Sunday, November 30, 2008

Help Win the War on al Qaeda

Here's what you can do, right now, to help win the war with al Qaeda. Contribute whatever you can to the Central Asia Institute ( This is an extraordinarily effective organization that builds schools, mostly for girls, in the remote mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Here's why this is critical to the war on al Qaeda and their allies, the Taliban:

Al Qaeda is dependent on the Taliban for survival. 'Talib' means 'student.' The Taliban get most of their personnel from radical, fundamentalist madrassas (a madrassa is an Islamic school). The people of the remote regions where al Qaeda and the Taliban are strong live in grinding poverty the poorest American can hardly imagine. These people are as intelligent as anyone, they know that education is critical for their children to live a better life. The Saudis provide the money for wahhabi madrassas (wahhabi is a radical, fundamentalist form of Islam) and the people send their children as there is nothing better available.

Enter Greg Mortenson and the Central Asia Institute (CAI). As chronicled in Three Cups of Tea, Greg stumbled into a remote mountain village in Pakistan after a failed attempt to climb K2. Greg was lost, in terrible shape and almost died. The villagers nursed him back to health. He asked them what they really needed and they answered "a school." Their children were studying in the open in one of the coldest places on earth, scratching their multiplication tables in the dirt. A few years later, Greg came back with building materials, the village supplied land and labor, and the school was built (1). Since then, Greg and the CAI has helped build dozens of schools in the most remote parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan, along with other projects.

The Central Asia Institute was created to fund and expand Greg's work. Greg knows the languages and cultures of the mountain people and has made the personal contacts critical to success in tribal societies. He has learned how to work with locals to deliver the projects they choose -- usually schools, especially for girls -- at incredibly low cost. For example, a primary school might cost $20,000. The costs are low because the locals donate the land, provide most of the labor, and work closely with the CAI to choose the projects. All projects must gain the blessing of the local government and religious leaders before going forward.

While our government was busy recruiting for al Qaeda by blowing up the wrong people and invading the wrong countries, the CAI was creating allies on the ground by helping villages get what they desire above all else: a good education for their children. Just one example of the depths of that desire: when the trucks carrying building materials for one project were stopped dead by a landslide many miles short, the village men carried all of the materials on their backs, by foot to the village. These are people we can be proud to serve.

Help them. Help ourselves. Contribute today.


(1) The story is actually a little more complex. Read the book. It's excellent.

No comments: