“Three Cups of Tea” sparks new outlook on education

Katelyn Baker

I always just assumed I was going to college. At 14 years old, I visited my first college and, aside from the two months of panic waiting for applications to be looked over during senior year, always knew there was a place for me in a four-year university.

I think this is similar to the experience of many middle class American kids.

We grow up with the idea that as long as we get good grades, impress some admissions people and score decently on a test of random information, we will have an academically fulfilling life.

For some, it may be harder than that. For others, easier. But in the end, we often take the gift of education for granted.

As a self proclaimed book-a-holic, I picked up dozens of books to enjoy over winter break on my many dates with my couch. The wildly popular “Three Cups of Tea” by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin was among them.

Mortenson, who started out as a mountain climber attempting and failing to climb Pakistan’s K2 in 1993, now dedicates himself to building schools in remote areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan. His mission is shockingly simple: promote peace through books and education, not bombs. And it actually works.

In a remote Pakistani town where he spent days recovering after his failed climbing attempt, Mortenson took notice of the village children. Most were illiterate. The impoverished community could not even afford the $1 a day salary to hire a teacher.

The villagers blamed it on the altitude, but Mortenson promised to return and build a school for the 84 children of the desolate town. No one expected he would return, and certainly never with the force that he did.

Now, usually I’m not a fan of “fad” humanitarian efforts. I see them as self-fulfillment disguised by service. So, when I discovered that Mortenson sent letters to politicians, celebrities and everyone in between begging for the funds to build schools, I rolled my eyes. I thought that this guy just wants to be “Mister-I-Helped-Kids-in-Pakistan-Learn-to-Read.”

But Mortenson indeed returned to Pakistan to give the gift of education.

After reading accounts of kidnappings and death threats from multiple prominent figures in Pakistan and Afghanistan, I realized that Mortenson is not a man looking for fame and fortune.

He is, simply speaking, giving to the children of central Asia what we as Americans take for granted and complain about on a daily basis.

Even though I was hesitant to discuss the book because it has become one of those really popular “let’s save the world” efforts, I think the message of “Three Cups of Tea” is something to keep in mind beginning a new semester. We are college students. Do you have any idea what those words would mean to a 21-year-old Pakistani man or woman?

This all may seem a little cliché, but this book made me truly realize what it is I am complaining about. And then I just felt dumb. I’m complaining about the opportunity to further myself, and the opportunity to live on my own and meet others with similar passions and dreams. Mortenson’s tale humbled me in a way not easily forgotten.

So, as you take furious notes that give your wrist the “welcome back to school” cramp and fill in a planner with an ungodly amount of readings and assignments, remember what you have. Some will never feel that cramp or the stress of having 24 hours to read 300 pages.

The bottom line: Make the most out of life and look at each semester as an opportunity for advancement.