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CAI Communiqué (Blog)

Welcome to CAI’s blog. This is where CAI will post news items and stories about what is happening with the organization both stateside and overseas! Please send any comments or questions to info@ikat.org.


 

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April 14, 2014 – Uniting behind education

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Students leaned forward on the edge of their chairs while others climbed over one another, trying to get a better glimpse of the small map. I pointed to Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan.

“In the areas where we work, it’s very difficult for children to go to school,” I told them. “Especially for the girls.”

The students looked at me wide-eyed as I explained Central Asia Institute’s work. The overhead fan shut off, indicative of another power cut, and the stale heat of India’s spring sunk in to this mixed class of fifth and sixth graders in Anaikatti, India.

I kept talking. They kept listening. And I watched as they started to understand, and to empathize.

In rural India, much like the remote, mountainous areas where CAI works, there are major obstacles to accessing education. Extreme poverty, poor quality government education, and lack of infrastructure limit access to education in India’s rural villages. Ongoing discrimination from the caste system, as well as a persistent gender gap, disproportionately affect India’s most marginalized populations.

Last year, I worked as a teacher at Vidya Vanam, a tribal school located in southern India. This past February, I returned to visit the students and introduced them to CAI’s Global Chalk Campaign (GCC).

“CAI is grounded in the importance of education, which we see as a crucial component to empowering local communities and promoting peaceable solutions to both everyday problems and larger regional and global problems,” CAI’s Executive Director David Starnes said. “We launched the Global Chalk Campaign to remind the international community why. Why should education be a right for every child, rather than just a privilege?

“The campaign is Sarah’s brainchild, and it is intended as a global effort, so it made a lot of sense for her to expand it to include the students at Vidya Vanam,” he said.

Despite India’s geographical proximity to Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan, most of the students were unfamiliar with these countries to the northwest. A few had heard of the conflict between India and Pakistan, having been told of the ongoing political tension and animosity between the two countries. Yet none of them could articulate why that tension existed.

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As we talked about the Global Chalk Campaign, and about education as a human right, the students began to recognize similarities between themselves and their peers in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan. As in many communities where CAI works, most of Vidya Vanam’s students represent the first literate generation in their families and their villages. They, too, struggle to access education. Through education, they were able to unite.

“The education should be right to all child. Because some child didn’t go to school,” Chandru wrote on a chalkboard. “Some parent don’t let the children go to school. Please give education for girls.”

With those words, Chandru joined the campaign. His awareness of the importance of education for all children is the point of the GCC.

The array of black-and-white images featured on CAI’s social media sites over the past seven weeks are the GCC. In each image, a student (or a teacher) displays a chalkboard with his or her answer to the question: Why should education be a right, rather than a privilege?

In the United States, we often take education for granted. In fact, it’s sometimes difficult to articulate why education is so important. But, we know that it is.

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We began the campaign this past winter in Bozeman, Mont., schools. The CAI team explained the difficulty of accessing education in the remote, mountainous areas where we work and challenged the students to envision a world without education, without written communication, newspapers or books. We challenged them to imagine a society where illiteracy was the norm.

The Bozeman students then helped kick off the GCC. We have also included students from Montana State University in Bozeman. “Ignorance is the most powerful weapon of the corrupt and abusive,” Montana State University senior Nate Kenney wrote.

And, we’ve started receiving responses from around the world. For example: “Education is wisdom and wisdom is better than silver and gold,” Ibrahim wrote on our Instagram page.

Roberta weighed in on Facbeook: “Everyone has an inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness — and the ONLY way to ensure those rights is by being able to READ and to WRITE! Literacy should also be an inalienable right. … Help stamp out illiteracy.”

The Global Chalk Campaign illustrates our commonality. It transcends cultural difference and teaches cultural tolerance.

All too often, political difference and long-standing cultural tensions trickle down to children. Rhetoric of violence teaches them to hate. It encourages them to judge people based on cultural identity. Eventually we reach a point where our children are fighting wars that they don’t even understand. Education is the best weapon we have to fight back against injustice.

Now CAI wants to hear your voice. Write your answer on a piece of paper, take a “selfie” and post the photo on one of our social media sites (make sure to include the hashtags #CAI and #GlobalChalkCampaign), or email it to us at media@ikat.org.

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You can see the amazing array of answers to the question on the Global Chalk Campaign’s own Facebook page: www.facebook.com/globalchalkcampaign.

The Global Chalk Campaign is powerful because it provides a platform for the necessary dialogue on peace through education. It promotes empathy and unity, while simultaneously opening the door for literacy. So, join us in the campaign and tell the world why YOU think education should be a human right.

If you are looking for a source of inspiration, check out Orchard Park High School’s video on the campaign.

Thanks so much to all who have joined and supported the campaign. Together, we can make a difference.

QUOTE: Tolerance, inter-cultural dialogue and respect for diversity are more essential than ever in a world where peoples are becoming more and more closely interconnected. – Kofi Annan

- Sarah Webb, communications assistant

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April 9, 2014 – Jim Thaden joins CAI team as new development director

We are pleased to announce that Jim Thaden has joined CAI as our new director of development. He started the job in mid-March and is based in our Bozeman office.

Thaden, 61, brings years of senior corporate management and nonprofit fundraising experience to the organization.

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“We are thrilled to have Jim join the CAI team and take a key leadership role in our fundraising efforts,” CAI Executive Director David Starnes said. “He has a particularly broad background in the for profit and nonprofit worlds, including significant experience with corporate turnaround situations. We are confident he will make a significant impact on our work.”

Thaden said he was attracted to CAI in large part because of its “considerable investment” in building long-term relationships and providing services and resources that “people need to self-determine their future.”

