Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Momentum Builds To Bring "Three Cups of Tea" Author To Olympia: High School Group Reaches First Half of Fundraising Goal

Above: Greg Mortenson meets children and signs books after a speaking engagement at Seattle Pacific University on December 15, 2009.

By Janine Gates

The Olympia High School student Rotary club, Interact, successfully reached the first part of its goal to raise $12,500 by December 28 to bring “Three Cups of Tea” author Greg Mortenson to Olympia. (See related story dated December 14 at www.janineslittlehollywood.blogspot.com.)

The high school group needs to raise another $12,500 by April 13. Mortenson is scheduled to appear in Olympia on May 13. Mortenson’s honorarium goes towards his non-profit, Central Asia Institute, to build schools, primarily for girls, in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

A total of $12,515.00 came through by the December 28 deadline, according to Norma Schuiteman, Executive Director of The Community Foundation of South Puget Sound.

Donations for Mortenson are being accepted by The Community Foundation, a local non-profit organization. To make a donation towards Mortenson’s honorarium, checks can be made out to: "The Community Foundation," and mailed to: The Community Foundation of South Puget Sound, 111 Market St NE, Suite 375, Olympia, WA 98501. Be sure to write “Greg Mortenson Project” in the memo section of your check. Donations are tax-deductible.

Kaycee Keegan, 18, is excited to achieve this first hurdle. Keegan originated the idea of bringing Mortenson to Olympia for her senior project and has been speaking in front of several South Sound area Rotary clubs and other organizations to raise thousands of dollars toward the honorarium.

Keegan, who is in Virginia for the holidays, said in a phone interview, "I'm really, really excited about it because now we can move on and we know we can get him....We did get a big donation - $2,000 - from a doctor's medical group and that really helped us, but we also got lots of $20 - $25 donations that really helped too. We still need people to help. We hope to get some corporate sponsors - a few companies have expressed interest and I'm going to go visit them in the next few weeks."

Above: Kaycee Keegan, Olympia High School Interact student group co-coordinator, briefs the Interact club on her speaking engagements with several Rotary clubs to raise money to bring author Greg Mortenson to Olympia in May.

Sean Padget, president of the downtown Rotary Club, echoed Keegan's comments. "I'm pretty excited about it. I've read his first book ("Three Cups of Tea") and I'm working on his latest one. There's lots of angles to this, but it's a great story that really teaches young people about the power of one and the value of community service." Mortenson's publishing company required that an adult be the official event coordinator for Mortenson's visit, and Padget is fulfilling that role.

At a recent Interact student group meeting held just prior to the holiday break, Olympia High School principal Matt Grant suggested to students, “We have to start organizing as fast as we can...we need separate committees, such as food, publicity and entertainment....There’s a lot of room for creativity and leadership.”

Teasha Feldman, Interact group co-coordinator, said she will work on the international dinner, which will serve as a fundraiser for Mortenson’s children's program, Pennies for Peace. Pennies for Peace encourages elementary and high school students to spend time with their elders and introduces children to philanthropy.

Ticket and event location details for Mortenson's appearance in Olympia will be forthcoming.

Mortenson Speaks in Seattle

Above: In his new book, "Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan," Mortenson describes how his daughter, Amira, 13, discovered there were no playgrounds at any of the schools he had built. Playgrounds are now required at every school. When Taliban leaders saw this playground at one of his schools, Mortenson says they ran over to swing on the swings, and Mortenson was successful in gaining their cooperation in the area. "They had no chance to play as children....We don't need troops, we just need playgrounds," Mortenson said.

Author Greg Mortenson spoke in Seattle on December 15, packing Seattle Pacific University’s Royal Broughton Hall with 2,000 people. Recently nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, Mortenson was greeted with a standing ovation. Gracious and humorous, Mortenson told the audience many stories while giving a slideshow of his efforts to build schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan and described his recent interactions with current U.S. military leadership.

Mortenson began by saying that he is not a political person but expressed concern with President Obama's current strategy in Afghanistan. "You can't run a democracy in secrecy...and we didn't consult the elders there...they are the real integrity of the country. The country itself is quite fragile and corrupt. We have to consult the elders, and our military (leadership) is ahead of our state department right now."

Mortenson, an Army veteran, says he is impressed that military leaders such as General David Petraeus and Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have "listened and taken notes," and have each visited Afghanistan over three dozen times in the last three months. On the other hand, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vice President Biden have each visited the country once, for a few hours, Mortenson said.

Mortenson's humanitarian efforts not only include the building of schools, but has recently expanded to include a midwife training program in Pakistan's Charpursan Valley, near the Afghan border. Twelve women are in the program. Afghanistan has the third-highest infant mortality rate in the world, and Pakistan the 32nd highest. In Pakistan, 297 of every 100,000 women die giving birth. In Afghanistan, the maternal mortality rate is 1,600 for every 100,000 live births.

Mortenson admitted that he does not like public speaking, but realizes that people want to see him. After his presentation, Mortenson met with all the children who wanted to meet with him for book signings, before meeting with adults. Mortenson said it is his interactions with children that gives him the most energy and hope for the future.

Describing his initial efforts to raise money to build his first school, Mortenson said, "it wasn't adults, it wasn't celebrities, it was children who would raise 62,000 pennies," that gave him his start. Mortenson related several stories of specific children who have begun organizations that make a difference in the world.

Mortenson said he is often asked why he focuses on building schools primarily for girls. "There is an African proverb I 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.' We have a goal to educate a girl to at least a fifth grade level to reduce infant mortality, reduce a population explosion, and improve the basic qualities of health and life itself." Just under half of the population in Pakistan and Afghanistan is under the age of 15.

Mortenson says girls are more likely to teach their mothers to read. Mothers, also, are usually asked by their sons for their blessing to participate in a jihad, "and educated women do not give it."

According to UNICEF, thousands of schools have been destroyed or shut down by the Taliban or other groups in Afghanistan and an additional 850 schools in Pakistan. Only one Central Asia Institute school has been attacked by the Taliban, and that was two years ago in Afghanistan. The girls were back in school within two days.

Above: Greg Mortenson in Seattle December 15.

For more information on efforts to bring Mortenson to Olympia, contact Kaycee Keegan at mortenson.project@gmail.com.

For more information about Mortenson's Central Asia Institute, go to www.ikat.org.

For more information about Pennies for Peace, go to www.penniesforpeace.org.