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CAI Communiqué (Blog)

Welcome to Communiqué, the Central Asia Institute BLOG.

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

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May 5, 2015 – Celebrate National Teacher Appreciation Day, say thank you

They guide us, they inspire us, they teach us, and today, on National Teacher Appreciation Day, we get to tell them how much they mean to us. Although, in our opinion, every day should be Teacher Appreciation Day, Central Asia Institute would like to take a moment to thank hardworking teachers, near and far.


In the United States, the first full week of May is Teacher Appreciation Week and the Tuesday of that week is recognized as National Teacher Appreciation Day. Though origins of the holidays are unclear, most accounts claim a teacher from either Arkansas or Wisconsin contacted Eleanor Roosevelt asking her to persuade Congress to set aside a day of recognition. She did, and in 1953 Congress created National Teacher Appreciation Day. However, it wasn’t until 1984 that the National Parent Teacher Association designated the first full week of May as Teacher Appreciation Week, and Teachers’ Day was moved from March to the Tuesday of that week.

All over the world teachers are recognized for their hard work and dedication. In Afghanistan and Pakistan schools celebrate Teachers’ Day in October by gathering at school with traditional food, cookies, music, and presents for the teacher. Whether you celebrate Teachers’ Day in October or May, it is an important day to say thank you to a teacher who inspired you.

Honor a special teacher in your life by:

  • Sharing a story on the CAI or Pennies for Peace Facebook page about how they inspired you to dream big and broadened your horizons.
  • Making a donation in their name to Pennies for Peace, a service learning program that benefits students and teachers overseas. Simply fill out the “Gift Tribute” section and you will be able to send a card letting the teacher know what you’ve done.

Today is a day of honoring teachers and recognizing the lasting contributions they make to our lives. We hope you’ll join us in saying thank you.

“It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge” – Albert Einstein

– Alanna Brown, Pennies for Peace program manager

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April 22, 2015 – Celebrate Diversity with Pennies for Peace

Pennies for Peace (P4P) is excited to announce a worldwide campaign in celebration of the 14th annual “World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development”, on May 21, 2015.


The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) adopted Diversity Day in 2001, following the September 11 terrorist attacks. As Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO, says: “It is our responsibility to develop education and intercultural skills in young people to sustain the diversity of our world and to learn to live together in the diversity of our languages, cultures and religions, to bring about change.”

Diversity Day is a fitting opportunity for students and educators to help communities understand the value of cultural diversity and learn how to live together in harmony. P4P is the perfect partner in this effort. P4P is a program of Central Asia Institute (CAI) and supports schools and students in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan by educating others on the importance of education for all children and celebrating the multiplicity of cultures, traditions, and beliefs that surround us.

“With this worldwide campaign, we hope to raise global awareness about the importance of intercultural dialogue and build a committed community that supports diversity in everyday-life gestures,” CAI Executive Director Jim Thaden said. “Overcoming polarization and stereotypes is best accomplished when children are exposed early to other global cultures”

P4P wants as many schools and classrooms as possible to recognize this important day with their own individual campaigns.


A P4P Diversity Day Campaign can take many shapes or sizes. Participants can choose a one-day or a 30-day campaign. For teachers, P4P offers a K-12 curriculum that provides many educational resources relevant to the Diversity Day campaign. Lessons range from geography to mathematics, and include videos, photos, and activities for students to have fun and get an understanding of the cultures CAI serves in Central Asia.

Then, on May 21, participants will hold ceremonies at each school to:

  • Count the pennies collected.
  • Make a banner or sign with the information below:
    • Name of School
    • P4P Diversity Day Campaign
    • List the amount raised
  • Take a photo with students holding the banner.
  • Send to us at, or post it on our Facebook page:
  • Post information and photos about the campaign on your social media.

Each student who participates will receive a GOLD AWARD – a brass coin with the P4P logo. Students can place these in their homes or at school as a symbol of their hard work during Diversity Day

Starting a P4P Diversity Day Campaign is FUN, EASY, AND FREE for educators. Ideas include:

  • Use the Pennies for Peace curriculum and toolkit in classrooms.
  • Display loose-change collection bins with the P4P logo (free stickers available).
  • Invite parents to match students’ donations.
  • Work with a community bank to use its coin-counter machines.
  • Encourage students to prepare reports or presentations on topics related to Pennies for Peace and Diversity Day

“Pennies for Peace deepens students’ understanding and gives them a better appreciation of cultural diversity, as we all learn to live together in peace,” Thaden said.