“Also, because CAI comes to them as a nonsectarian, politically autonomous friend focused on their children’s futures, CAI has the privilege of being able to provide the simple but invaluable help so many people in these areas desire and deserve,” he said. “I am confident the next years at CAI will be even brighter than prior years, because this team ‘gets it.’ I’m excited to be a part of the team.”

Born and raised in Washington state, Thaden spent much of his adult life in Tennessee. Most recently, he worked as development director for the Discovery Place in suburban Nashville, where he played a key role in that organization’s turnaround via a “solid and sustainable” social enterprise. A social enterprise is a business owned by a nonprofit that both generates income and achieves a sustainable social benefit.

Jim also worked as development director for the Shae Foundation in Chattanooga, Tenn., where, among other things, he developed a social enterprise strategy for the foundation and helped grant recipients build successful online-fundraising efforts.

Prior to his social enterprise work, which he called his “second career,” Thaden was a successful entrepreneur and executive in the technology, distribution, and client services industries.

In Nashville, he founded and served as president and CEO of MHS-Diabetes Direct, and was owner-operator of a small business and nonprofit organization advisory practice.

In the 1990s, Thaden led a Nashville-based printing firm, Nicholstone Inc., from near bankruptcy to its merger with Rand McNally, Inc. He then joined Rand McNally’s executive leadership team, where he founded and grew its international outsource services division, which was merged with a competing company and later sold.

Earlier in his career he was vice president of operations at Chase Packaging in Greenwich Conn.; executive vice president at Graphic Packaging in Paoli, Penn.; and marketing director at St. Regis Paper Packaging in New York.

“Throughout my career I was mentored by extraordinary business leader in companies that valued learning,” he said. “Consequently, I was trained to grow a business simultaneously with creating the systems and process infrastructure to sustain the future growth of the business. This is particularly important to CAI at this juncture. As we reignite our donor engines, we must also insure that we are investing our donors’ money systematically to insure that their donation investments continue to generate future returns.”

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An alumni of Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash., where he earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees, Thaden continued his education with graduate-level courses in business systems, business development, and international business strategy at the University of Southern California and George Washington University.

A devoted father and grandfather, Thaden has two adult daughters, both educators, and three grandchildren. He now calls Bozeman home.

The spring fundraising campaign has been his first order of business.

“When we believe in something that we absolutely know grows peace, it’s our responsibility to fervently support it,” he said. “We’ve already proven that education is the pathway to peace in Central Asia. Just look at the young CAI graduates coming back as teachers and health workers. And look closer to see how their parents are now looking to them for community leadership.

“In the next few years, we have the opportunity to continue to grow sustainable peace in this region by sticking it out; even when others leave. By continuing to build local partnerships, through these years of transition, we’ll move ahead together to cement positive multi-generational change in this important part of the world,” he said.

- Karin Ronnow, international communications director

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March 14, 2014 – A Message from CAI’s Executive Director

Greetings to all and best wishes. I hope all those who received our latest “Journey of Hope” enjoyed the stories, the photos, and the inspiration of the students, teachers, parents, and leaders who work every day towards the goal that all children have the right for education. I have provided some updates to all of our friends and supporters below. Please feel free at any time to call with questions or comments.

Starnes

Domestic Updates

As many of you know, Tom Brokaw and the NBC’s “TODAY” show hosted Greg Mortenson for his first interview with the press since April 2011. The four-minute segment aired on January 21, a distillation of a longer 75-minute conversation between Tom and Greg on topics ranging from Greg’s health to the “60 Minutes” and Jon Krakaur allegations to the status of CAI and its continuing work. Overall, I am pleased with the interview. While we would have liked to have heard more, particularly about CAI’s mission and work continuing despite the controversies, it is good to see Greg engaging with the public, sharing his thoughts on the past two-and-a-half years, and returning to the work at hand of educating boys and girls in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan.

In addition to Greg’s interview, I would like to announce his new role and title, that of co-founder and advisor. As we position CAI to continue its mission and look to the future, Greg’s role will be to provide historical perspective and insight; identify and develop key relationships in the U.S. and around the world, with a particular emphasis on relationships overseas; and support that part of CAI’s mission that calls for conveying the importance of education globally.

Chalkboard Campaign

I am also pleased to announce that Jim Thaden will be joining CAI as the director of development. Jim comes to CAI with a broad background of corporate management and non-profit fundraising. His official start date is March 17. Please welcome Jim and feel free to reach out to him with any fundraising comments or questions.

Please take a look at our new Global Chalk Campaign, which can be seen on our Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Tumblr pages. Karin Ronnow and Sarah Webb initiated this social-media campaign to encourage people to think about the concept that education is a right, rather than a privilege. We want everyone to participate. Just write why you think education is important in large letters on a piece of paper, have someone take a picture of you holding the paper, and send it to us at media@ikat.org. We’ll post it with the others!

Overseas Updates

CAI, in concert with the overseas project managers, continues to support our existing schools and complete those new schools that we committed to in the past. With 90 schools in Pakistan, 97 in Afghanistan, and four in Tajikistan, overseas partners and project managers have been busy sustaining and improving the work of providing educational opportunities for all.

