Monday, February 08, 2010

Luncheon Report

Today I met the first woman to become a lawyer in Pakistan. Well, I didn't meet her personally, but she spoke at the sold-out Three Cups of Tea luncheon in Houston today. Greg Mortenson, the keynote speaker and author of Three Cups, introduced her to the crowd.

Portia, Queenie and I were really touched by the words of this sister lawyer. Mortenson said that she had suffered beatings and stonings at the hands of fellow students and teachers for daring to seek an education. Her family also opposed her ambitions but finally she was able to persuade them to grant permission for her to study law. She is the first woman to pass the bar exam in Pakistan and is now doing advanced studies at Montana State University--no doubt with the encouragement of the Mortenson family who lives in Montant. Her goal is to become an advocate for the property rights of women and widows in her country.

Mortenson's speech concentrated on three themes:
  • the importance of elders
  • the importance of building relationships to build peace
  • the importance of the education of women

Mortenson quoted a statistic that only 10% of American children had ever spent any time listening to their "elders" (grandparents or others of that generation) recount stories of the events of their lives and the history they had lived while 99 to 100% of Pakistani and Afghani children have done so. He pointed out that in the US children are becoming ignorant of the history and culture that shapes their society. Listening and building relationships with the "elders" in Pakistan and Afghanistan is a major emphasis for the Central Asia Insitute in its efforts to expand schools and education for girls in the region and is a key to its success.

With respect to the importance of building relationships, Mortenson praised our military leadership for finally "getting it" and placing emphasis on building trust and partnership with the people of Afghanistan as they struggle to resist the forces of the Taliban in their country. Three Cups of Tea is now required reading for those taking counterinsurgency training. He shared an email from General Petraeus, who after reading Three Cups of Tea, summarized what he learned from it: "build relationships, listen and respect the people."

Mortenson criticized the current administration's secret discussions and failure to consult our military leaders and the important Afghan elder groups before setting the policy for a new surge. He fears that plans to bring troops away from the "forward" positions in the countryside and back into the fortified positions in the cities risks the destruction of the relationships they are successfully building in the remote areas more subject to Taliban violence.

"Unless girls are educated, things are never ever going to change," Mortenson said. He quoted an African proverb: "If you educate a boy, you educate an individual. If you educate a girl, you educate a community." According to statistics from UNICEF, in 2000 there were 800,000 children in school in Afghanistan--almost all were boys. Today there are 8.4 million children in school--2.5 million are girls! That is impressive progress. That is the hope for our future together.

The crowd was filled with many Pakistani and Afghan women as well as several groups of high school students. The table next to us was an all-Pakistani or Afghan group and I noticed their enthusiastic response to Mortenson's speech--especially his words about our military's current approach to their mission in that area. The high school students wanted to set up Facebook relationships with their counterparts in Afghanistan, only to learn that the internet wasn't quite as ubiquitous in the mountains of that country as it is on the Gulf Coast of Texas!

It was an inspiring event that renewed my belief in the importance of education--especially for women--in the pursuit of peace.


Averill said...

I'm so glad I went today -- thanks Mom for inviting me! Definitely a reminder of both how lucky I have been to be born priveleged and in the US and of our collective responsibility to help other women achieve what I have been given.

Rev SS said...

This sounds wonderful ... wish I could have been there too!

Gannet Girl said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gannet Girl said...

I am so glad you posted this.

Our missiology professor said a couple of weeks ago that there has been a lot of anger over these books by Afghan and Pakistani people -- over the "bountiful American goes and imposes his idea of help on people about whose history and culture he knows nothing." So I was waiting with great anticipation for your review.

I am so glad to hear about the positive response by the women of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Now I wonder about the professor's sources.

I am also quite struck by the motto about educating women. My grandmother was a graduate of Mt. Holyoke, and I once saw a similar caption in her alumnae magazine. I think the second half was "Educate a woman and you educate a family." At that time (quite some time ago!) it seemed to reference the 1950s concept of women's place being in the home, the argument being that it was still worthwhile to educate a woman even though one did not expect her to leave the house, not really.

I suppose that at that time one didn't really talk in public about the importance and far-reaching influence of the work that all women did, no matter how "traditional" it looked.

Quotidian Grace said...


I really don't know where your missiology professor was coming from when he/she described Mortenson as imposing his ideas on a people and culture about which he knows nothing. I don't see how you could read these books or hear Mortenson speak and come to this conclusion.

Mortenson, who grew up in Africa as the son of Lutheran missionaries, emphasizes the importance of listening to the people and honoring their culture and taking the time to do this so that his own efforts are in partnership with the people and not as a benevolent foreigner bestowing gifts.

His own father lost his position in Africa for advocating the empowerment of the local people in the administration of the hospital he founded. This example really shaped his thinking as he refers to it in both his books and spoke about it yesterday in his speech.

Today all the work actually done by the CAI is done by Afghans and Pakistanis. I noticed that most of the CAI staff that was on hand yesterday are clearly either Pakistani/Afghani natives or of that descent.

Your missiology professor seems stuck in an anti-missionary progressivist worldview.