Nobel Prize nominee Greg Mortenson brought a message of hope from Central Asia to Thurston County on Thursday, and a warning that military solutions will fail to solve the problems in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Speaking to a luncheon audience of more than 300 at the Lacey Rotary Club, Mortenson emphasized that good things are happening in the countries where his Central Asia Institute has helped to build schools.
He said just 10 years ago, only 800,000 children attended schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and almost all of them were boys. Today, there are 9 million students in school and 2.8 million of them are girls. This is a remarkable turn of events because the Taliban continues to destroy schools — 2,100 already this year — primarily those for girls. They continue these attacks because they recruit their terrorists from uneducated populations. And they particularly fear educated young women because girls are more likely to teach their parents and also grow up to become mothers with a fierce passion to provide even more education for their children.
Mortenson said he’s seen a big change in public sentiment. Local villagers are getting fed up with the radical terrorist group, who has been resorting to more ganglike criminal activities to maintain their influence in the region.
The author of “Three Cups of Tea” and “Stones to Schools” said the imbalance of 200,000 military forces to 20,000 Taliban fighters makes it obvious there is no military solution to the broader issues in Central Asia. Having met with several ranking generals who sought out his advice, Mortenson believes the military is starting “to get it.”
Troops are interacting with local people and officers are seeking out the advice of village and tribal elders, who still have great influence.
But Mortenson warned that we’re putting great pressure on our young soldiers to be both warriors and humanitarians.
It’s a miracle that Mortenson even came to the Olympia area because he gets more than 2,000 speaking requests per year.
“I came because the schools here have a high degree of community service,” he said. He visits 140 schools per year and generally sees about 65 percent of students engaged in their communities. In the Olympia-Lacey-Tumwater area, he saw a 95 percent involvement.
During his visit to Olympia High School, Mortenson was moved to tears as the students shared with him all the things they are doing in their communities, and the genuine passion they have for the work. “You really are role models for the country,” he said, noting that only in Topeka, Kan., and Tyler, Texas, had he seen such active young people.
Listening to the former mountaineer-turned-builder of schools, it makes you feel blessed to live in a country where children have the opportunity for a quality education, and that so many repay that gift by service to their communities.
Thousands of South Sounders visited the newly merged Joint Base Lewis-McChord yesterday for the annual Armed Forces Day celebration. It’s a reminder of the huge effect the military has in Thurston County. ... JZ Knight has lost her lawsuit against the city of Yelm over their denial of a proposal for five new subdivisions. Knight is facing a $195,000 legal bill. ... It’s good to see that two of the candidates for last fall’s Olympia City Council elections have applied for appointment to Joe Hyer’s former seat. Janine Gates and Karen Veldheer are among the 10 who have put their names forward. ... And speaking of education, the Shelton school board will allow ninth-grade students to play on high school athletic teams. ... O Bee Credit Union and the United Way are hosting a community fundraising tent at the July 4 Artesian Festival and Fireworks Show at the Tumwater Valley Golf Course. Each participating nonprofit that creates a basket can raise funds through the raffle for their organization.
George Le Masurier, publisher of The Olympian, can be reached at 360-357-0206 or firstname.lastname@example.org.