Two situations have transpired relative to CAI’s work overseas that we’d like our supporters to be aware of:

1. CAI has begun the process of filing civil claims in Pakistan against one of the former project managers, Ghulam Parvi. For those of you who know of Parvi from the books, he was a prominent player in getting CAI established in northern Pakistan in CAI’s early days. In 2010, Parvi and CAI formally ended their relationship due to disagreements over use of funds and project management. Over the next few years, CAI received numerous allegations that Parvi had abused his role as a CAI-supported project manager and misused CAI funds and property. After a detailed internal investigation, CAI determined that Parvi had failed to meet the minimum standards CAI expects of its overseas partners, standards that befit a reputable and ethical charitable organization. We are sad that Parvi violated the trust of CAI and, most importantly, the community he was serving. CAI has a policy of zero tolerance for fraud, waste, and abuse. We place the highest value on the trust of our donors and supporters and on ensuring that our direct beneficiaries receive the maximum benefit from our donors’ generosity.

2. CAI has suspended its relationship with Ilyas Mirza and the Central Asia Institute Trust–Pakistan. CAI and Ilyas have been in dispute over CAI funds and overall project management since the fall of 2012. CAI attempted to resolve these differences amicably, however that effort came to a halt on January 22, when Ilyas filed suit against CAI in Los Angeles County for claims related to compensation. CAI rejects these claims categorically. While unfortunate, this issue has no real bearing on most of CAI’s work in Pakistan, which continues.

Both situations above are troubling. It is simply an unfortunate part of our human nature that some will attempt to take advantage of certain situations. The most important thing is to have systems in place to identify such misbehavior and, when it does occur, to deal with it quickly and effectively.

Dubai

On a lighter note, we have just completed a series of meetings and discussions with all the CAI-supported overseas partners and key staff from the United States. The meetings took place over four days in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, near Dubai. This was the first time this particular group of individuals had gathered in one location for such a meeting. Topics included presentations by each of the partners, updates on changes within CAI-U.S., and explanations of new policies and procedures for all partners moving forward. We were also fortunate to have two CAI board members participate as well.

In summary, it has been a busy winter at CAI and we are looking forward to a busy spring and summer. Please feel free at any time to visit us at our offices in Bozeman, Mont., or email us at info@ikat.org.

As always and foremost, thank you to all who support our mission and the work to provide education opportunities in the remote and rugged areas of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan, with particular thanks to our sister and brother partners, who work in remote and dangerous areas of the world to provide educational opportunities for children, their families, and their communities.

QUOTE: We cannot feel whole until we are helping other people to reach for their potential and to grow as strong as they can grow. – Tom Walsh

- David Starnes, executive director

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March 7, 2014 – Pioneering woman breaks with tradition in northern Pakistan

GICH, Pakistan – In the rural mountain villages of northern Pakistan, tradition has long dictated that men own and operate the shops in the local bazaar.

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The male shopkeepers peddle their goods from simple wood or cement stalls facing the road, selling everything from food, tea and spices to car and bicycle tires and plastic shoes from China. Often, men do the shopping, too.

But here in Gich, a small town northwest of Gilgit, entrepreneur Chan Bali has turned tradition on its head.

After completing training at the Central Asia Institute (CAI)-supported women’s vocational center in 2012 Bali opened a tailoring shop, making her the first woman business owner in Gich – ever.

“I thought, I can do something for myself,” Bali, a mother of four, said. “I can stand on my own feet.”

She challenged tradition, with the full support of her family. “My husband is in the Pakistan Army,” said Bali, who declined to give her age. “He’s the one who has given me the idea. He said, ‘If you learn then you have to do.’”

Chan Bali, pioneering woman business owner in Gich, Pakistan. Photo by Erik Petersen, 2013.

And she’s ready to take on any naysayers. “If they create problems, I don’t care about that because I need to help my family,” she said.

Chan Bali is a pioneer. As CAI celebrates International Women’s Day (IWD) Saturday, March 8, we applaud her enterprising spirit and the accomplishments of women all around the world fighting to end discrimination, each in their own way.

RISING TIDE LIFTS ALL BOATS

Created more than a century ago as a way to show solidarity with women fighting for labor and voting rights in United States and Europe, IWD has spread throughout the world. It is an official holiday in Afghanistan and Tajikistan, although not in Pakistan, according to the IWD website. In the United States, IWD is part of an annual month-long celebration of women’s history.

The United Nations theme for IWD 2014 is “Equality for women is progress for all,” highlighting the idea that a rising tide of equality lifts all boats.

Afghan students leave a CAI-supported school. Photo by Ellen Jaskol, 2010.

Although the number of people living on less than $1 per day has fallen around the world, poverty is still deeply entrenched in the remote mountain areas where CAI works. CAI’s emphasis on girls’ education, along with its women’s literacy, vocational and basic healthcare programs empower females to play a vital role in fighting poverty at home and in their communities.

The pivotal role of women in development is indisputable. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said, “Countries with more gender equality have better economic growth. Companies with more women leaders perform better. Peace agreements that include women are more durable. Parliaments with more women enact more legislation on key social issues such as health, education, anti-discrimination and child support. The evidence is clear: equality for women means progress for all.”

Like Chan Bali, women who earn an income spend most of it on their children and families’ health and education.

“I use the money for expenses with my kids, school fees and clothing,” she said. “We have not so big land here, so I use for children’s education. I have four children, three sons and one daughter. They are in good schools.”

She praised CAI – and CAI-Gilgit’s Saidullah Baig and Dilshad Begum, in particular – for giving her and other women the tools they need to help themselves.

“We have seen so many institutions working in different places, but I’ve never seen an organization trying so hard [as CAI] to empower every family member and pushing us in a proper way to do something for ourselves and our family,” she said.

Women discuss successes and challenges at one of CAI’s women’s vocational centers. Photo by Erik Petersen, 2012.

EVERYONE ON BOARD

But everyone, not just the women, have a role to play, Ban Ki-moon said.

