Much has been written, blogged, talked, scrutinized and analyzed after 60 Minutes episode about Greg Mortensen and his activities with Central Asian Institute (CAI). There has been understandable outcry against alleged abuses and misappropriation of funds meant to better education standards in Pakistan and Afghanistan. However, as experience always teaches us, there is always another side of any story. Even if half the 170 schools CAI claims were actually built, this is remarkable and praiseworthy. Of course Greg Mortensen (and or his CAI) needs to be held accountable for any misuse or misappropriation of funds
Schools not being used or staffed in a place like Afghanistan is not believable; I should know, I have been to Afghanistan 18 times as part of (ironically) Comfort Aid International – CIA! I have personally seen children shiver as cold winds scream from surrounding mountains as they try study under open skies or in tattered tents. Like everything in life, the answer is in balance; balance between needs and wants. I am totally convinced all schools built in Afghanistan will educate children; later, if not immediately. The government of Afghanistan is very corrupt yes, but has in place systems to get teachers and (some) books to the remotest part of that wrenched country if you build them a school. CAI (ours) has built 7 schools in some of the most remote parts of Afghanistan; all operate normally. Even if 10% of children, especially girls, who go to our schools become productive members of society, responsible parents and ensure their children are not left illiterate, why, we have won a grueling battle.
There is a need, at times, when scholarships and tuition will also make a difference. In urban cities of India, Pakistan and East Africa, it makes little sense to build schools, even in very poor neighborhoods; scholarship support is an ideal alternative and this is exactly what our CAI has focused on, with amazing results. There are hundreds of success cases of poor students making it out of poverty into life of comfort and privilege, it humbles and amazes me how simple the process can be, really.
Greg Mortensen, I think, was overambitious; ran before he could properly walk. I am not going to comment about the accuracy of his books, I do not know, I was not there. He did err in mixing his book business with that of CAI (his). But the schools that he did actually build will be of benefit to the children of Afghanistan and Pakistan; of this I am fairly certain. Emotions are a big factor in what motivate us aid workers. For me, a child studying in the open and using dirt as books is a no brainer; this is not acceptable, a small modest school will happen, if I have anything to do with the situation. It is easy being a critic sitting in a warm, safe, comfortable room thousands of miles away and pounding away at a keypad; for the real deal, I suggest a few days somewhere in Yawkawlang, Sacheck, Bamiyan, Belkhaab, Goshfundi, Daikundi, Ghazni, Sarpole…, an expanse of Afghanistan so remote and desolate, so poor and people so traumatized, it will make you question if mankind has any conscience.
My latest trip report to Afghanistan with photographs coming up soon, insha’Allah.