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Ignorance is the enemy, education is the solution

By Arooj Ashraf, La Prensa’s Cleveland Correspondent

“Why do they hate us?” became the most asked question post 9/11 and it irked David Oliver Relin to the core. A well-traveled and distinguished journalist, he knew better. He understood that one fourth of the world’s population was being boxed into a simple stereotype and the divide of ignorance was widening.

David Oliver Relin and La Prensa's Arooj Ashraf

In an effort to mend bridges, he sought out stories like that of the Iranian-American woman, a grandmother, who died on one of the hijacked planes. “I did what little I could to show it’s not us versus them, but about some fanatics,” Relin told 50 people at Cleveland State University’s Fenn Tower on February 28, 2008.

His appearance was sponsored by Cultural Crossings, a faculty organized humanities consortium that presents lecture series that bring the world to Cleveland and enriches the intellect of the greater community.

Often called, “Windows to the World” the series took a brief tour of Pakistan, a region being categorized as the most dangerous place in the world and epicenter of the war on terror.


Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace….One School at a Time
Relin is the author of New York’s bestselling book, Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace...One School at a Time. It is a gripping story of one man’s journey to the treacherous terrain in Northern Pakistan at the foot of the Himalayas.

Defeated by the world’s second largest mountain, K2, Greg Morteson planned to return to civilization. Instead, destiny led him to Korphe, a tiny impoverished village of farmers who nursed him back to health.

Grateful, Morteson sought to help the school, only to find the 84 students sitting out in the open scratching their math lessons in the dirt. At the same spot, Morteson promised the village chief he would build a school.

As the savagery of the Taliban grew across the border in Afghanistan, Morteson struggled to raise the $12,000 he needed to build the school. His luck finally changed when elementary students in Wisconsin heard of his cause and started a Peace for Pennies campaign and donated 62,300 pennies.

When he finally returned to Pakistan, Morteson encountered more obstacles. Over a decade he conquered cultural barriers, armed kidnappings, enraged clerics and threats from U.S.-Americans, who considered him a traitor, and established the Central Asia Institute, which has built 55 schools and provides a balanced education for more than 24,000 children.

“Osama bin Laden is not the enemy, the real enemy is ignorance and poverty”
“I wanted to write this book because Greg is addressing the root causes of extremism, poverty, and ignorance,” Relin said. It took three years, several trips to Pakistan, and endless revisions to complete the book and he knew it would be a bestseller simply because it is the best story every told.

Ironically, during his first trip to Pakistan and after a gallon of tea, Relin was asked by the local elders why U.S.-American hates them. “Here I was sitting among people who are portrayed as the enemy in our media and they were asking the same question.”

Relin regards the experience as the most cross-cultural education he has ever received and he finds himself thinking of something a Pakistan military general said to him during one of his trips. “Osama bin Laden is not the enemy, the real enemy is ignorance and poverty,” Relin quotes an excerpt from the book and pauses to let it sink in. 

Book being used by U.S. Military
The book is now being used by the U.S. military to educate soldiers about the region and its greatest challenges—poverty and lack of education. “I receive hundreds of letters from commanders and soldiers saying you are right, we can not win this war with bombs,” Relin said.

Morteson has single-handedly changed the perception of the United States in a region most susceptible to spouting hatred as a consequence of war and growing militant tensions.

“I’m glad to say things are changing, the military is learning from its mistakes,” Relin said. The country recently held democratic elections which denounced religious extremism in preference of secular leaders.

“Every year, the number of schools sponsored by the Central Asia Institute are growing and providing elementary education for girls and boys. “Greg wanted to educate the girls because they tend to stay on in the villages and educate generations to come,” Relin said.

The very first student to graduate from Korphe, Jahan is now a medical student who hopes to become a health administrator and manage clinics and hospitals in the northern regions.

“What we need to do is create armies of Jahans because the extremists wouldn’t stand a chance,” Relin said. Education has opened practical doors and improved daily conditions.

One student, Aziza, was bullied for going to school, only to return to her village with basic maternal health training and reduced the child-labor deaths by 100 percent. When people experience the effects of education, cultural constraints melt away.

Relin said most people are so moved by the book they want to hop on the plane and go to Pakistan and volunteer. He encourages them to put that energy into their own backyards by becoming mentors, tutors and helping students in the U.S. who need help.

Monetary donations are the most efficient way to help CAI. A new school requires $50,000 to cover the cost of construction, materials, and provides annual salaries for teachers who are trained by Western professionals. He said Saudi Government and the Kuwaitis are pumping millions into Pakistan to support radical religious schools which pop up like wild mushrooms in spring.

Books or Bombs
While Relin regards the Iraq war as the biggest western blunder, he believes the war in Afghanistan can still be won through providing better education and jobs rather than dropping bombs.

“For the cost of one cruise missile you can build a dozen schools which provide moderate education. One will temporally eliminate the problem the other will educate generations, which would you support?”

Relin next project is a book on Vietnam’s landmine crisis. Landmines claim a life per day and Relin hopes to shed light on the problem and the responsibility countries have to their citizens, post-combat.

For more information on Relin visit his site: www.davidoliverrelin.com
www.threecupsoftea.com to learn more about the book; support the Pennies for Peace cause and learn more about the Central Asia Institute. 





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