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"Stones Into Schools: Promoting Peace With Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan" by Greg Mortenson is not simply a sequel to his New York Times bestseller, "Three Cups of Tea." It is a continuation of Mortenson's amazing philanthropic journey as he helps build schools in rural villages across Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Mortenson, the son of Lutheran missionaries, was born in Minnesota, grew up in Tanzania and graduated from the University of South Dakota. After a failed mountain climbing attempt on K2, he stumbled, exhausted and near delirious, into the remote Pakistani town of Korphe, where he promised to build a school after the townspeople nursed him back to health. The ensuing adventure, told in "Three Cups of Tea," focused on Mortenson and his fledgling organization, the Central Asia Institute. "Stones Into Schools" mostly follows the institute's "Dirty Dozen" -- 12 men of different ethnicities, religions and languages, who, with a passion for education and hard work, build schools and women's centers at "the end of the road" in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
As most of the groundwork is taken up by his colleagues, Mortenson becomes "a one-man yak train" of funding. The adventure and danger escalate as the institute penetrates deep into Taliban country and the Wakhan corridor, a finger of high plains inhabited by a nomadic people nearly cut off from civilization by bordering countries in crisis. The book also tells harrowing and heroic stories of the 2005 eastern Pakistan earthquake.
Although at times the research seems plopped into the narrative and the repetition of mysterious sentences at the end of each section becomes irritating, "Stones Into Schools" is written with care and consistency. The book overflows with picturesque descriptions of the sweeping mountainous vistas and dusty plains of Central Asia, reflecting Mortenson's passion for this landscape and culture.
Book-club-ready with photos, maps, appendices, a glossary and a foreword by renowned author Khaled Hosseini, "Stones Into Schools" summarizes the action in "Three Cups of Tea," so readers do not need to read this book's predecessor to become engaged in its compelling odyssey.
The book's crucial message is that education is the best form of counterinsurgency. The Central Asia Institute empowers local communities, giving them ownership of their schools. This approach, which demands cultural sensitivity, several cups of tea and much conversation, ensures the long-term success of its programs.
Mortenson's Central Asia Institute is changing the world, one child at a time. Perhaps the story will be completed in the future by one of these schools' female graduates. In the meantime, this educational book will open doors of compassion and understanding.
Kathryn Kysar is a St. Paul-based teacher and poet.