September 24, Wednesday evening

In a ballroom of the Fairmont Hotel, at an event presented by The Commonwealth Club, The Rowell Legacy Committee and The Yosemite Fund

Greg Mortenson (the brown blur on the left side of my picture) stands before evidence--two children pouring over a picture book--that people are reading everywhere, not just on the streets of San Francisco (and Kuala Lumpur and LA -- see top of right sidebar -->).

Greg Mortenson builds schools in the remote communities of Afghanistan and Pakistan. The first school he built was funded with a couple of kind donations and the money he saved while living in his car and working as a night nurse in an emergency room. Since then, he's built so many schools he's spawned a non-profit -- the Central Asia Institute.

Sharing him with the kids of Afghanistan and Pakistan are his own kids. When he was home from building schools, in 2006, his son, at age five, began to read his first words. Even though I was far from the stage, still, when he turned his head, I could see that his eyes were glowing in the light of the PowerPoint.

When you teach children to write and to read, one of the first things they do, he said, speaking about the students at his schools, is go home and help their mothers write letters to their families. When women marry, they often leave their families and move to new villages. Sharing letters brings them back together. No doubt Greg Mortenson's children, and his wife, when he is gone, write him letters as well!

After the program I was able to talk to Greg Mortenson and to Genevieve Chabot, a program manager, one of the few staff members of the Central Asia Institute. The kids really love picture books, anything sensory, she said. The books that fill the school's libraries are bought from bookstores within the countries and then make their journeys down tiny dirt roads, high into the mountains. About ninety percent of the curriculum is math and science. There's history, there's literature, and, also part of the curriculum, requiring no books at all, is storytelling. Elders from the community are invited to come in and share with the students. Mortenson's eyes flickered again in the light of the PowerPoint when he praised the oral tradition.

Greg Mortenson, with author David Oliver Relin, wrote the bestseller, Three Cups of Tea, which tells his whole story. It is truly a beautiful book. You can get it from the Central Asia Institute website.

Have you ever had the privilege of listening while a small child read you a book?

3 Comments:

Matt said...

I think San Francisco is a very well-read city. Just look at all the great neighborhood independent bookstores. People are reading everywhere. You can spot at least half a dozen people reading easy at my cafe (Cafe Flore 16th/Noe) in the morning. Happy reading. Love your blog!

Katie said...

Three Cups of Tea is an amazing, worldview changing book. It really opens your eyes to read something about what like is like in Pakistan and Afghanistan instead of just watching reports about terrorism. I really enjoyed it and have recommended it several times.

jessi said...

I agree, Three Cups of Tea is a great book. I just finished it and have been recommending it to everyone. It talks about things that you don't often hear mentioned in the news.