Aug 312009
Authors: Bryan Schiele

International peacemaker, humanitarian school-builder and New York Times bestselling author Greg Mortenson addressed about 8,500 people at Moby Arena Monday night.

Mortenson’s message focused on how international peace and prosperity can and must be obtained through gender equality and education.

“I say it all the time, but you can drop bombs, hand out condoms, build roads or put in electricity, but until girls are educated, our society won’t change,” he said.

The lecture, titled “Promoting Peace through Education,” was part of the Monfort Lecture Series, presented by the Bohemian Foundation and sponsored by the university’s Office of Student Leadership, Involvement and Community Engagement.

Mortenson said he steadfastly believes that the key to changing the world lies in educating women, because doing so would “reduce infant mortality, reduce the population explosion and improve the quality and health of life itself.”

The lecture was biographical in nature, giving the audience a look into Mortenson’s life and background.

Mortenson talked of his 1993 attempt to climb Pakistan’s K2, the world’s second highest mountain. After narrowly missing his goal to summit the peak, Mortenson spent time recovering in the remote village of Korphe.

“We all make mistakes, and we all fail in life,” Mortenson said. “(But) when it is dark, you can see the stars,” he told the audience, quoting an ancient Persian proverb.

It was in Korphe that Mortenson’s humanitarian campaign was born when he saw 84 children, 79 of whom were boys, writing with sticks in the sand. He promised to help build them a school and thus began his life mission of promoting education, especially for girls, in remote and often volatile areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Since his K2 attempt 16 years ago, Mortenson said he has played a major role in establishing more than 90 schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Those schools provide education to more than 38,000 children, including 27,000 girls.

He co-founded the non-profit organizations Central Asia Institute and Pennies for Peace, the latter of which is involved with 4,300 schools in the United States.

The diverse audience included CSU students and faculty as well as both young and old Fort Collins residents. Former CSU President Albert Yates was also at the lecture.

Many said they came because they read Mortenson’s New York Times bestselling book, “Three Cups of Tea,” which details his mission to change the world and has sold more than three million copies. It spent 132 weeks on the bestseller list.

“It was a very inspirational story,” Fort Collins resident Diana Hammerdorfer said, adding, however, “I want(ed) to hear more about how the story is going now.”

Some, including Jake Schmidt, a 2009 CSU graduate, had little knowledge about “Three Cups of Tea” except what a friend had told him about it.

“I thought it was really awesome to see the positive impact he is having,” Schmidt said, adding that he “might even go pick up the book.”

Nikesh Dhar, a mechanical engineering student at CSU, called the lecture “very impressive and inspiring.”

As the speech wound to a close, Mortenson praised CSU students for their strong community service leadership and urged everyone in attendance to “go out and make the world a better place.”

After the speech, a representative for the Bohemian Foundation formally announced that his foundation would match up to $500,000 of the total money Larimer County residents donate to Mortenson’s organization, Central Asia Institute.

According to the CAI Web site, a donation of $20 will pay for school supplies for one student for one year, and $100 will pay for maternal health care supplies for one year.

Donations can be made at the front desk of the SLiCE office.

Staff writer Bryan Schiele can be reached at

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