Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Greg Mortenson meets Columbus

Yesterday, I got to spend the afternoon at Brookstone School, where Greg Mortenson, bestselling co-author “Three Cups of Tea” and author of “Stones into Schools” was visiting for the day. Today’s Ledger-Enquirer includes a story about his Brookstone visit.

I also attended Mortenson’s evening talk at the CSU Lumpkin Center, but the highlight of the day for me was getting to see Mortenson inspire and engage the students at Brookstone and getting to meet him in person. He is a warm, humble person whose commitment to serving others and promoting peace is infectious.

As Brookstone senior McKay Sheftall said after Mortenson’s talk, “Dr. Greg” reminds us to “keep others before self.”

“He provides an example of someone who made things happen himself in such a huge way,” Sheftall said. “It emphasizes to me what a huge difference one person can make…To have him here to share his passion and goals has been inspiring and I hope will rub off on us.”

Saad Ahmed, a Brookstone senior of Pakistani descent, said he was glad Mortenson spoke to the upper school students about "the true meaning of what Islam is, because the media depicts Islam as very radical, and we do promote peace, just as every religion does."

The Pennies for Peace program is a powerful, concrete way to introduce students to the idea of service learning and empathy for others on a global scale. Students at Brookstone had created beautiful paper collages depicting scenes from Pennies for Peace as well as a large mural and many Pakistani dolls. They had learned Mortenson’s story by reading “Three Cups of Tea” or his children’s book “Listen to the Wind.” They had learned about the culture, politics and geography of Pakistan and Afghanistan in various classes. They collected enough coins – totaling more than $2,000 – to fund a teacher salary at a CAI school for one year. And the third grade choir performed a rendition of the song “Three Cups of Tea,” which was first performed by Mortenson’s daughter, Amira.

Across town, Columbus High students, who had been assigned “Three Cups of Tea” for summer reading, organized a “Pennies for Peace” drive of their own and collected almost $8,000 from students as well as contributions from the outside community.

Mortenson is a champion of children, and he empowers them. He talks about how his own children’s suggestions have influenced his work: Amira helped him realize the importance of including playgrounds at the schools the Central Asia Institute builds and she is featured in some of the Pennies for Peace web videos; and his 9-year-old son, Khyber, designed part of his power point slide show and has a passion for ridding the world of landmines that he has passed on to his father. Mortenson talks with conviction about the promise he sees in young people and their desire to effect change in the world. He reminds us to listen to them, and to listen more in general.

Mortenson also preaches the importance of listening to our "elders" and taking the time to learn their stories while we have the chance. On Monday I witnessed a nice exchange between Mortenson and an influential Columbus elder (as Mortenson would call him): William "Bill" Turner, past chairman and CEO of the W.C. Bradley Company. Mortenson had been presented with Turner's book, "The Learning of Love: A Journey Toward Servant Leadership" and the two talked together about the roots of Turner's passion for servant leadership. Turner was very influential in the founding of The Brookstone Servant Leadership program in 2006. As a mother, it was a reminder to me that wherever my children go to school, I would like to be a part of helping to coordinate a servant leadership program. At Brookstone, all students take part in the servant leadership program in some capacity.

Go to the Central Asia Institute for more information or to donate. Go to the Pennies for Peace Web site if you’re interested in helping your children learn about the children of Pakistan and Afghanistan and how they can help them, or to learn about how to launch a Pennies for Peace drive at your child’s school.

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