Thank you all, for your support

I would like to say shukria for the response to “60 Minutes” which said I have exaggerated my work in Pakistan.


Greg Mortenson April 18, 2011

I would like to say shukria for the overwhelming response to the CBS show “60 Minutes”, which has said that I have exaggerated my work in Pakistan and Afghanistan. In the midst of these difficult and challenging days, I keep thinking about the Persian proverb, “When it is darkest, you can see the stars”.

Although we would like the world to be orderly and peaceful, the reality is that our world is a dynamic, fluid place, often filled with chaos.  In that space, I thrive and get the courage to help bring change. I also feel great pride that so many people have chosen to support those who live in the ‘Last Best Places’, where other organisations or governments offer few or no services.

I welcome and am used to facing criticism, which sometimes even turns into hostility, over the important work we do in Pakistan and Afghanistan. As an introvert, it is also not easy to have to enter an arena of a media circus at the drop of a heartbeat. But, as those of you who know me and have supported my work over the years will recognise, the story framed by “60 Minutes” — as far as we can tell — paints a distorted picture using inaccurate information, innuendo and a microscopic focus on one year’s (2009) IRS 990 financial, and a few points in Three Cups of Tea, that occurred almost 18 years ago. Apparently, the CBS programme is to be followed in the near future by a similar negative piece by journalist Jon Krakauer in an unknown magazine.

The board of directors of the Central Asia Institute and I made the very difficult decision to not engage with “60 Minutes” on camera, after they attempted an eleventh-hour aggressive approach to reach me, including an ambush in front of children at a book-signing at a community service leadership convention in Atlanta. It was clear that the programme’s disrespectful approach would not result in a fair, balanced or objective representation of our work, my books or our vital mission. We also turned down a last minute request for an interview with Jon Krakauer.

“60 Minutes” may appear to ask simple questions, but the answers are often complex, not easily encapsulated in 10-second sound bites. We work in isolated areas, in communities that are not on any map, and often in areas of turmoil, religious extremism or natural disasters where education is still relatively rare and ancient codes of conduct and social hierarchies still dominate — all these things demand constant adjustment, accommodation and patience. We have always maintained that our work is about investing in relationships, respecting elders and in listening, and is not in one that lasts just a few minutes on prime time television.

So although I did not do an on-camera interview, the board of directors and I have duly responded to questions provided us late last week by “60 Minutes” with both statements and answers. And, as always, we pride ourselves to be transparent with our financials and IRS 990 forms. I also recently returned from Afghanistan and was amazed to see how well everything is going there, including having five female managers (out of 15 total) and a plan to establish and build over 60 new schools this year.

(This article has been adapted from a longer message sent out by Greg Mortenson via email to friends and supporters. It is being published  after receiving Mr Mortenson’s permission).

Published in The Express Tribune, April 19th,  2011.

COMMENTS (53)

Amin Beg | 10 years ago | Reply Ignorant of how the CAI manages its charity funds, and whether the stories he told were right or wrong, we appreciate the good work CAI team is doing in hard and remote areas in this region. We see it is visible on ground, though very small compared to the government and others, and addressing mostly 'missing servies', but as they say, small is beatiful. For example if the government or any other large edcuational provider has provided a school 10-20 years back, and the school and community wants to upgrade it, and they have no funds to pay for two extra rooms or salary of two teachers, and if this instantly comes from CAI without any red tapes, this is a great help to the community. One problem with us is we only are used to appreciate big donor agencies and donor funded projects working with star office complexes, fleets of vehicles, corps of high paid expat staffs and consultants, working in a complex system, without actually addressing the small unmet needs of the communities and the unfortunate amongst them. There are few like Greg who work in this region, singlehandedly with grassroots communities, often with no office, no staff and even no sign boards. As all human beings and institutions err, they might have too, but i think, this should not discourage Greg and his CAI team and they should learn from this experience, and move forward. People need their support in those hard areas, who have no voice, no representation in decision making both in government and the large development agencies working in the area, and they live in abject poverty, fear and helplessness, especially after the recent disasters in many areas, like the upper Hunza is cut off for almost 15 months. CAI should continue work directly with all these community institutions like village and women organizations, local support organizations and other local civil society groups. While, Greg may have erred (still to be proved under law) in managing charity funds in accordance with US laws and moral standards, and may have romanticed his story with sales pitch, lets be honest that his work has helped many people in the mountains, and after publication of his two books, the fact that peace could only come through education and development may be gaining alot of currency in a war mongering US establishment and think tanks, and a good projection of the soft image of this region. As they say, look at the glass half full.
Steve | 10 years ago | Reply In November and December of 2005 I spent a few weeks in Pakisten helping with earthquake relief. In both the villages of the Northwest Frontier Province that I worked with I was told by the village elders that only a few of the boys in the area went to school, and none of the girls. Having two daughters myself, my heart broke as I thought of the precious girls of that area having little or no chance of obtaining an education. I was thrilled when I learned of Greg Mortenson's work. I left a piece of my heart in the mountains of Pakistan and am happy to be able to help support CAI and their work and will continue to do so. One of my daughters is a an elementary teacher and the other an RN. Because of Greg's work, there are Pakistani girls who are able to do what my daughters did. Thank you Greg, and keep your chin up!
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