Stones into Schools. Promoting Peace with Books, not Bombs in Afghanistan and Pakistan, By Greg Mortenson

Building Bridges Across the World

Book Review By Emily Fisher

“When you take the time to actually listen, with humility, to what people have to say, it’s amazing what you can learn.”

Greg Mortenson follows up his best-selling book, Three Cups of Tea, with another story: Stones into Schools. This story talks about not only his own personal experience with building schools in remote communities in Pakistan and Afghanistan, but more importantly highlights what the people in those remote communities do for themselves. Because while his organization, the Central Asia Institute (CAI), uses what donors worldwide give to help in this effort, it is often the people in the communities themselves that are the lasting spirit of the effort. Indeed, his greatest accomplishment in this work was not an accomplishment that he had much to do with- which he so bluntly states to the reader.

Throughout the story the reader hears about and witnesses Greg’s belief system in action; beliefs that were challenged and survived the tests in the communities he worked. The most important thing to him was to build relationships with and engage the people he was working with. He did not set out to do charity work but wanted to use relationships with the local people as a way to engage them in this battle to educate young students, especially females. Educating youth was of the upmost importance and ensuring that it was the people in those communities that were responsible for educating the youth, not an outside organization like CAI was the only way he felt he could succeed and make sustainable changes. There were many times that these schools were not destroyed by violence when other foreign aid organizations were hit because the people in the communities stood up in defence: “it was their school, they were proud of it, and they demanded that it be left alone” (p. 139.)

By going into these communities, listening to the people and subsequently empowering them with enough support and resources, stones were made into schools. “In a way, even though we had come into this stricken valley in order to build schools and to promote education, we were inviting the people of the area to become our teachers” (p. 191.) The difficult piece about this listening to those in the communities sometimes meant that before Greg and his team could begin building a school, they had to build something else.  Sometimes that meant bridges- other times that meant changing the design of the school to accommodate certain unique aspects of the community. In one area this involved building an open air veranda and equipping it with sturdy wooden desks. The youth in the area were not attending the schools because they were hit with an earthquake while in school: due to poor structural configurations many of their peers were killed during the quake. It was only through talking to the youth in the community that this was discovered. Had they not taken the time to talk to these locals, they might have built a school that no one attended!

This book fully illustrates the importance of focusing on empowerment based on caring for others and a belief that others can truly can on a challenge. If this caring and belief is genuine, as Greg’s experience demonstrates, one will go in with open ears and first listen to what others have to say, then act on it. And that is really the only way to build anything of lasting value.

Visit the website for more information on the book and his work: http://www.stonesintoschools.com/

Review Published: March 2010

To read more about this book review’s author, visit her Bio.

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