The Washington Times - August 16, 2009, 02:04PM


   How can we find an effective way to combat the terrorism that often stems from religious extremism?  How about through educating young people long before anyone has a chance to turn them into extremists?
   One group that is accomplishing a great deal in this area is the Central Asia Institute (CAI).  The CAI and its founder, Greg Mortenson (well-known for his book, Three Cups of Tea) have built 78 permanent schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan — schools that are giving poor children an open, broad-minded, non-militant education.  Thus far, the CAI has helped educate over 30,000 children in the two countries.  These are kids who, without such help, might easily have grown up with very little education at all or worse, might have wound up in the kind of schools that teach militant extremism.
   Although many boys get a chance to learn in the CAI schools, Mortenson and his group put a great deal of emphasis on teaching girls.  The reason, Mortenson says, is that if a girl is educated, she will tend to educate her mother and those around her at home.  Studies indicate that educating girls helps greatly to reduce mortality rates for both infants and mothers.  Educated young women tend to have fewer children and to wait longer before having children, and they tend to help lift up the overall health and quality of life for people in their community.  Moreover as mothers, they are much less likely to encourage or allow their sons to become militants or terrorists.
   Another strength of Mortenson’s efforts is that he and his allies only build schools with the cooperation of local people.  They build in villages that have invited them to come.  They consult with village leaders and families, listening carefully to what it is that they want.  Religious clerics as well as other community leaders are fully included in each step of the planning and building process.  And although the CAI provides much of the supplies, the villagers take ownership of the school project by contributing their labor and support.  The villagers also help run the school after it is built.
   Although the Taliban have bombed, destroyed or shut down hundreds of schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan in their efforts to keep children uneducated and easily influenced, they have succeed in attacking only one of the CAI schools.  This seems to be in large part to the level of support that these schools enjoy from the villagers. The one school that was shut down by the Taliban was reopened within days, and a local militia leader provided twelve armed guards to protect the students.

   If you would like to learn more about the work of Mortenson and the CAI, here below are links to two articles on view at the CAI website, one from the New York Times (a Thomas Friedman column) and the other, from (don’t laugh — good things often come in unusual packages) Good Housekeeping magazine.  Both pieces are fascinating, and very encouraging.
New York Times

Good Housekeeping