“I also have a message for my fellow men and boys: play your part,” he said in his annual IWD statement. “All of us benefit when women and girls – your mothers, sisters, friends and colleagues – can reach their full potential.”

In Islamic countries in particular, supportive family members “who put no limits on their movements or who they spoke to,” are key to female entrepreneurs’ success, according to a study by the University of Bedfordshire in England.

In Bali’s case, her husband encouraged her and “helped me negotiate [rent] with the owner of this building.”

Her simple one-room shop in a cement building is filled with tailoring supplies and equipment. The wooden planks on a floor-to-ceiling shelf are stacked high with fabric, yarn and thread. She has two hand-cranked sewing machines and one electric machine. She has hired and trained one employee and started an apprentice program, with 10 “students” who come for lessons from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. each day.

She is a role model, showing what women can do when they stretch their wings.

“I am earning more than my expectation,” she said. “My children are proud of me.”

And so are we.

QUOTE: Remember the dignity of your womanhood. Do not appeal, do not beg, do not grovel. Take courage, join hands, stand beside us, fight with us. – Christabel Pankhurst

Editor’s note: A longer version of Chan Bali’s story was published on pages 7-8 of CAI’s 2013 “Journey of Hope” publication, and can be read HERE.

- Karin Ronnow, communications director

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March 5, 2014 – We are all connected

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Students listen to a lesson at a Central Asia Institute-supported school in Azad Kashmir, Pakistan, this winter.

Here’s a thought for today about learning and about the universal interconnectedness of all people:

“You may not see it now,” said the Princess of Pure Reason, looking knowingly at Milo’s puzzled face, “but whatever we learn has a purpose and whatever we do affects everything and everyone else, if even in the tiniest way. Why, when a housefly flaps his wings, a breeze goes round the world; when a speck of dust falls to the ground, the entire planet weighs a little more; and when you stamp your foot, the earth moves slightly off its course. Whenever you laugh, gladness spreads like the ripples in the pond; and whenever you’re sad, no one anywhere can be really happy. And it’s much the same thing with knowledge, for whenever you learn something new, the whole world becomes that much richer.”
– Norman Juster, “The Phantom Tollbooth”

Photos by Fozia Naseer for CAI, 2014.

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February 12, 2014 – ‘Hard fighting’ damages CAI school in Badakhshan

Windows shattered and cement crumbled at a Central Asia Institute girls’ school last month as Taliban and Afghan National Army forces waged a fierce battle for control of a remote mountain region of Badakhshan province.

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Although the battle took place at the Kharundab Girls’ High School, it erupted during the annual winter break and no students or teachers were injured, said Janagha Jaheed, CAI’s project manager in Badakhshan province. The school is in the Jurm district.

“Hard fighting between Taliban and Afghan National Army took place over our Kharundab School on Saturday, Jan. 25,” Jaheed said, citing information from a community leader involved with the school. “The fighting started at 2 (p.m.) and ended late at night.

“The ANA forces were based inside the school and Taliban were shooting and firing with different weapons from the mountains near to the school,” he said. When the fighting ended, the Taliban returned to their base over the mountains.

The community leader, who did not want to be named, told Jaheed that one policeman was killed, and two police and two soldiers were injured, “but there is no exact news.” Local police forces often assist the army.

A few months earlier, another battle took place near the school, “but the people at that time could avoid the forces to enter school, which kept the school safe,” Jaheed said. “But this time they were stationed there and the community leaders could not [intervene] during the [battle].”

This time, when the fighting ended, “the villagers and community leaders came to the school and insisted the army forces get out of the school in order to avoid more fighting inside the school,” Jaheed said. The soldiers complied.

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CAI has two schools in Jurm district, Kharundab and Nawi Jurm Girls’ High School, with more than 1,500 female students, he said. “Fortunately, both of these times fighting happened in the time when schools are off and students are on winter vacation so no student or teacher has been killed or injured due to these fighting yet.”

When the community surveyed the damage to Kharundab, they found gunshots had shattered windows, rockets had destroyed the toilets, and a tank had damaged the main gate, village chief Gullagha told Jaheed.

The Jurm community leaders and teachers wrote a letter itemizing the damages and requesting repairs before the new school year starts.

They also confirmed “their continual support for education, especially for their daughters,” Jaheed said.

Militant activity has increased in once-peaceful Badakhshan in recent years, with the most violence occurring in the Jurm, Warduj, and Karan wa Manjan regions.

In related news, CAI’s Shirgal Primary School in Kunar province was also “damaged in fighting between Afghan army and Taliban” in January, according to Wakil Karimi, CAI’s Kabul-based project manager. “The government has estimated budget for rebuilding damaged parts of the school. I hope they rebuild that because we don’t have money to repair damage.”

QUOTE: War is a poor chisel to carve out tomorrow. – Martin Luther King, Jr.

- Karin Ronnow, communications director

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February 11, 2014 – Explosion kills Urozgan education advocate’s teenage grandson

A roadside bomb that exploded in a remote village in Afghanistan’s Urozgan province late last month killed the 17-year-old grandson of community leader and education champion Haji Ibrahim.

Urozgan elders, including Haji Ibrahim, gather for a group photo after a 2009 meeting with CAI’s Greg Mortenson (back row, third from right), Wakil Karimi, and local education officials.

Abdul Basi was walking to the construction site of CAI’s Kakrat Primary School when the bomb exploded home, according to Wakil Karimi, CAI’s Kabul-based project manager. The 11th grader, who attended high school in the provincial capital Tarin Kowt, was in the village visiting family for the weekend.

Basi was the first literate person in his family and supported his grandfather’s work with CAI, Karimi said.

