Monday, April 18, 2011

Greg Mortenson

For those of you unfamiliar with his name, Greg Mortenson is an author, humanitarian, public speaker and former mountaineer. He is the author of "Three Cups Of Tea" and "Stones Into Schools," both of which detail his efforts to bring schools and education to the children, especially the girls, of Afghanistan and Pakistan. He is the co-founder Central Asia Institute, and founder of Pennies for Peace. CAI is the nonprofit organization which provides the funding for the school projects, while Pennies for Peace is a way to get young children involved, teaching them they can make a difference in the world, one penny at a time.

I belong to a book club, and we have read both of his books: the first in the fall of 2009, and the second in April 2010. The day before we were to discuss the second book, Greg had a speaking engagement here in town, at Wright State University. Barry and I went to hear him, and we got to meet him afterwards, and get both of my books signed. Here's one of the pics Barry took of me with Greg that night...
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Between the books and the presentation that night, I was very inspired and impressed by Greg. If he could do all that he had done and was continuing to do, while being a self-proclaimed "painfully shy introvert," there was no reason I couldn't start looking for ways to at least make a difference in my own little corner of the world. So, in the past year, I've been pushing myself a little further, stepping out of my little comfort zone, and putting myself out there in a variety of ways.

Late last week, I saw a commercial for 60 MINUTES, and learned they were doing a piece on Greg and the CAI...and it didn't sound like it was going to be all sunshine and rainbows. I looked at Barry, who was already looking at me--he said "We're going to be watching that, aren't we?" He knows me SO well!!!

So, last night, we were both sitting in front of the television watching the story..and I found myself angry, sad and disappointed. According to what they reported, even though Greg makes $30, 000 per speaking engagement, which goes into his own pocket (as do all profits from both books), most if not all of his travel expenses are paid by CAI--including the occasional use of a private jet. Footage from some of the schools built by CAI show them being used for storage space for crops rather than to educate children...officials from some schools supposedly being supported by CAI say they haven't received any help from CAI in years...the number of schools actually built, while still impressive, doesn't match the numbers reported by CAI---and the list goes on. There were also claims that some of the stories told in the books are exaggerated, or just plain fabrication, including his claim to have been kidnapped and held captive for 8 days by the Taliban.

The 60 Minutes crew attempted to speak to Greg at a speaking engagement in Atlanta, after getting no response to calls and emails (a statement was issued AFTER this attempt, however). He put them off, saying he had books to sign, so the reporter asked if they could have a few minutes of his time after the signing. He seemed to say yes, and then he was seen nodding toward one of his "people," who summoned hotel security. The crew was "banished" to the hotel lobby and told Greg would speak to them later. Instead, he cancelled his later engagement and went out a back entrance to avoid them and leave town. Now, maybe it's just me and my perception, but that sort of screamed at me that he had/has something to hide. If he were being totally honest and transparent, why not stick around and say so on camera? Oh, and let's not forget that the "honest and transparent" organization stopped posting their tax returns online with the 2008 fiscal year!!!

And then I got up this morning, and found I had received email from Greg overnight, through CAI...sent out to everyone on the mailing list. His explanation for dodging the interview was as follows:
The Board of Directors and I made the very difficult decision to not engage with "60 Minutes" on camera, after they attempted an eleventh hour aggressive approach to reach me, including an ambush in front of children at a book signing at a community service leadership convention in Atlanta. It was clear that the program's disrespectful approach would not result in a fair, balanced or objective representation of our work, my books or our vital mission.

Sorry, but that just doesn't fit with the 60 MINUTES I've watched almost my entire life. Sure, they do exposes on a fairly regular basis, but they always seem to be fair, balanced and objective...and I think this one was, as well. Okay, maybe not so BALANCED, but that's only because Greg and CAI refused to give them anything to balance it!

I still support the ideas CAI, and Greg, stand for, but I have to say that I'm less inclined to continue supporting the program financially at this point. It's something I'll have to research and work out over a period of time.

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