Greg Mortenson portrait.jpg
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...
— Greg Mortenson, David Oliver Relin

Three Cups of Tea is a New York TimesW bestselling book by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin published by Penguin in 2006. The book describes Mortenson's transition from a mountain-climber to a humanitarian committed to reducing poverty and educating girls in PakistanW and AfghanistanW. He did this by co-founding the Central Asia InstituteW, which has built over 131 schools in the most remote areas of the countries, educating over 58,000 students.[1][2]

In 2011, a controversy exploded around Mortenson, the Central Asia InstituteW) and the book, with allegations in a new book Three Cups of Deceit[3] and a 60 Minutes report[4] about false claims and misuse of donor funds.

The book suggests important lessons in international developmentW and aidW, about the value of personal relationships and communication in developmentW.

Concerns[edit | edit source]

Many concerns have been raised, in Three Cups of Deceit, news reports and blogs, including:

  • False or misleading claims were made about the number of schools.
  • School buildings were built but no teachers were available.
  • The focus appeared to be on buildingsW rather than educationW and teachers. This suggests that even the mission was misguided.
  • Cultural imperialismW - e.g. this issue appeared on the book's its GoodReads page before 2011.
  • the gap between public/popular and professional understandings of good developmentW and what it ought to achieve
  • the importance of the unsexy (NGO governanceW, measurement, auditing, monitoringW etc) over the photogenic (media opportunities with cute kids). Unfortunately it is the latter which is effective in raising funds; however a lack of effective methodology can lead to a crisis such as that faced by Mortenson.
  • That good intentionsW can lead to disastrous outcomes. Although some accused Mortenson of fraud, many also defended his intentions, including NY Times journalist Nicholas Kristof who suggested reserving judgement until more is known.[5]
  • The kinds of people who should be entrusted with leadership responsibilities in development. "Greg, by nature, is more of a founding visionary than the disciplined C.E.O. necessary to run a $20 million-a-year charity." - Nicholas Kristof[5]
  • Bad publicity resulting from bad projects can turn off people from donatingW to organizations that are well run and are making a real difference.
  • "You should never be the hero of your own stories." To be fair to Mortenson, though, a professional co-writer was used for Three Cups of Tea, and heroism is likely to be demanded by publishers as it sells more books than modest and balanced discussions of aid processes.
  • International development, even among many people who should know better, is prone to fads. (E.g. see PlayPumpW.)
  • Other organizations were also active in education in the same region, some apparently building more schools than Mortenson's organization.[6]
  • "Whites in Shining Armor" syndrome - i.e. paternalismW by privileged foreigners.
  • Stories that are so emotionally resonant that potential donors don't think to evaluate the project itself.
  • A lack in enforcement (or ability to enforce) financial standards, monitoring and evaluation, reporting, complaint mechanism, and accountability in development.

Some charity rating services failed to raise appropriate concerns about the Central Asia Institute.

  • Using "awareness raising" material from organizations in schools (e.g. in the USA) which may be biased and which serves as fund raising for the organization.[7] This also risks making children cynical when they learn that they have been told a biased version of the truth, or worse.

Positive points about the work remain (although overshadowed by the apparent failings) e.g.:

  • The priority for schools and not guns.
  • The emphasis on connecting with local people rather than dropping a pre-determined foreign aid program on a village. (See EmpowermentW).

Summary[edit | edit source]

The book's title comes from a proverb of the Balti peopleW (from the mountains of south Central AsiaW): "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..."[8]

In 1993, Greg Mortenson attempted to climb K2W. Descending during a life-saving rescue of another climber, he became lost, weak and exhausted, and alone. He came across a small village built on a shelf jutting out from a canyon. He was greeted and taken in by the chief elder of the village, Haji Ali.[9]

To repay the remote community for its hospitality, Mortenson promised to build a school for the village. After difficulties in raising capital, Mortenson was introduced to Jean HoerniW, a Silicon Valley pioneer who donated the money that Mortenson needed for his school. In the last months of Hoerni's life (Hoerni was dying from leukemia), he co-founded the Central Asia InstituteW, endowing the CAI to build schools in rural Pakistan and Afghanistan.[10]