His grandfather is devastated, Karimi said, as he had wanted his grandson to continue his education, become a university graduate, and take a leadership role in the region’s future.

“Haji Ibrahim has been a huge advocate for CAI and for girls’ education and has often risked his life in support of CAI,” said CAI Cofounder Greg Mortenson. “This is a senseless and vicious act to kill an innocent young man who only wanted education and peace. May God bless Abdul Basi and Haji Ibrahim’s family during this time of great loss and grief.”

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family of Abdul Basi,” CAI Executive Director David Starnes said, “along with our support to all those students who risk their lives to attend school throughout Afghanistan.”

Urozgan is one of the most isolated and underserved areas of Afghanistan. In 2011, the population of the mostly mountainous and semi-mountainous province north of Kandahar was estimated at 382,000. It is a largely illiterate and tribal society, and has been a Taliban stronghold for decades. In December 2013, most of the Australian troops who had been in charge of security there left the country; only a small 400-soldier contingent remains to help train the Afghan Army and local police force.

Construction continues on Kakrak School in Urozgan province, Afghanistan, in 2013.

Urozgan’s education efforts are frequently delayed or thwarted by the violence. In 2012, the Afghanistan government reported the province had 48 high schools, 40 middle schools and 158 primary schools, and needed 89 more schools. However, Ibrahim has said many of those schools are non-functioning or abandoned. In addition, although many of Urozgan’s community elders and religious leaders support girls’ education, outside Taliban and militants have discouraged local families from sending their girls to school.

CAI’s Kakrak School has been a work in progress since 2010, with frequent interruptions due to security problems, Karimi said. “I hope this school will be completed in 2014, as no other NGO has been able to start a school in this place,” he said.

Also, with help from Ibrahim and other Urozgan elders and the blessing of Urozgan Director of Education Tajwar Kaka, CAI has been able to start one of the only girls’ schools in the region in a discrete building in Dae Rawood village.

“Urozgan is a difficult area to gain access and moving forward will take time and patience,” Starnes said. However, “having met with Haji Ibrahim and other tribal elders during my visit last September, I know that support for education for girls in Urozgan is alive and well.”

Mortenson agreed, adding that “None of CAI’s work in Urozgan would be possible without Haji Ibrahim’s effort, negotiating skills, and encouragement. He told me last fall, ‘We have thousands of children ready to go to school, but no teachers, no money, and no buildings. We must start with education now.’”

QUOTE: At the temple there is a poem called ‘Loss’ carved into the stone. It has three words, but the poet has scratched them out. You cannot read loss, only feel it. – Arthur Golden

- Karin Ronnow, communications director

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February 3, 2014 – CAI Launches its Global Chalk Campaign

Teachers

Central Asia Institute (CAI) is launching its Global Chalk Campaign: Advocate to Educate as a means of engaging the global community in dialogue about the importance of education. In a country like the United States, where education is often taken for granted, we at CAI wanted to know what students at all levels think about why education makes a difference.

This winter, CAI staff visited elementary, middle, and high school classrooms in Bozeman, Mont. We discussed the goals of global education and the obstacles facing children in remote and impoverished areas around the world.

After each presentation, we asked students to answer the question, Why should education be a right for every child, rather than a privilege? We gave them two of the most basic teaching tools: chalkboards and chalk, and asked them to write their answers. We even got a few teachers and some of CAI’s Bozeman staff to weigh in on the question.

The results confirmed our impression that some of the most convincing and compelling reasons to educate a community come from the demographic we target most: children.

Teachers

In the United States, education is a right. In fact, education is required by law until a child is 16 years old. In most parts of the country, access to education isn’t a question.

But around the globe, education is still a privilege for too many children, available only to elite members of society, and, often, only to boys. In many of these areas, the adult literacy rates are still in the single digits. Those children who do have an opportunity to go to school sometimes have to walk miles – even during the cold, harsh winters common in the mountains of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan – just to reach a classroom. They brave the ongoing fighting with insurgents and, in some areas, risk attack. They battle traditions such as child marriage and child labor in order to stay in school.

The Global Chalk Campaign is more than just a social media campaign. It highlights the similarity of students globally: their dedication to education, understanding of the world around them, and making their communities a better place.

Teachers

“Anytime students in Bozeman or Montana have the opportunity to learn more about the world around them, it is critically important to take advantage of that opportunity,” said Erica Schnee, who teaches government at Bozeman High School, and invited CAI to present the campaign to students in her advanced-placement class. “When I was growing up in Bozeman, Montana felt isolated, not only from the rest of the world, but also from the rest of the country in some ways. There are so many ways the world has changed and become more interconnected. If we don’t prepare students to engage in that world and interact with and learn more about other parts of the world, we aren’t preparing them to be successfully engaged citizens.”

After the CAI presentation to Peter Strand’s fifth-grade class at Irving Elementary School, Strand said students were excited to learn about their peers overseas, fascinated with the photographs shown by CAI staff, and empathetic to the difficulties CAI students face when trying to access education.

“I think students are able to pull from exploring Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan on numerous levels,” he said. “What happened today only opens the door. My experience from being at Irving with all of its emphasis on this kind of learning is that the sky is the limit. The kids are mesmerized by where such an exploration can go.”

The Global Chalk Campaign gives students a window on cultures that differ from theirs, sparks talk about modern problems and possible solutions, and creates empathy.

“Our goal is to educate them so the ‘fear factor’ of the unknown will be minimalized, and they can accept differences and learn to live in a global community without, hopefully, war and discrimination,” said Ann Cannata, a social studies teacher at Chief Joseph Middle School.