Get involved and teach students about cultural diversity and how they can make a difference in others’ lives. Join the campaign today!

QUOTE: “We need to help students and parents cherish and preserve the ethnic and cultural diversity that nourishes and strengthens this community – and this nation.” – Cesar Chavez

– Alanna Brown, P4P manager


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April 14, 2015 – CAI needs your help to raise $360,000 for school buildings

A school is never just a building. It takes a community working together, sometimes against formidable odds, to make any school succeed.

In every community Central Asia Institute (CAI) serves, all of those pieces come together over time – the building, villagers, teachers and students – and become pivotal characters in a story of hope.

CAI schools are not architectural wonders – they are basic yet solid buildings, designed for function. Yet their stories are complex, laden with successes and setbacks, struggles and victories.


That’s been particularly true in Saw, an Afghan village high in the Hindu Kush Mountains of Kunar province, just west of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Not long after the fall of the repressive Taliban government in 2001, the people of Saw decided they wanted their daughters to go to school. They knew the world was changing.

A girls’ school was still a risky proposition in this conservative Pashtun village. But the real threat came from outside, from the steady flow of well-armed insurgents and criminals who cross the nearby Pakistan-Afghanistan border intent on wreaking havoc in Afghanistan.

“Saw is in remote Kunar province, in northeastern Afghanistan, where different groups of local Taliban, foreign militants, and extremists vie for power across a porous border,” Central Asia Institute Co-Founder Greg Mortenson said. “Local leaders struggle to maintain a degree of stability for their people in the midst of inadequate border security, heroin smugglers, kidnappers, extortionists, bandits, and human traffickers.”

Saw elders asked CAI for help in 2007. Construction of the Saw Girls’ Middle School was fraught with the complications that come with working in a warzone, but the school was finished in 2009.

Yet, as it turned out, the community’s struggle was far from over.

Saw School class

“Since the school opened, the people of Saw have struggled to maintain their dream to educate their daughters,” CAI Executive Director Jim Thaden said. “Teachers have been attacked and killed. The headmaster was killed last year. And in February the school itself was bombed.

The villagers said no one was killed or injured in the nighttime bombing, which occurred while the school was closed for spring break. About 20 percent of the 10-room school was destroyed.

“CAI remains committed to supporting the community’s dream of peace through education,” Thaden said. “We’re working together to rebuild the school and ensure that Saw’s girls have the same opportunities as girls around the world. But this is pioneering work involving change over generations. It requires patience and perseverance. It also takes money, and we’re going to need some help,” Thaden said.

This week CAI launched its first Spring Capital Campaign: Building Hope. We need to raise $360,000 for school-building construction, expansion, and repairs – including reconstruction of the heavily damaged Saw Girls’ School.


Architect William A. Browne, Jr. was speaking about much grander buildings than the humble schools in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan when he talked about narrative architecture in 2010. Yet his words hold true for CAI’s projects.

“Their stories can sometimes be discerned easily, and at other times need to be discovered through thoughtful consideration,” Browne said. “The story can be as simple as a metaphor or as complex as a novel. Just as the adage goes, you can’t judge the object (book) by its exterior (cover). The richness of the object is its contents.”

Kids look out window

The stories of CAI’s schools are less about form and more about function. But these humble structures embody communities’ hopes and dreams. And every project CAI has selected as a beneficiary of this capital campaign is also the story of a community that needs our help.

One of CAI’s distinguishing characteristics is the long-standing relationship with each community it serves. Locals provide the leadership to make projects work, but often don’t have the money to rebuild, or expand, or repair their schools.

“CAI is unique among NGOs in that we nurture and maintain those relationships at the village level, and we continue to support the schools, students, and teachers to the best of our ability,” Thaden said. “Saw village needs us now. But so, too, do communities throughout these mountainous regions, all of them struggling to sustain hope for a better future through education.”

The Saw School work is an emergency repair. The need for regular maintenance and improvements on other schools is constant, especially given the harsh weather, frequent landslides, and other natural disasters that plague the areas CAI serves. This year those projects include refurbishing CAI’s schools in Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor.

