Adonis Diaries

“Would you consider Greg to be appointed director of a foundation?”: The Central Asia Institute

Posted on: December 23, 2012

“Would you consider Greg to be appointed director of a foundation?“: The Central Asia Institute

In 1994, Greg Mortenson had sent over 540 letters to famous people asking donation for his mission of building a primary school for girls in the village of Korphe in the province of Balistan in North Pakistan. All that effort didn’t generate any money.

Greg was invited by his mother, principal in a school, to give a presentation of his mission and the kids launched a campaign “penny for a school” which saved about $400 in pennies.

Tom Vaughan, a physician of the lungs and a mountain climber, wrote an article of Greg Mortenson’s mission  in the American Himalaya Foundation (AHF) that appeared in the national bulletin.

Dr. Jean Hoerni, a scientist, investor and a mountain climber responded and sent Greg a check of $12,000.

In the phone conversation, Hoerni said:

“Say, if I extend you the necessary fund for your school, are you going to elope and spend the money in Mexico on girls and drugs?”

As Greg was in the process of giving details of the estimation of an engineer in Skardu (Capital of Baltistan) Hoerni cut him off saying:” How much?” and then “Is that all? Are you pulling my legs? What’s your address?”

That was a good question: Greg was sleeping in his car, the Bamba, inherited from his dad who died at the age of 49.

It took Greg 3 years to build the first school.

The first year, he purchased all the building materials from Rawalpindi and hired a Bedford truck (from England colonial period) to the city of Skardu. “Why didn’t you buy all these materials from Skardu, instead of taking all that trouble, thousand of miles away?” and that was the first lesson that Greg learned to rely on the local people and ask for their input…

Hearing of the arrival of building materials, many village chiefs wanted to have the school constructed in their villages, and they carried Greg to their villages and threw lavish banquets in his honor…

Mind you that the only time to build anything before the cold season is during the 3 months of summer time.

The second year, the Nurmadhar (chief) of Korphe Haji Ali announced that the village decided to construct a bridge over the Braldu before they can contemplate building the school.

Thus, Greg asked Hoerni for the necessary fund to first build the bridge. And the bridge made it possible for the women to cross to the other side of the river and visit with families and return the same day on Fridays.

Before the bridge, it was very dangerous to cross by using ropes mechanism

The disadvantage was that the mullah of a larger town of Askole crossed the bridge with a bunch of hooligan demanding retribution for allowing an “infidel Ingrezi” (English) to build a school for girls. The mullah asked for 12 bulls, or half what the village had and the most prized animal, cared by the first male son in the family.

Haji Ali delivered the 12 beasts and said to the mullah: “This school will be built whether you like it or not” and turned his back. Haji Ali later looked very happy and said: “The beast will be devoured very soon, but the school will stay for generation to come…”

During his 8-month stay in the San Francisco Bay area, Greg was invited to attend a formal meeting of mount climber members in the Fairmont Hotal. Edmund Hillary was to speak, and Hillary was Greg’s hero for climbing first Mount Everest.

Greg was penniless, had sold his car and everything to afford a plane ticket to Pakistan. Jean Hoerni saw Greg and asked him to approach the bar. Hoerni allocated $20,000 for Greg’s personal expenses. And that was not all: He met his future wife Tara Bishop. They got married within 6 days.

The third year Greg supervised closely the building of the school and drove the inhabitants crazy with his zeal. Nurmadhar Haji Ali took Greg on a walking trip, to a higher altitude, and said:

“Dr. Greg Sahib. See these mountains? They have been around for million of years, and we have been around for centuries without a school. You are driving the people in circles. They can do the job and within their own timetable…Stop behaving according to your custom…” And he took away the measuring and building instruments from Greg and locked them up in a special drawer.

Jean Hoerni found out that he has an incurable cancer and didn’t have not much time to live, and wanted a picture of the school, badly.

Hoerni had invited Greg to his home in Seattle and asked him: “Would you consider Greg to be appointed director of a foundation? You need to focus all your energy and time on your mission”. And The Central Asia Institute was founded and Greg appointed professionals in its board of directors.

Greg advanced the schedule of his yearly trip to north Pakistan in order to make good on his promise and brought back pictures of the school, the kids, the inhabitants of Korphe.

In the hospital, Hoerni demanded a hammer to nail the picture on the wall facing his bed. He called one friend in Switzerland and said: “I build a school in Baltistan. What did you accomplish in the last 50 years?”

Before his death, Hoerni had allocated one million dollar to the foundation so that Greg may resume his mission, full speed and build many more schools for girls in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

In the fourth year, Greg learned that the most efficient way to carry on the job is to let the village chiefs meet and decide for the priority of the location of schools and other more pressing realizations, such as bringing potable water, generating electricity, hiring more teachers, expanding functional smaller schools…

For example, the women in Korphe, represented by Sakina and Hawa, asked for a center so that the women can meet during the winter months, away from the men and closed houses… Greg purchased 4 traditional sewing machines and installed them in an extension to the house of the nurmadhar Haji Ali. This center permitted the generation of extra money to the community and kind of financial independence for the women.

Greg had assembled a team, around a dozen, of trusted “professionals” from all ethnicity and religious sects in Pakistan to study the location and details of future projects during his absence in the US, and saved his time (4 months in late spring and summer) driving to the various construction sites and bringing in the necessary materials and encouraging the smooth functioning of the work…

In the first meeting of the team in Skardu, the members suggested three locations for schools to select one of them for the year. And Greg said:”We can build all three schools”.

And the schools were finished in record time of 12 weeks at less than $12,000 each. It cost $24,000 for the Pakistan government and $36,000 to international organization to build the same kinds of schools.

Greg travelled to Peshawar, stronghold of the Taliban in west Pakistan, in order to build a school for the thousands of refugee kids. Hajji Ali had warned Greg: “When travelling make sure to have a nurmadhar accompanying you and that you had drunk 3 cups of tea at the nurmadhar house…”

Greg failed to stick to this precept and was kidnapped and spent 8 days and nights in a dark room, deep in the Waziristan provinces.  The djerga (elders of villages) met after assembling pieces of intelligence on Greg and liberated Greg. They gave Greg handful of roupies to build more schools that amounted to $400, a large sum.

This event was before 2001 and before the US carpet bombed Afghanistan and alienated the civilians and became enemies, instead of powerful friends.

So far, the Central Asia Institute has constructed over a hundred schools and diverse projects in these remote poorer counties

Note 1: Edmund Hillary had climbed Mount Everest in 1953 with the Nepalese Sherpa Tenzing Norgay. Hillary received easy donations to build schools in Nepal, particularly in the Valley of Khumbu. Hillary had written “Schoolhouse in the Clouds”. It is to be noted that Norgay was the first to reach Everest, but Hillary got all the honor and recognition.

Note 2: Dr. Jean Hoerni is a Swiss who graduated from Cambridge and immigrated to the USA and launched many companies, half of them became multinationals such as Fairchild Semi-Conductors, Teledyne, and Intel.

He had quit the William Shockley laboratory and invented the integrated circuits. He published many scientific articles and his contribution to building the first school for girls in the Baltistan province generated hundred more schools.

Note 3: The purpose of this post is to shed light on this commendable economic culture of setting up foundations for the long-term once a dedicated person demonstrates resilience and determination on carrying on a worthy mission

Note 4: Story is from the book “Three Cups of Teas

8 Responses to "“Would you consider Greg to be appointed director of a foundation?”: The Central Asia Institute"

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