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Stones Into Schools

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In military parlance, girls’ education is a ‘force multiplier’ – and in impoverished Muslim societies, the ripple effects of female literacy can be profound.” Statistics tell the story. According to the World Bank, a single year of primary education can increase a woman’s income 10 to 20 percent later in life. Other studies find that when girls receive a fifth-grade education, infant mortality drops. They also marry later and have fewer children.

But as Mortenson has discovered, simply giving girls a primary education is not enough. Almost no jobs exist for rural women in these developing countries. Some of them need higher education so they can become teachers, doctors, and maternal healthcare workers. As one shining example, Mortenson points to 22-year-old Shakila Khan, one of the first to graduate from his school in Hushe, a village south of Korphe. She will be the first locally educated female physician in an area of 300,000 people.

Mortenson’s learning curve has also included the realization that education goes beyond book learning. As his young daughter reminded him, children need to play. Her plea resulted in shipments of 7,000 jump-ropes and the construction of playgrounds.

Mortenson himself is a fascinating study in contradictions. He describes himself in self-effacing terms as a “profoundly bewildered man,” as an “incorrigible introvert,” and as “awkward, soft-spoken, ineloquent, and intensely shy.” Yet by the measure of his own accounts in his books, he ranks as incredibly brave. He thinks nothing of leaping into battered minivans and dilapidated jeeps, rattling along rutted, axle-breaking roads for 30 or 40 harrowing hours, dodging danger and going without sleep or food for extended periods – all in the interest of building one more school.

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