Three Cups of Tea: Story of Courage, Empathy, and the Will to Make a Change

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Last Updated: 19 Apr 2023
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Three Cups of Tea presents a remarkable story of courage, empathy and most importantly the will to help out and make a change. It takes us through the journey of a lifetime that Greg Mortenson experienced while embarking through Pakistan and Afghanistan. His incredible character and motivation helped change the lives of thousands of Pakistani citizens, but mostly those women and children. He accomplished this through building 141 schools across Pakistan, as in his mind an education is the most important thing a person can receive. Mortenson put all his own needs and wants behind himself in order to fulfill those of others.

The road to all his success was not an easy one though. He had to overcome many barriers in his final goal of educating a developing world like that of Pakistan. The author believes that the barriers to educating the poor are social issues, financial issues and cultural differences, this paper will prove that to be correct as I will highlight some of the major events and problems he had to work though on his pathway to success. The Will to Make a Change In our world of today many people want to help out those in need and really make a difference before they leave this world.

It’s really nice to say that, and many people do but only a select few actually take action and do it. In my opinion a lot of people just don’t know how to get started. How can they, just one person, start something big enough to impact the lives of so many people? So to get some insight lets go back to the very start of Greg Mortenson’s journey to improving the world in his own way. Mortenson came from a family that loved to travel and also had a great passion for helping others. His upbringing was what really helped shape his character and personality. He was born in America, but when he was very young his family moved to Tanzania, Africa.

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His father, along with others helped to build a teaching medical centre in Kilimanjaro, and his mother helped to build a school in Moshi. His parent’s great acts to help out others really influenced the way he looked at the world. Mortenson was a very active and adventurous person and had a passion for mountaineering. In 1993 he planned out a trek to climb the world’s second high peak, K2 in Kenya, along with 4 others. He planned this trip as a memorial to his sister who he had lost a few years earlier. After spending 70 days on the mountain they had to make a dramatic 72 hour life saving rescue for one of the other climbers.

This took a lot out of Mortenson, physically and mentally which prevented him from making it to the top. So he began his descent, but took a wrong turn along the way, getting lost from the group. He ended up in a small and very poor village called Korphe. He was suffering from fatigue, dehydration, altitude sickness and vertigo. The village people took him in and did everything they could to care for him and ensure his well being. As he recovered he was blown away at their amazing hospitality and loving nature towards him. The village had no school and the kids tried to learn by writing in the dirt with sticks.

Mortenson was shocked that these people had no resources to learn and improve their quality of life, a thing that so many people take for granted back in America. While he regained strength he wanted to help out those who had so greatly helped him recover. Mortenson had lots of medical training and so he used what little supplies he had to treat as many people as he could. He left the village leaving anything that could be helpful to these people such as pens, flashlights, small containers and even any clothes he wasn’t wearing. Before he departed to return home he made a promise, one that would forever change his life.

He promised the Balti people of Korphe that he would build them a school. In his eyes education is the biggest factor in being able to be successful. Education is the stepping stone to improving your quality of life and being able to prosper. While doing research for the country comparison assignment I noticed that the developed countries such as Canada, who had very high education rates for both genders, had less high percentages in categories such as infant mortality, population, poverty level and literacy rate. I think that a big link between these things is educating women.

Women are just as capable in any position as men, they just need the same resources. So he to give these people the same opportunities that everyone was getting back in America. So off he set home, with inspiration in his mind and hope in his heart. His main goal was to educate and empower women. I think that this is so important because throughout this course we have learned many reasons why educating women is so crucial for solving many of the world’s big issues. For example we learned that educating women can be a big factor in reducing the problem of overpopulation.

There have been studies shown that if women in third world countries are educated they are less likely to have as many children and they will be more successful in the long run. Mortenson wanted to give them a chance to learn and prosper in such a male dominated part of the world. Upon arriving home to California, Mortenson was brought to reality where he really realised what he had done. While on the plane home he felt empowered and ready for such a challenge but back in America he felt stuck. This is usually the part that most people get to. They have some inspiration and great ideas to help but they don’t know how to take action.

Or they realise how much work and money will be involved in the process of making a change. All that he owned to his name was a small storage locker with some possessions in it. He looked around at fancy business people walking down the streets, only concerned with when their next Starbucks break would be. He was going through culture shock, jet lag and just plain confusion. How can these people think their problems are so important when people halfway across the world are struggling just to get a basic education? Mortenson suddenly felt lost in his previous home. He didn’t fit in with these people.

