It's A Gray Area: Effective fights for freedom

July 24, 2010|By James P. Gray

This week I will continue to discuss the recent Freedom Fest convention in Las Vegas, where one of the speakers was Greg Mortenson.

You probably know of Mortenson as the co-author of the book "Three Cups of Tea," which describes his experiences in building about 50 schools for boys — and girls — in mountain villages in Pakistan and Afghanistan. His new book, "Stones into Schools," provides an update on this amazing success.

Mortenson is a fairly shy, humble and self-effacing man who stumbled upon his life's work project that is bringing a measure of peace to those two troubled and unstable lands. As was descending from his attempt to climb K-2, the second highest peak in the world, Mortenson became lost, sick and disoriented, whereupon he was nursed back to health by the people of one of the villages.


In gratitude, Greg promised to come back and build them a school, which he learned, was the most closely held desire of the villagers. Thereafter he kept his promise, and that began his story.

Mortenson does it right by employing the methods I was actually taught during my training for the Peace Corps. He understands that no program will be really successful unless it addresses what we in the Peace Corps called the "felt needs" of the community.

That means that the people in the community must actually want the project, and be materially involved in the decision-making and implementation process. And then the project only has a real chance to become permanent if it will continue to prosper without us.

In that regard, during training we were told the hypothetical story of a Peace Corps Volunteer, who was asked by one of the visiting Peace Corps staff members what he had accomplished during his two years of service.

The volunteer responded by pointing to some people working in a field and growing some drought-resistant grain, which he had introduced into his village, and pointing in another direction to the people working to install a new water treatment plant that he had initiated.

Finally, he pointed to a neighboring house in which a woman was working on her loom. She was doing work for the coop he had helped to start and that weaved native cloth in traditional designs to be sold in the tourist trade. And all of this was happening while he was sitting down and having breakfast.

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