Mortenson stresses the need to build relationships
Top: Greg Mortenson, best-selling author, addresses attendees during the second plenary session on 21 June at the RI Convention in Montréal.
Bottom: Father Marciano "Rocky" Evangelista, founder of the Tuloy Foundation Inc., talks to Rotarians about the urgency of helping street children. Photos by Monika Lozinska-Lee/Rotary Images
Greg Mortenson, best-selling author of Three Cups of Tea and cofounder of the nonprofit Central Asia Institute, encouraged Rotarians on 21 June to keep working to make the world a better place and thanked Rotary for its efforts to eradicate polio in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Speaking during the second plenary session of the 2010 RI Convention in Montréal, Québec, Canada, Mortenson stressed the similarities between how his organization works and how Rotarians operate, especially the importance of building relationships and involving local leaders.
"All of us here, as Rotarians or honorary Rotarians, we are compelled to help people," he said. "The real key -- and Rotarians do this -- is that it’s not about helping, but it’s about empowering people. And when you empower people, then you can make a change in the world."
The Central Asia Institute has been empowering villages throughout Afghanistan and Pakistan to combat illiteracy by building schools for children, especially for girls who have been denied an education. Mortenson shared that there are now more than nine million children in school in Afghanistan, 2.9 million of those girls, compared with only 800,000 children, mostly boys, 10 years ago.
"We can drop bombs, we can surge troops, we can put in electricity, we can build roads, we can put in computers. But if girls are not educated, society will never change," he said. "In Africa as a child, I learned a proverb. It says, 'If we educate a boy, we educate an individual. But if we educate a girl, we educate a community.'"
Mortenson said he learned a powerful lesson from an elder named Haji Ali in Korphe, Pakistan, a village he described in Three Cups of Tea. After watching Mortenson struggle for almost three years to build a school, Ali told him that he needed to sit down, be quiet, and let the villagers do the work.
"He took my plumb line, he took my receipts and records, and he locked them up and came back and said, 'There, everything will be fine,'" Mortenson recalled. "Of course, I was horrified. Guess what happened? Six weeks later, the Korphe school got built.
"What that does, as you know with many of your efforts, is that it ensures local buy-in," he added.
Rotarians also heard from Father Marciano "Rocky" Evangelista, a member of the Rotary Club of Alabang, Metro Manila, Philippines, and founder of the Tuloy Foundation Inc., who spoke about the urgency of helping street children.
"Children in distress cannot wait," Evangelista said. "For you or me, what is a day or two? But for a child who is slowly being toughened and hardened by the harsh realities of the school of the streets, waiting is a luxury that he or she cannot afford."
The Tuloy Foundation takes in street children from the ages of 9 to 18 and provides them with vocational training tailored to each child. From a one-room facility that helped 12 children in 1993, the organization has grown to a 4.5-hectare compound that serves about 700 youth.
"But we cannot sit back and relax. I know the smell of misery from wandering the streets at night with volunteers to seek out street children," Evangelista said. "And let me tell you, the smell never leaves you. I will never forget that there are still children in the street."