He wanted to be back in Afghanistan with, what was in his eyes, his real family. So to get there he had to tackle one of his biggest obstacles, money. He knew that he could get a job at the local hospital, as he had healthcare degrees from university, but he knew that this would not be enough. Before he had left he roughly estimated how much it the whole thing would cost. His estimate came to about $12,000. How on earth was he supposed to come up with this money? So Mortenson came up with an idea, he would get sponsors. So first he needed to get his message out and get eople aware and interested. Being not very technologically advanced, even in the year 1993, he rented a typewriter to write out letters to several famous people explaining his situation and asking for any donations. The only problem with typewriters is that if you make any mistakes you have to start over. After 5 hours of work he had only completed 4 successful letters. Since the letters would take him a lot longer that he had predicted he was saving in every aspect that he could. He lived out of his car and worked as many shifts as he could as a registered nurse at the local hospital ER.

Whenever he wasn’t working he painstakingly typed out more letters and mailed them off to every important person he could think of. One day one of his problems was dramatically solved though, as he was introduced to a computer for the first time. He got a tutorial from a friend and was now was able to print out as many letters as he could think of people to send them to. Slowly things were looking up for him. His first donation came from students from his mom’s class who had organised a penny fundraiser, bringing in $623. 45. Out of all 580 letters he had sent out he only got one reply, along with a cheque for $100 and a wish good luck.

Although he had received a couple donations, Mortenson felt like he was making little to no progress. Other famous climbers had foundations that had people knocking on their doors to give them thousands of dollars. Things also got rocky as his current girlfriend was getting annoyed at all the nights spent in the car and the tightness of cash. His situation dramatically changed one day as a friend of his suggested he visit a man named Dr. Jean Hoerni, a successful physicist who had made quite the fortune in his work. Hoerni was a no nonsense man, who greatly intimidated Mortenson.

After a short phone call with Hoerni, Mortenson walked away $12,000 richer towards his school. So he sold the rest of his possessions to get extra cash for any miscalculations or emergencies. Finally he painfully drove his car to the dealership and sold his home for the past year to buy a plane ticket. So far he had completed phase one of his plan, raising enough funds. So as he boarded the plane he embarked on a journey that would forever change the course of his life. Never an Easy Route Greg arrived back in Afghanistan, fully determined and ready to start building his school.

He had exactly $12,800 dollars, $12,000 for the school and $800 to get him through while building the school. He was on a strict budget, every rupee counted and anything wasted, in his mind, was just taking away books or pencils that he could buy for the students. Greg had some friends to help him was ready to jump right into it, but the way people operate there is much more relaxed than the fast paced American society. So after a couple days he was finally able to get started and gather materials. Mortenson wanted only the best materials for his school; he didn’t want it to crumble to the ground after a long hard winter.

Although this became the first of many problems for him, this one being more of a social issue more than anything. People who be bought from didn’t know him or what he was doing. They just looked at him by his appearance, an American. To them he came from far away and did not know their culture and ways of life. So they could rip him off. Charge him high prices for cheaply made materials. Another problem with this part of the world is that everyone wants their share. If you’re paying me to transport the wood for you I get to keep some. This frustrated Mortenson as he had worked so hard and was on a very tight budget.

He needed to remind himself though that this way just the way their world worked. Mortenson really wanted to connect with these people and was eager to learn about their culture and religious beliefs. Religion plays a huge role in the everyday lives of Muslims. They have several prayer times throughout the day where the whole city stops, no matter where they are, to pray. Mortenson knew this could be a touchy subject, but he finally asked one of his friends to show him how to pray. He struggled through it, not fully understanding the process but hoped to improve and really immerse into their culture.

He wanted to be respected and wanted to be able to understand these people. Finally about a week after arriving, Mortenson was finally ready with all his materials to make the 3 day trek to the small, isolated village of Korphe to build his school. After purchasing all his materials his financial situation was even lower than he had expected, which posed as a possible big problem, leaving small room for error. The journey to Korphe was in itself a whole story. Upon arriving in Korphe he was very kindly greeted by hundreds of village people. They were surprised yet happy to see him.

Many climbers come through their villages and make promises to them that rarely get fulfilled. Here before them was Greg, who was ready to build them a school, to give them the gift of education. As he discussed plans with the village leaders, he was presented with what would be the biggest problem to date. They wanted the school to be built inside the village of Korphe. Mortenson had planned for it to be built just outside the village as the only way into the village was across a small rickety pulley system that went over a large ravine with the Braldu River running through it at the bottom.

The village leaders thought it would be most beneficial for them to be able to be connected with the outside world if they were to build a bridge, and that way they would also be able to transport all the materials across the bridge into the village. This would cause Mortenson a lot more work and a lot more funding. He also agreed that it would be a good idea to connect them with the outside world a bit more though, as they were very isolated. Almost a full year later Mortenson had finally succeeded in building a school, and a bridge for the village of Korphe. He felt amazing.

He really knew how much this would help their people and how much it would impact their lives. Mortenson didn’t want to stop here though. So with the financial help of his close friend Jean Hoerni he was able to start a foundation called Central Asia Institute or CAI. Hoerni gave him a large donation to start off, but that wouldn’t last forever. So whenever Mortenson was back in America he would travel around to give presentations in hopes of getting some donations. This was another barrier for him, as it was difficult to get people interested and he has quite the fear of public speaking.

