Posted on Aug 31, 2015 in Non-fiction

by Greg Morenson and David Oliver Relin
Penguin Books, 2006

“One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace…One School at a Time.”  That’s the subtitle of Three Cups of Tea – the true story of Greg Mortenson’s mission to bring schooling to girls and boys in the mountain villages of Pakistan.

Weakened and worn, Greg Mortenson is making his way down from a failed attempt to climb the fabled K2 mountain in Pakistan.  His good porter and guide Mouzafer has gone ahead to set up camp but Mortenson loses his way.  He takes the wrong fork in the road and finds himself a good half day’s walk in the wrong direction.  Instead of Mouzafer awaiting him by the fire, he meets the nurmadhar, the chief of Korphe, Haji Ali, who greets him at the edge of the village and offers him tea, a meal and a bed for the night.

Other climbers and explorers have stumbled across Korphe and the Balti people who live in this area of Pakistan.  And the myth is that these people live a simpler life with a certain harmony that seems in direct proportion to all the modern conveniences that they lack.

That’s what the romantics say. the ones who wander through but don’t stay. Mortenson spent time in Korphe, recovering from his almost near death experience scaling K2 and saw a different pictures  As he regained health and strength he saw more clearly.  “In every home, at least one family member suffered from goiters or cataracts.  The children, whose ginger hair he had admired, owed their coloring to a form of malnutrition called kwashiorkor….And one of every three Korphe children died before reaching their first birthday.”

Mortenson, wanting to help, wanting to repay the people of Korphe for their hospitality, gave them his Nalgene bottles, flashlights, his cooking stove, his L.L. Bean fleece jacket.  Then he opened his medic kit, did what he could. saw a different side.  Formerly a U.S. Army medic and now an ER nurse, he set bones, lanced and treated wounds, offered what antibiotics he had with him.

But he wanted to do more.  Just before he left, wondering if the children needed textbooks and school supplies which could be sent later, he asked to see the Korphe school.  The old chief Haji Ali said there was none.  He took Mortenson up a steep path to an open mountain ledge and showed him eighty-two children, (seventy-eight boys and four girls) kneeling on the frozen ground around a teacher.  The Pakistani government did not provide these rural areas with money for a school or a teacher, so Korphe had joined with another village and raised enough money to pay for one teacher who taught in each village three days a week.”   Mortenson, touched by how eager the children are to learn, amazed at the primitive setting, how vulnerable they are to the whims of the weather and elements, he says to Haji Ali, “I will build you a school.”

Right.  This mountain climbing ER nurse with no money?  One man who wants to do something kind and good?  Haji Ali’s daughter thinks Mortenson will never return.  But Haji Ali says, “This one is different.”  And he’s right.

Mortenson returns home and types hundreds of letters to the likes of Oprah and Susan Sarondon (no reponse), talks to everyone he knows, and then, following up on a friends suggestion he makes a phone call from a phone booth to a wealthy philanthropist.  When Jean Hoerni asks how much it will cost to build the school, Mortenson says, $12,000.  He has figured it all out with an architect and friends from Pakistan in the building trade.  Hoerni says, “That’s all?” and then asks for an address.  A week later the money arrives.  Mortenson converts everything he owns to cash to buy a plane ticket back to Pakistan and Korphe.

All that happens by page 56 and the rest of the book is a miraculous roller coaster ride.

Buy this book, read it.  And then – contribute.  You can check out the website: or send your support directly to the non-profit organization:  Central Asia Institute, P.O. Box 7209, Bozeman, MT.  59771.  It costs $1.00 per month for one child’s education in Pakistan or Afghanistan (where Mortenson now also builds schools.)

We’ve got the easy part.  Mortenson