Tea, times three, will be spring read

By ANNE KAZMIERCZAK
Register Reporter

Plans are solidifying for the spring edition of Iola Reads. The new year will bring a new idea: three versions of the same book, tailored to different age groups. The 2010 spring selection, “Three Cups of Tea,” by Greg Mortenson, lends itself well.
There is a young adult version, a children’s book and the original tale of Mortenson’s efforts to establish schools in the rugged mountains of Pakistan and Afghanistan.
“Three Cups of Tea” tells of Mortenson’s transformation from mountain climber to humanitarian/activist.
In 1993, Mortenson attempted to climb Asia’s K2, the world’s second tallest peak. While descending, Mortenson wandered away from his group into the most “desolate reaches of northern Pakistan,” according to his Web site. “Alone, without food, water or shelter, (Mortenson) stumbled into an impoverished Pakistani village where he was nursed back to health.”
In the village, Mortenson saw school children writing their lessons outside in the sand with sticks. He vowed to return their kindness to him by some day returning to build the village a school.
It wasn’t so far-fetched a notion. His parents had both established institutions in Kilimanjaro, Africa, where he grew up, his father a medical college and his mother a school for expatriates and international students.
However, Mortenson was on his own in trying to secure funds for his pledge and the task was more daunting than he had imagined.
Big time celebrities were no help in initial efforts. After 600 pleas, the only response was from news broadcaster Tom Brokaw who sent a $100 check.
Through publicity about his struggle, though, school children in River Falls, Wis., learned of his attempts and collected $623.40 — all in pennies — which they sent to him in an effort to help.
That simple gesture inspired the Pennies for Peace program, which collects only pennies in drives by school children around the country.
“While a penny is virtually worthless,” in the United States, says Mortenson on the Pennies for Peace Web site, “in impoverished countries a penny buys a pencil and opens the door to literacy.”
Since beginning his task 16 years ago, 140 schools have been established, funded by donations through Pennies for Peace and the Central Asia Institute. The CAI was set up as the administrative arm of the schools Mortenson founded in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.
“Not one of them has been attacked through all this” global turmoil, noted USD 257 Curriculum Director Gail Dunbar.
“It shows how involved (Pennies for Peace and the Central Asia Institute) are in the communities” there, she said.
In March, Mortenson received the Star of Pakistan, that country’s highest civil award, for his efforts to promote education and literacy in rural areas of the country.

IN THE SPIRIT of the book, Iola Reads is planning Pennies for Peace activities during the nine-week local literary event. In addition, the group is trying to secure a speaker from the Central Asia Institute as an Iola Reads finale.
Also in the works is the possibility of showing short videos from Pennies for Peace on the city’s cable access channel. Weekly topics on Central Asia, including Islam, culture, people, environment and the like, would be broadcast. A kickoff assembly for Iola school children is also being planned for Jan. 18.
Iola Reads will purchase 300 copies of the adult book, 250 young adult editions and 30 children’s versions of the story. In addition, 75 classroom sets, which includes books and materials for a full classroom, will be purchased.
The purchases are funded through a $3,264.50 Sleeper Family Trust grant. Funds from the Friends of the Iola Public Library and Kiwanis Club also assist with the purchases.
As with other Iola Reads selections, a $2 donation will be requested for each book picked up.