Overflow crowd turns out for special program
by: Vern Uyetake, 
Greg Mortenson, left, makes a point at the Lakeridge High School  auditorium last week while his “Three Cups of Tea” co-author, David Oliver Relin, looks on.

In Greg Mortenson's words, the Lake Oswego Reads program 'exceeded' and 'surpassed' any community program he's been involved with since co-authoring the book, 'Three Cups of Tea.'

In fact, other cities are taking cues from Lake Oswego to form their own citywide reading program around the book, he told an audience at Lake Oswego High School last week.

'What you're doing is inspiring communities across the country,' he said.

Mortenson, executive director of the Montana-based Central Asia Institute, visited LOHS on Feb. 6 with his writing partner, David Oliver Relin, a Portland-based journalist.

All of the tickets for the event, which was part of Lake Oswego Reads, were snatched up in a few hours last month. About 1,315 residents packed the auditorium and adjacent cafeteria to hear the talk.

The event was made possible through a grant from the Oregon Council for the Humanities, a statewide non-profit agency.

A representative from West Coast Bank presented Mortenson with a check for $6,360.63, the amount raised by students in Lake Oswego's nine elementary schools through 'Pennies for Peace.'

Relin spoke first by reading an excerpt of 'Three Cups of Tea' and telling the story of how the book got started. But first, more praise for the city of Lake Oswego.

'Just to see what you've done as a community is remarkable,' he said. 'I've been all over the country with this book and this is the most remarkable reception we've had anywhere.'

Relin was introduced to Mortenson through a magazine editor. The men came out of their first meeting planning the book.

Relin went on to spend three years following Mortenson around Pakistan and Afghanistan to learn the story behind CAI's work.

He came out of the experience with a new perspective.

'I learned that the root cause of terrorism is poverty and ignorance, and Greg's work alleviates ignorance and poverty, school by school, community by community,' Relin said. 'Non-extremist education really does change kids' lives because extremists depend on the vacuum of chaos created by poverty and ignorance.'

Relin went on to say that Americans and Pakistanis want the same things in life.

'Pakistani culture extends around the world,' he said. 'Look at the masses of people at the heart of the Muslim world who want peace and education,' Relin said. 'We should reach out to them directly and we can do profound things.'

He then introduced Mortenson, who began the program by showing a video about 'Pennies for Peace' made by his 11-year-old daughter. Mortenson noted that kids essentially started CAI's work by collecting spare change and donating it to build a school.

He then used a slide show of photos to tell the same story behind 'Three Cups of Tea' - how he grew up in Africa, wanted to scale K2 in memory of his sister, but failed the climb only to find himself in a rural Pakistani town that didn't have a school.

The impoverished people there nursed Mortenson back to health and in return, he promised to come back and build a school. Years later, CAI now educates 25,000 students in schools throughout Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Education in those areas is especially important for young women and girls, Mortenson said. It could help curb population growth, infant mortality rates and create a better society and world.

Mortenson emphasized the African proverb, 'If you educate a boy, you educate an individual. If you educate a girl, you educate a community.'

'As long as girls aren't educated, society won't change,' he said, adding that the Taliban and other terrorist groups rely on the lack of education to maintain control.

'Literacy and education is the single most important investment we can make in the third world,' Mortenson said, adding, 'The stakes could not be higher.'

After a standing ovation, Mortenson and Relin signed copies of 'Three Cups of Tea' for local fans.

Tualatin Valley Community Television will air the presentation many times through February, March, April and May. For a complete schedule and LO Reads event listing, go online to

endar/ThreeCupsofTea.htm .

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