Teachers

“Any introduction to how a different part of the world views education, and a reminder of how fortunate they are to be getting one, is always welcome.

Strand added: “Our kids need to make personal connections with people like themselves who happen to live very different lives, in very different cultures, and with very different experiences.” The campaign helps students understand other ways of life, reflect on their own opportunities and imagine a world where things are much different, he said. This in turn “helps them to better understand themselves and the world in general. And it nurtures empathy, something essential to citizenship.”

We want to hear from you. Why do you think education should be a right for every child around the globe? Post a picture of yourself with your answer, and tag CAI (#CAI, #GlobalChalkCampaign, and our relevant social media pages) in the response. Help us promote the importance of education around the globe.

And keep watching as we post the Bozeman students’ responses here, and on our other social media sites.

QUOTE: Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world. – Nelson Mandela

- Sarah Webb, communications assistant

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January 29, 2014 – Supporters (and critics) respond to Brokaw interview

Photo: Fozia Naseer 2013

Last week was a bit of a roller coaster as we at Central Asia Institute waited for, watched, and then critiqued the Tom Brokaw-Greg Mortenson interview on NBC’s TODAY Show.

The interview was a big step for CAI and for Greg as we seek to reassure our supporters, and our critics, about CAI’s organizational health and ongoing work overseas. But without your comments and feedback – positive and negative – we’d be processing our impressions in a bubble.

Your comments on Facebook, for example, ranged from full-on cheerleading:
Meg: I believe.

To cautious optimism:
Tiffany: I read both of Greg’s books and I was genuinely inspired and grateful that a man like him still walked this earth and could give so selflessly. … I was disappointed when I heard about the allegations against him. … I don’t know where I stand or what to believe in this case. Although I am conflicted, I admire Greg for the interview he gave and can only hope he and CAI did more good than harm in this world.

To continued skepticism:
Eli: My wife and I freely donated many dollars to CAI because we loved what you were doing. It felt so good to send money directly to these schools. But as they say it is easy to break trust and much harder to gain it back. So sorry because we loved donating our money to you, but what you say or what the courts say is not enough.

Patrick emailed us his thoughts. “These short piece interviews are always unsatisfying by their nature, but I’ve continued to be a supporter of Greg and CAI and their work throughout all of this, and this interview only confirmed my support,” he wrote. “Although mistakes may have been made, I still believe that Greg’s motives have always been on target and honorable, and his work is essential in the troubled area of the world in which he does his work. I hope that Greg and CAI can fully recover from all this in the very near future, and I wish you all the best. You will continue to receive my support, both financially and from my heart.”

CAI supporters overseas weighed in, too.

“We love you Greg. We salute your works and hilly and hard area at Khanday village,” Alika, the headmaster at CAI-supported Khanday Sun Valley Middle School, in the Hushe Valley of Baltistan, northern Pakistan, wrote on CAI’s Facebook site. “You are the first pillar to promote education at Khanday. Nobody can challenge your works, inshallah.”

Erik Petersen 2013

And Ellen Jaskol, who has actually seen CAI projects in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan weighed in, too. The Denver-based photographer who traveled overseas with me in 2010 and 2011 posted her comments on Facebook: “The accusations imply that CAI doesn’t do good, and it’s so far from the truth. (NBC) could have spent 30 seconds to show how much people continue to benefit from his bravery and persistence. So many schools, villages, girls, women (and boys and men!), get consistent education, health support and disaster relief from CAI. I was there. I saw their work. It’s hard enough to travel around there, but to actually contribute and help people? That’s just jaw-dropping wonderful, and I don’t get why the media doesn’t go over there and see for themselves. But I’m glad Greg did finally talk.”

When we tallied the Facebook comments (not including “likes” and “shares”), we found 84 percent of the comments were clearly positive for CAI (although not necessarily supportive of the interview content or format), nearly 4 percent were negative, and the remaining 12 percent rode the middle. Of the emails I received, two out of 12 were negative, or about 17 percent.

On Facebook, some people said they wanted more airtime for Greg and CAI. Others observed that making mistakes is part of being human. And many pointed to CAI’s good work overseas.

Andre: “While it’s obvious that mistakes were made, ultimately you have to look at the bottom line. Dozens of schools have been built and countless young women are getting an education in one of the most remote and ignored parts of the world. What Mr. Mortenson has been able to accomplish is nothing short of miraculous. Unfortunately, unlike the rest of us, he’s not perfect and mistakes were made. It’s comforting to know that the good people of ’60 Minutes’ … are there to bring these mistakes to light. God forbid that they would spend time highlighting the positive work that is being done, or better yet, actually doing something themselves.”

But, as noted, not everyone feels that way:

Kathy: “I was so very sad when I found out about the ‘mistakes.’ I really hope this organization is able to get back on track in an honest and transparent way so the work they said they were doing is actually done.”

Photo: Erik Petersen 2013

On his blog, “Musings Along the Way,” Paul Krebill lamented what NBC didn’t cover, observing that the interview “focused upon questions of the veracity of his book, upon criticism lodged against Mortenson for his mishandling of funds, and how he feels about these negative responses to his work. This coverage, I think, has left the audience with the impression that the efforts of Mortenson and the Central Asia Institute to build schools in Asia are now considerably reduced.”

“Sadly, nothing was said about the reorganization of (CAI) in order to handle its funds and accountability more responsibly. Nothing was said about Mortenson’s continuing productive activity in Central Asia to build schools for children, particularly for girls who otherwise would remain unschooled.”

