Building With Books

Lessons from the Central Asia Institute

An official letter from elders detailing their request for a school. Adults who can't write use their thumbprints as their signatures.

Questions of Authenticity

Jon Krakauer and the deceipt debacle

The CAI has grown handsomely from its humble beginnings; particularly as a result of Greg Mortenson's two books, Three Cups of Tea, and its sequel Stones into Schools, which recount his endeavours in remote Pakistan and Afghanistan. Their success has been the vessel allowing the CAI to gain wider recognition and support; raising the profile of its work by reaching a larger audience. However, recent investigation into Mortensonís books, management conduct and CAI accounting practices yielded some startling allegations.

In April of 2011, 60 Minutes aired a segment based on the findings of Jon Krakauer, celebrated author of Into the Wild; who, his new book ĎThree Cups of Deceití, questions the truth behind events in Mortensonís original work, Three Cups of Tea. Through interviews of Mortensonís accomplices, it claims to debunk the chapter of his initial discovery of Korphe and his encounter with the poverty of villages in the Karakoram that launched him on his humanitarian crusade, as being a fabricated myth.

“He devotes nearly a third of the book to this transformative experience, which he says occurred in September 1993. It's a compelling creation myth. The problem is, it's precisely that: a myth.” Jon KrakauerThree Cups of Deceit

Krakauer further attacks the event of Mortenson's detention in Waziristan; shared in Three Cups of Tea as well as his lack of accountability for funds; the profits from his books and speaking engagements and the murky situation of costs carried by the CAI for Mortenson's own book related expenses. He also reveals that some of the schools the CAI claims to have built and/or are operating either stand empty or function poorly due to lack of payment for teachers. (Krakauer 2011)

The Response

“What they said is inaccurate. Last night [Saturday, April 16th], one of our staff talked with two people from Korphe and they re-affirmed that I was in Korphe in 1993, two years before we built a bridge there.”- Greg Mortenson

In response to the spate of criticism and damaging media attention, the CAI released a special addition of its annual publication Journey of Hope to address the allegations levelled against it and to answer questions raised by concerned donors and charity watchdogs (Stemle 2011). It has invited outside scrutiny into its accounting practices and records and does acknowledge that some of its organisational aspects may need review.

We believe that an element of disorganization might be present in the administrative aspects of CAI. We feel that the best path forward is to take these allegations seriously, to undergo thorough, objective and public self-assessment, and to welcome the outside scrutiny. (CAI - 2011)

In an interview with Outside Magazine, Mortenson defended the formative chapters of his book decried as fiction and questioned parts of Kakauer's research and assumptions.

What they said is inaccurate. Last night [Saturday, April 16th], one of our staff talked with two people from Korphe and they re-affirmed that I was in Korphe in 1993, two years before we built a bridge there. (Greg Mortenson - Outside Online 2011)

This position was backed by fellow climber Scott Darsney who was interviewed by Krakauer.

Yes, I did say to Jon Krakauer that Greg didn't go to Korphe until 1994. However, on our way out, Greg got lost. About half a day later, Greg finally showed up in Askole saying he'd made a major wrong turn. He'd ended up in a village on the wrong side of the Braldu River. It's certainly plausible that this was Korphe. (Scott Darsney - Outside Online 2011)

Despite the recent debacle, support for the CAI remains strong, and its recent growth has allowed it to expand its operations, and it remains dedicated to addressing the complex issue of educating girls, and to inspiring and facilitating that complex cultural transition, especially in remote areas. (Central Asia Institute 2011)

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