Date: February 26, 2008
Time: 7 p.m.
Location: Belmont High School auditorium, 221 Concord Ave, Belmont, MA
It was amazing to see how many braved the rain on Tuesday, February 26 to hear Greg Mortenson speak about his book Three Cups of Tea. Mawrtyrs Rosi Amador ʼ81, Sydney Owens ʼ64, Cornelia Robart ʼ61, Elizabeth Robart ʼ93 and Elizabeth Atkins ʼ46 attended. There were at least 1000 people there because the groups involved in the “Belmont Reads” project, had planned an earlier series of lectures: a Pakistani professor, a Muslim teacher of world history at Newton North High, a photo journalist who had been many times to Afghanistan interviewing women and children, and a kite making project for kids, so that everyone involved wanted to hear Mortenson himself.
He spoke passionately about his experiences and work, showing slides of people and projects but it didn’t sound at all like a canned speech. He began with an African proverb which he had heard as a child when his parents were working in Tanzania. “If you teach a boy, you teach an individual, but if you teach a girl, you teach a community,” and went on to show the correlation between lower pregnancy rates, better health etc. that resulted from this. He felt that schools being built with USAID
funds or by the Pakistani government were top down and cost much more than those built by working with the local people, listening to their needs and getting them involved. That would be the best counteraction against the Taliban. That’s the same complaint made by Sarah Chayes the NPR reporter who started a soap factory in Afghanistan.
Sydney Owens and a friend then returned to my (Elizabeth Atkins) house with me following the talk. Her friend was a nurse and remarked that she could tell from the way that Mortenson walked that his back must be hurting. He had already spoken that same day at Babson College and a high school. He said that the hardest thing was being away so much from his wife and children but he feels that it’s important to continue going back to Pakistan and Afghanistan and also to talk about his work. Volunteers were handing out copies of “The Journey of Hope”, a special report by the Bozeman Daily Chronicle of a trip taken last summer by the editor and the chief photographer to Pakistan and Afghanistan to document his work there and the Central Asia Institute which he founded.