Last evening I heard Greg Mortenson, author of Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace One School at a Time speak at a sold out Richmond (VA) Forum.
I haven’t read the book yet, but it’s moved to the top of my list. His words resonated with me because I work for ChildFund International, an international child development organization dedicated to helping children in 31 countries be empowered to grow and change their lives.
He’s a sought-after speaker and his book made it the bestseller list for many weeks. But his fame didn’t come overnight. Like many authors, it was a difficult road.
The subtitle of the book was originally about fighting terrorism because the publisher believed it would sell more books since it was being published in the aftermath of 9/11. But the author knew that wouldn’t work because “fighting terrorism is about promoting fear.”
He made a deal with the publisher that if the book didn’t sell well in hardback, the publisher would change the subtitle to the subtitle about peace. When the book did not do well in hardback, Mortenson reminded his published of the deal. When the book was published in paperback the subtitle was changed and sales took off.
Mortenson spoke about how peace is based in hope and the need to empower people “so they can lead their destinies.”
His first school took a while to build, Mortenson admitted, because he was micromanaging the work. But then he turned it over to the community and six weeks later it was built. “You have to let go and empower the community,” he said.
The growth of schools in Afghanistan and the educating of young girls has grown exponentially. In 2000 only 800,000 children, mostly boys, attended schools. By 2009, 8.4 million students attend schools and 2.5 million are girls.
When girls attend school until at least the fifth-grade, a country will see reduced infant mortality, reduced population explosion and an improvement in basic qualities of health and life, Mortenson said.
He noted that there is an African proverb he learned as a child in Tanzania, “If you educate a boy, you educate an individual. But if you educate a girl, you educate a community.”
His new book, Stones Into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan, came out in December.