Joyce emailed us her thoughts: “It’s natural for bad news to be loudly shouted, while good news is often whispered. And although Greg made mistakes, he did apologize for them and the changes made to CAI have, I believe, been improvements. My personal contributions to CAI … are modest, but I didn’t even consider stopping them during the controversy. … Keep up the good works. The good you have done will come back to you!”

And finally, we got this from my dad, Kris Ronnow: “I am reminded it is easier to be a cynic than a visionary, and there are more cynics than believers. That is why the world is so screwed up. People who are willing to do something at great personal and emotional risk will always face a higher mountain. And there are many mountains higher than K2 to be climbed.”

Thank you everyone for contributing to the “conversation.” Tashakur. Shukria.

We’re excited about the future, full of hope, and happy to know so many of you share our optimism.

View the Brokaw interview here.

QUOTE: It’s hard to beat a person who never gives up. – Babe Ruth

- Karin Ronnow, worldwide director of communications

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January 21, 2014 – Mortenson interview posted online

Greg Mortenson made his first television appearance in more than two years this morning when he appeared on NBC’s TODAY Show in a taped interview with veteran journalist Tom Brokaw.

For anyone who missed it, or would like to see it again, NBC has posted the interview online:
Greg Mortenson interviews with Tom Brokaw / January 2014

As noted here yesterday, this was Mortenson’s first interview in 33 months, since an April 2011 “60 Minutes” program highlighted alleged fabrications in his book, Three Cups of Tea, and financial mismanagement at Central Asia Institute.

Photo: Erik Petersen 2013

Mortenson sat down with Brokaw in New York City earlier this month to tape the interview. NBC edited their 75-minute discussion to a four-minute segment, followed by a one-minute wrap-up with Brokaw and TODAY Show host Matt Lauer live on the set.

In the segment, Mortenson apologized for letting his supporters down. “I always have operated from my heart, I’m not a really head person,” he told Brokaw. “And I really didn’t factor in the very important things of accountability [and] transparency.”

Send us an email and let us know what you thought about the interview: media@ikat.org.

- Karin Ronnow, worldwide director of communications

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January 20, 2014 – CAI Cofounder Mortenson confronts allegations on NBC’s TODAY Show

BOZEMAN, Mont. – Humanitarian and author Greg Mortenson will tell his side of the story in an exclusive interview with veteran newsman Tom Brokaw set to air Tuesday morning, Jan. 21, on NBC’s “TODAY” show. The interview is scheduled to air in the 7 a.m. hour (MST).

Greg Mortenson interviews with Tom Brokaw. Photo: NBC News 2014

This is Mortenson’s first interview in 33 months, since a CBS “60 Minutes” report in April 2011 accused Mortenson of fabrications in his book and mismanagement at Central Asia Institute (CAI), the nonprofit organization he cofounded in 1996.

Mortenson sat down with Brokaw in New York City earlier this month for a 75-minute taped interview, which NBC has edited to a much shorter segment. Their discussion ranged from the media allegations about the book and CAI to his health, how he and his family have handled the fallout, and his ideas going forward.

Mortenson, 56, told Brokaw that the stories in his book happened, although not always in the sequence or timing presented, according to an NBC press release. He also acknowledged that he ignored admonitions to slow down amid CAI’s rapid growth after “Three Cups of Tea” was published, and that he’s going to try as hard as he can to never make the same mistakes again.

“It still just has puzzled me and why there wasn’t, at some point, in your mind, an alarm that went off and said, ‘This just isn’t right in some way,’” Brokaw asked in the interview, according to NBC.

Greg Mortenson gives Balti schoolgirls an English lesson in June 2013. Photo: Erik Petersen 2013

“There were alarms, Tom,” Mortenson said. “I didn’t listen to them. I was willing to basically kill myself to raise money and help the projects.”

The televised accusations in 2011 led to a state inquiry and a purported class-action lawsuit – both of which have been successfully resolved for the Bozeman-based CAI. The Montana Attorney General’s inquiry concluded in April 2012. Also that month, U.S. District Court Judge Samuel Haddon dismissed with prejudice the lawsuit against Mortenson, CAI, and other defendants, calling it “flimsy, speculative and without merit.” The 9th U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco upheld that ruling in October 2013. [For more background, see links below.]

CAI Executive Director David Starnes said Saturday, “We are pleased that after resolution of legal and health-related issues Greg was able to sit down with someone of Tom Brokaw’s stature, someone who represents that level of public trust, and share his thoughts, reflections, and experiences.”

Brokaw, who frequently retreats with his wife Meredith to their West Boulder ranch near McLeod, Mont., is now a special correspondent and analyst for NBC News. He has worked for the network since 1966 as a correspondent, “Today Show” anchor, “NBC Nightly News” managing editor and anchor, “Meet the Press” anchor, and documentarian. He is also the author or coauthor of numerous nonfiction books. His honorary degrees include one from Montana State University in Bozeman.

CAI Executive Director David Starnes and Greg Mortenson en route to visit a school in the Hushe Valley, Pakistan, in June 2013. Photo: Erik Petersen 2013

“This interview presents a tremendous opportunity to look forward and continue the mission that has brought education to many thousands of young women in this difficult part of the world,” CAI Board Chairman Steve Barrett said. “With political turmoil and domestic terrorism in Pakistan on the rise, and the US troop withdrawal in Afghanistan that will affect stability and peace, our mission to educate girls and empower women is more timely and important than ever.”

Mortenson said he is particularly grateful for the continued support he has received since 2011.

“Most of all, I would like to thank our supporters and our resilient staff for their incredible support, and especially for the outpouring of love and kindness to my family since April 2011,” he said.

Since its inception, CAI has established 191 schools, and significantly supports more than 100 others, primarily in remote areas of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan. In addition, CAI has nearly 100 other projects, including scholarships, women’s literacy and vocational centers, teacher training and health education programs.

