Building With Books

Lessons from the Central Asia Institute

Mortenson with students of the Khanday School.

The Backstory

To place it all in context

Greg Mortenson, an American raised in Tanzania, was an avid mountain climber. The early loss of his father and then of his younger sister Chista, with whom he was very close, prompted him to attempt a summit of K2 in her memory.

He failed. Lost and disorientated from a gruelling retreat down the mountain, Mortenson stumbled into the village of Korphe: an impoverished outpost deep in the Braldu Valley of remote north-eastern Pakistan. There he witnessed many children, crouching on the ground, clutching sticks and scratching their lessons into the dirt. The spectacle of this harsh poverty affected Mortenson deeply, and he promised to return to build them a school.

“The first time you share tea with a Balti, you are a stranger. The second time you take tea, you are an honored guest. The third time you share a cup of tea, you become family, and for our family, we are prepared to do anything, even die.” Haji AliVillage Chief, Korphe

In America, few rallied to his cause, and obtaining the funds necessary to build the school looked unlikely until a phone call to a wealthy Seattle based physicist, Dr. Jean Hoerni landed him a cheque for $12,000 with one simple instruction: don't screw up!

Three years and many setbacks later, Korphe proudly opened its first ever school building to throngs of excited children. The year was 1996 and marked a turning point in Mortenson's life. As director of the newly formed Central Asia Institute, and in possession of additional funds from a grateful Jean Hoerni, Mortenson embarked on this new life journey to bring education to those in desperate need in the war-torn and abandoned regions of central Asia.

A journey that is still going strong today.