relationships:

    • Greg Mortenson's first check for his school-building efforts was given to him by Tom Brokaw, an NBC news anchor.
    • Haji Ali, the village chief of Korphe, was Greg Mortenson's mentor and passed away in 2001.
    • Tara Bishop, Greg Mortenson's wife, is a psychotherapist and has led treks in Nepal and Tibet for decades.
    • Osama bin Laden, the leader of Al Qaeda, is mentioned as either being in hiding or dead.
  • Noteworthy Individuals:

    • Sir Edmund Hillary: The first person, along with Tenzing Norgay, to climb Mount Everest.
    • Mother Teresa: A Catholic nun who set up the Daughters of Charity in Calcutta, India, and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979.
    • Amartya Sen: A Nobel Peace Prize-winning economist from Harvard University whose work focuses on education and redefining poverty.
    • Zahir Shah: The King of Afghanistan from 1933 to 1973, who was overthrown in a military coup and later returned to Afghanistan until his death in 2007.

Readers Guide

  • Greg decides to build a school in Korphe to honor the memory of his friend Christa, who had encouraged him to help the people of Pakistan.

  • When Greg returns to the U.S. with the school still not built, he feels disappointed and frustrated, but he perseveres in his efforts. Building a school in a poor part of the U.S. would have been different, as the cultural and logistical challenges would have been less significant.

  • Greg's friendships with Haji Ali, Twaha, and other Pakistanis are important, as they help him navigate the local culture and build trust within the community. These relationships challenge preconceptions about how "villagers" in Pakistan might behave.

  • The speech by Muslim leader Syed Abbas on September 11, 2001, is surprising and reassuring, as it emphasizes the importance of education and peace. Other quotes from Muslim leaders, schoolchildren, and others help readers feel more connected to the people of Central Asia.

  • Amira Mortenson's sacrifices to support her father's work are significant, and readers may question whether they could make similar sacrifices. Amira's life seems both exciting and challenging.

  • The main message of "Three Cups of Tea" can be understood as "education means hope," as Greg's efforts to build schools in Central Asia aim to provide educational opportunities and a path to a better future for the people there.

Amira’s Photos

  • Amira's Childhood in Pakistan: Amira, the daughter of Greg Mortenson, spent her early years in Pakistan, where she was photographed interacting with local Kalash tribal girls and carrying a goat as a 3-year-old. These images provide a glimpse into her experiences growing up in a different cultural context.

  • Mortenson Family's Involvement in Humanitarian Work: The chapter highlights the Mortenson family's deep involvement in humanitarian efforts in Pakistan, particularly Greg Mortenson's work in building schools and supporting education for girls. Amira and her siblings, Khyber and Tara, are shown participating in fundraising efforts and supporting their father's initiatives.

  • Tara's Perspective on Her Father's Work: Tara, Amira's sister, expresses her pride in her father's decision to pursue a different path and dedicate his life to humanitarian work in Pakistan. She acknowledges the impact of his work and the inspiration it provides for the family.

  • Amira's Perspective on Pakistan: Amira, at the age of 10, reflects on the significant changes she has witnessed in Pakistan, highlighting the country's "totally different" nature compared to her previous visits.

  • Pennies for Peace Fundraising Efforts: The chapter showcases the Mortenson family's involvement in Pennies for Peace, a fundraising initiative that encourages children to donate their spare change to support education in Pakistan. Amira and Khyber are shown selling lemonade to raise funds for this cause.

  • Importance of Education and Hope: The chapter emphasizes the transformative power of education and the role it plays in providing hope for children in Pakistan. Tara's quote, "When they write they have hope, and when they have hope, they can accomplish anything," underscores this central theme.

  • Challenges and Hardships in Pakistan: The chapter touches on the challenges faced by the people of Pakistan, including the impact of war, natural disasters, and limited access to education, particularly for girls. The images and captions depict the harsh living conditions and the efforts to provide aid and support.

  • Greg Mortenson's Mountaineering Background: The chapter provides background information on Greg Mortenson's previous experience as a mountaineer, including his attempts to climb K2, the world's second-highest mountain, and his interactions with local porters and guides.


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