Read more about the issues covered in the interview:
TODAY Show press release / January 2014
9th Circuit Court of Appeals upholds lawsuit dismissal / October 2013
Starnes comes on board / February 2013
New CAI board of directors / August 2012
Federal judge in Great Falls dismisses lawsuit with prejudice / April 2012
Montana Attorney General’s Office investigation concluded / April 2012
CAI Master Project List

QUOTE: Yes, a dark time passed over this land, but now there is something like light. – Dave Eggers

- Karin Ronnow, worldwide director of communications

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January 17, 2014 – Teachers discover wonder of maps

What is the capital city of Gilgit-Baltistan in northern Pakistan?

Teachers

What three countries border Pakistan?

What river flows the length of Pakistan?

In pondering these questions, most Westerners would likely reach for an old-fashioned map or atlas. Or maybe they’d go online in search of a good map of Pakistan.

But finding a map is not what comes to mind for most teachers in the remote mountain villages surrounding Gilgit. Paper maps are few are far between in this region. Internet connections are practically nonexistent. And until last week, many of the more than 70 teachers attending a Central Asia Institute (CAI)-supported training in Gilgit had never even learned basic map-reading skills.

“Before, I did not know about the elements of the map,” such as latitude, longitude, scale, or legends, Sher Baz, a CAI-supported teacher, said following a map-reading workshop. “The session was very fruitful. I gained knowledge about reading maps and now I am able to teach geography confidently.”

Teachers

The subject of geography gets short shrift in many countries. Yet as both a physical and social science, it is at the core of social studies, history, and environmental studies. Maps can help students understand everything from population pressures, to natural resources, or political conflict.

Geography is “not about memorizing maps, mountains, and capitals,” Audrey Mohan, research director at the National Council for Geographic Education, wrote on the Speak Up For Geography website. “It’s about understanding the vast and diverse landscapes of the world and interactions between cultures and societies, analyzing the relationship between humans and the environment, and understanding complex social and physical systems in order to develop solutions and innovations to address global problems.”

But before any of that can happen, teachers need to know how to read maps.

Teachers

Teacher-trainer Sharif Ullah Baig began by explaining the basic elements of a map: title, cartography, date of production, compass points, and legends. Using maps, an atlas and a globe, he explained that different types of maps are used to present different types of information, such as climate, economic resources, topography, and history, among other things. He explained longitude and latitude and worked with the teachers to locate various countries on a world map.

The final exercise involved teachers working together to draw maps of their valleys, with roads, rivers, bridges, hospitals, and villages.

“Map reading was my favorite part [of the training] because it was very interesting doing practical work with the maps,” said Maryam, who teaches science at CAI’s Khyrabad/Reminji Middle School in the Chapurson Valley. “Before I didn’t know about map titles, map legends, map scale, etc. Sir Sharif Ullah taught us everything practically.”

Teachers

The geography workshop was scheduled midway through the intense two-week training program in Gilgit. Beginning on Jan. 1, the 72 teachers gathered each day (including Saturdays and Sundays) from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., for workshops and instruction. A supplemental computer class was available after hours for those who wanted it.

“The training continues without any break,” Saidullah Baig, CAI-Gilgit’s CEO, said. “I am trying to use every minute of time we have with them.”

Topics covered included how to write lesson plans and why it matters, student learning styles, teaching methods, managing a classroom, tips for teaching specific subjects, how to make low-cost teaching tools, and much, much more.

“Before I was facing difficulties to handle the classes,” said Juma Begum, who teaches numerous subjects at CAI’s Garamchasma Primary School, in northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. “Now I am able to make different activities for different classes. I improved my English and Urdu speaking in the session as well.”

The CAI-Gilgit team recruited seven trainers, about half of whom are graduates of Aga Khan University’s Institute for Educational development in Karachi. Two of the trainers focused specifically on teaching preschool students and one ran the computer classes.

Teachers

“The aim of CAI is not to just build the schools, increase the number of students in the class and pay the teachers,” Dilshad Baig, CAI-Gilgit’s director of women’s development, told the teachers on opening day of the training. “Our main aim is to increase the quality of education.

“The overall objectives of the training program are to develop and enhance the capacity of the teachers so that the overall quality of education provided to the children in the remotest villages of Gilgit and Chitral could tangibly improve,” she said.

QUOTE: A map does not just chart, it unlocks and formulates meaning; it forms bridges between here and there, between disparate ideas that we did not know were previously connected. – Reif Larson

- Karin Ronnow, worldwide director of communications

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January 8, 2014 – Their hope gives us hope, too

Happy New Year! This is a time of love, goodwill, and prayers for peace on Earth. We also count our blessings and in that spirit we thank you for joining Central Asia Institute (CAI) in our ongoing efforts to promote education, especially for girls, in remote, neglected, and impoverished mountain communities.

Photo: Erik Petersen 2013

Former UN Secretary General Kofi Anan said, “Literacy is a bridge from misery to hope.” CAI builds and nurtures those bridges, engendering hope for a better future in children, their parents, and their communities.

Hope is a hard thing to define, in part because it looks different for every person. But we know it when we see it, that unwavering courage and confidence in the face of adversity, that optimistic determination amid despair, against all odds. And their hope gives us hope, too, that we all can make a difference in the world.

With your support, we will promote education, especially for girls, in 2014 and beyond! Each student, parent, and community we serve thanks you.

We all wish you a blessed 2014 of gratitude and joy.

QUOTE: Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding. – Albert Einstein

- The Central Asia Institute Team.

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