Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

Humanitarian encourages Korbel students to embrace culture, languages

The most pragmatic solutions to the issues the United States faces in Afghanistan come from the military and not our politicians — and that’s a problem, Greg Mortenson told graduate students in the Korbel School of International Studies on Sept. 21. A crowd of about 200 gathered in Hamilton Hall for an informal speech by the humanitarian and co-author of the bestseller Three Cups of Tea.

“I’m not saying military is the answer, but they are thinking outside the box,” said Mortenson, explaining that troops are spending time in Afghani villages, educating civilians and working with Afghanistan’s army.

Military forces from the Marines and the Air Force now require cultural training and foreign language classes which help troops understand and respect Afghani culture, he said, which creates a better relationship.

However, politicians are not making the same effort. He pointed toward what he called President Obama’s “empty promise” that Afghanistan would be his first priority after his inauguration. He said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spent only a short time in Afghanistan and Pakistan recently and failed to make a significant gesture to their people.

“It’s really important for someone from our government to go there and have one cup of tea,” he said.

Mortenson was in Denver promoting Pennies for Peace, a program where American school children raise money to build schools in rural Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Korbel School collected $550 for Mortenson’s program. So far, Mortenson has established about 80 schools.

Although he declined to give his opinions on the level of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, he did say the number of kids in school has increased about eight times in the past nine years with 8.4 million children — including 2.5 million girls — now attending school in the country.

“It all starts with education,” he said. “You can’t plug in democracy; you have to build in democracy.”

Mortenson’s primary focus is to educate oppressed girls and women of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“If we educate a boy, we educate an individual, but if we educate a woman we educate a community,” he said, referring to a woman’s nurture of children.

When asked what advice he would give to students now, he said: “Use this opportunity to be the strongest person you can be. Find something you are very passionate about and stick with that.”

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