Sometimes he would be in a venue with 500 chairs set up and he would be presenting to only 3 people. It became even more difficult to get people interested after 9/11 happened. No one wanted to help him. Everyone questioned why he wanted to help these people. Mortenson received hate letters and even death threats constantly. This greatly frustrated him as they didn’t know the individual hardworking and kind people that he knew. They were judging a whole population off one extremist group. It was unfair to these people who did nothing wrong. He lost a lot of the support that he previously had from his own country.

This was a huge social issue for him as now his own people didn’t understand what he was doing. Even today in 2013, 12 years after the 9/11 attacks people still judge Islamic people and look down upon them. I think when most people hear the term terrorist the associate it with an Islamic person, which is extremely racist and unfair towards these people. What Mortenson was able to realize was that at the end of the day, they are just the same as us. They want the best for their kids. They want to enjoy life, family and friends. Yes, there are cultural differences but when it comes down to it we are all humans on the same Earth.

There are extremist groups in any culture, and it is unjust to blame a whole society of people for a small groups actions. Regardless of this Mortenson was still able to keep going with his projects in Pakistan and was building schools at a very fast rate. People were contacting him from all over wanting him to build schools in their villages. Along with building schools he also built community centers for people to go, with resources like sports and libraries. He gave special donations to certain people who contacted him personally who wanted money for further studies.

In one particular case he funded a young woman who went on to do a 4 month medical course. With this she was able to return to her village and help out so many people. People there no longer had to worry of death from something as small as a cold. The women even said that there is not a single person in the area that believes that women should not be educated. People were starting to realize the importance and great benefits of educating women. She couldn’t believe the progress and improvement it had made for her own life and the lives of so many people she was able to save because of it.

She wants to pass on her training and education to other women in hope that it can benefit them as well. There were a couple personal stories like this throughout the story which gave a great perspective on the actual effect of Mortenson’s work and how it really helped. His project to educate the poor was really working, and had successful examples of people that it helped out significantly. In the long run I think that what Mortenson is doing can greatly help out their economy. He has set them on a pathway for a more bright and prosperous future by giving them so many resources to succeed.

Impact for the Future Greg Mortenson had so far successfully built 141 schools across Pakistan. He started as a small organization of one person typing out letters in hopes to get donations and build one school. That has turned into so much more. The impact that he has made is just incredible. Without him so many kids would grow up with no bright future and living in extreme levels of poverty. He gave them purpose and reason to keep going. His motivation and great attitude can serve as an inspiration everyone. He encountered so many barriers, whether it be social, financial, political or religious.

Mortenson did so much more than just build schools. He really changed the opinions of so many Pakistani people. Before he came, they had a preconceived idea of Americans. In a country so corrupt like Pakistan the people have little opportunities to learn. Most people, especially in rural areas don`t have access to the internet or incoming media. All their beliefs come from word of mouth, and higher powers within their government. The Taliban gave a horrible impression of Americans. They painted a picture of evil people who were someone that they should hate.

The people believed them, having no other sources for information. When Mortenson first came in, there were many social and political barriers he had to overcome. He was even captured at one point and held hostage for several days before being released. People saw him and immediately didn`t like him. They judged him on the sole fact of what he looked like, an American. After a while, when word got around of what he was doing, this slowly started to change. People got wind of the fact than an American was here, in their own country to help them out. This confused them.

Weren`t Americans bad? Slowly their opinions were changed. The Taliban wasn’t building schools for them and educating their people. All they were doing was causing more conflict and stress to their lives. The American was here helping them and improving their lives. People gained more respect for Americans and less for the corrupt power that was doing nothing for them. He changed the lives of many, changed their impressions and gave people hope. He managed his whole foundation with very little help. He didn’t have a secretary for the longest time, and he made all arrangements himself.

He has almost single handily created a movement for educating and inspiring people in such a corrupt, developing nation. He is a true hero of our century. Conclusion Reading the novel Three Cups of Tea has really given me a better perspective on different types of culture and ways of life. I feel more educated and enlightened on many topics now. I feel as though I have a much better understand on many of the conflicts occurring in the Middle East. It really gave an unbiased view rather than what we hear from the media daily. I feel as though I really know both sides of the story now when I hear different stories published in the news.

Greg Mortenson was brave to publish his story, but I’m glad that he did as it is an incredible one that should be praised. I would even go so far as to say that I think he would be a deserving candidate of a Nobel Peace Prize. Throughout reading the novel and writing the report I was able to connect it to many stories we read about in class and different discussions that we had. I could compare it to many different social, political, economic and environmental issues that occurred throughout the novel. It was interesting to get an insider view on their ways of life and how they live their daily lives.

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Three Cups of Tea: Story of Courage, Empathy, and the Will to Make a Change. (2017, May 30). Retrieved from

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