In September of 1978 I was in Afghanistan as part of a London-Kathmandu overland trip with a British firm -- the coward's way of following the hippie trail. From Kabul we went up to Bamiyan. I decided I would skip a day-trip from Bamiyan to Lake Band-i-Amir (spelling can vary) and wound up instead joining another traveller I met at our inn in clambering around the hills surrounding Bamiyan Valley: in retrospect, more than stupid, as at one point we were above the valley, holding onto a cliff-side and moving sideways on a trail a goat might have had difficulty navigating. Fortunately, neither of us fell, (or, to be really honest, fortunately, I didn't fall -- after all, I had only met him the day before.) Walking back through the fields to the town after we survived, we met a small girl going home from school. She proudly showed us her slate, and our mutual incomprehension of the other's language didn't allow for much more, other than smiles. I've always remembered her, however, so proud of that slate.
Decades passed, wars came and went and came back, the Taliban blew up Bamiyan's giant Buddhas, women who weren't already wearing them were forced into burquas, and, in 1993, Greg Mortenson started climbing K2, the second-highest mountain in the world, in Pakistan. Injured in the climb, he was nursed back to health by the villagers in a small town. He promised them he would build them a school in appreciation, and, with Dr. Jean Hoerni, founded the non-profit Central Asia Institute to build schools in remote areas, first, in Pakistan, and then also in Afghanistan. One of the requirements for a village obtaining a school is that it be used to educate girls as well as boys.
More time passed, and one of the Sunday newspaper magazine-type supplements had a story about the Central Asia Institute. I immediately remembered the little girl in Bamiyan, whose fate I had always wondered about (and still do wonder about,) so I made my first donation to the Institute. One of the pleasant things about donating to it is that it's one of the very few (heck, maybe it's the only) non-profit I have ever donated to that doesn't then inundate a donor with mailings. Yes, they send the occasional one (maybe two a year?) but I feel that a larger percentage of my donations are going to the project than is the case with non-profits razing whole forests to make the paper for their appeals.
Mortenson's story, and that of the Central Asia Institute, has now been published: Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace, One School at a Time. It's been on the NY Times bestseller list for about ten months so far, and is available in paperback. I recommend it, along with donations to the Institute. I want other little girls to be proud of their school slates.