Mortenson faced many daunting challenges in his quest to raise funds for the building of more than 55 schools in Taliban territory, including death threats from Islamic mullahs, long periods of separation from his family, and being kidnapped by Taliban sympathizers.[11]

Looking at the post-9/11W world, Mortenson argues that extremism in the region can be deterred through collaborative efforts to alleviate poverty and improve access to education, especially for girls. Formerly, schooling focused on the boys, but educated boys tend to move to the cities to find jobs, and seldom return. By contrast, educated girls tend to remain in the community and pass their enhanced knowledge to the next generation. Thus, Mortenson suggests, educating girls has more of a lasting benefit for the community.[12]

Publication[edit | edit source]

The original hardback book was released in 2006 with the subtitle, "One Man's Mission to Fight Terrorism One School at a Time." Mortenson fought against the subtitle, managed to have it changed for the 2007 paperback edition to his first choice, "One Man's Mission to Promote Peace One School at a Time." The re-titled book made the New York Times nonfiction paperback bestseller list. Mortenson explained his reasoning in a talk given in Fairfield, ConnecticutW: "If you just fight terrorism, it's based in fear. If you promote peace, it's based in hope."[13]

If you just fight terrorism, it's based in fear. If you promote peace, it's based in hope.
— Greg Mortenson

The book remained a number one NYT bestseller for "three years"[14] after its release.

Sequel[edit | edit source]

A sequel to Three Cups of Tea, titled Stones Into Schools: Promoting Peace With Books, Not Bombs, In Afghanistan and Pakistan [1], was released in 2009. It follows the progress of Mortenson's seventeen year effort to promote female literacyW and education, with an emphasis on the expansion of his efforts into Afghanistan, and his expressed admiration to help the U.S. military to promote peace and build relationships with the Afghan shuraW (leaders).

References[edit | edit source]

  1. "Mortenson Campaigned to Build Schools in Asia", ABC News, March 8, 2006.
  2. Worldview: The lesson jihadis fear most – In the remote reaches of Pakistan, former mountain climber Greg Mortenson is besting extremists by building schools", Philadelphia Inquirer, January 13, 2008.
  3. Three Cups of Deceit: How Greg Mortenson, Humanitarian Hero, Lost His Way, Jon Krakauer, 2011.
  4. See Greg Mortenson, 60 Minutes report from CBSNewsOnline, YouTube, Apr 17, 2011
  5. 5.0 5.1 'Three Cups of Tea,' Spilled, Nicholas D. Kristof, April 20, 2011. Kristof described Mortenson as a friend, described selfless behavior by Mortenson, and had earlier written a positive article about the work: It Takes a School, Not Missiles, July 13, 2008
  6. The Miseducation of Thomas Friedman, Mosharraf Zaidi, 2009.
  7. Destroying Reader Loyalty], Barbara Vey, April 19th, 2011.
  8. Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace One School at a Time, by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin, Penguin Books, NY, 2006, p. 150.
  9. "Fresh Air", with Terry Gross,National Public Radio (NPR), February 7, 2002.
  10. "Another Way to stop Terrorism", Parade Magazine, March 5, 2006.
  11. "A failed mountaineer becomes a philanthropist after a village without a school saves his life", Christian Science Monitor, Marilyn Gardner, September 12, 2006.
  12. "To fight terror, Montanan builds schools in Asia", Todd Wilkinson, Christian Science Monitor, January 21, 2003.
  13. "Educating the World One Step at a Time", Alison Walkley, Fairfield Citizen News, March 7, 2008.
  14. []

External links[edit | edit source]

Concerns and criticisms:

Discussion[View | Edit]

I'm not, I think, the person to do this. But this page needs an update in light of the Krakauer book The Cups of Deceipt, and assorted revelations about the business practices of Mortenson's NGO. —The preceding unsigned comment was added by Davidweek, 28 May 2011

I've been wary of the coverage, since I don't completely trust the media outlets and the approach they took... but many of the criticisms seem to be valid.
Any links to particularly good summaries of the issues? --Chriswaterguy 01:51, 28 May 2011 (PDT)
Cookies help us deliver our services. By using our services, you agree to our use of cookies.