Elsewhere, schools need to be expanded to accommodate growing enrollments. And CAI continues to invest in a limited number of new projects that fit its unique formula.

Kids look out window

In each case, CAI has worked with the communities to outline needed work and the corresponding budget. Those details, along with stories of the schools, can be found in the first edition of our spring Footsteps publication.

“We’re excited about all of these projects,” Thaden said. “Each one epitomizes CAI’s philosophy and the long-term investment of everyone involved.”

In the weeks and months to come, CAI will provide updates on the progress of these projects. Please check this blog and our website homepage or sign up for email updates.

And please considering making a contribution to help us keep the stories going.

These communities need your help.

The children need your help.

– Karin Ronnow, communications director

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March 24, 2015 – Back to School in Afghanistan

One of the happiest and most inspirational days in Afghanistan is “Back to School Day” at the end of March. This year, the war-torn impoverished country has much to celebrate.

When schools across the country opened Monday, approximately 10 million children were enrolled, according to the Afghan Ministry of Education (MoE)*. Among them were more than 3 million girls.

Kids around school entrance

This is particularly remarkable given that as recently as 2001, only about 1 million students were enrolled in school, and only a handful of them were girls. That dramatic increase represents one of the greatest jumps in school enrollment in any country in modern history.

As school starts this week, I think of all the girls attending school for the first time, girls like 6-year-old Mariam** of the Wakhan Corridor. She probably woke up Monday morning, like every other day, to the crowing of the family rooster around 4:30 or 5 a.m. There are no alarms, snooze buttons, clocks or watches in most Wakhi homes.

Almost immediately someone in the family lit a dim kerosene lantern. The pungent smell of a juniper brush and yak-dung fire in the hearth filled her earthen home. And the children, including Mariam, rushed to get dressed in the cold morning air.

On this special day, I imagine Mariam reaching for her worn woolen knickers, red-felt tunic, and woolen vest just as her mother interrupts her, whispering, “leebaf maktab,” or “school uniform.”

Girl reads to class

It’s Mariam’s dream come true. I envision this little girl stopping in her tracks, her eyes darting across the room until she finds it – her freshly pressed, brand new, black school uniform and white scarf hanging from the door. Her first-ever school uniform. After weeks of nagging her mother for permission to wear her new school clothes, the promised day has finally come.

And then, in a day full of firsts, Mariam joins her siblings and the other village children as they walk down the winding trail to Khushpak Girls’ High School. Her education has begun.

Across the country, Back to School Day is a source of great joy, but it’s also a little bittersweet, said CAI-Afghanistan Director Wakil Karimi.

“I am really enthusiastic to see the girls with black uniforms and white scarves, and boys with gray pants and blue shirt to walk together on 23rd March toward to schools,” he said. “But I also am sad because millions of the children still are deprived of education because of no schools, no facilities, corruption, and security, and we must always fight for those who are illiterate and ignored.”

That fight includes not just increasing enrollment, but improving learning environments, the quality of education, and the opportunity to stay in school through university.

Students enter tent school

On Back to School Day in 2002, just after the Taliban government was ousted, students attended classes in about 3,400 “schools” set up in everything from tents to mud rooms, truck containers to brick buildings, and sometimes just a cloth on the ground. There are now about 13,000 schools in Afghanistan (although a significant number are in disrepair or shut down). Yet the country still needs about 5,000 more schools to accommodate the booming population and the estimated 5 million children who are still not in school in Afghanistan.

As Afghanistan’s students begin their new school year, President Ashraf Ghani is in Washington, D.C. During a Monday visit to the Pentagon, Ghani spoke directly to Reese Larson, a 9-year-old girl in the audience whose father is deployed in Afghanistan.

“Reese, I have greetings to you from 3 million Afghan girls who are attending school today,” Ghani said. “Fourteen years ago, there were exactly none. Each one of them wants to entertain the hopes you do, and your dad is making this possible, and remember, he is there to make a difference.”

We at CAI believe that education is the most powerful agent of change in the world. We believe that education will bring stability, prosperity, and peace to Afghanistan. Article 26 of the UN Declaration of Universal Human Rights states that every child has the right to a free education. Each girl and boy we can collectively put on that path is a victory for humanity and the world.

QUOTE: “Education is a better safeguard of liberty than a standing army.” – Edward Everett

– Greg Mortenson, CAI co-founder

* It’s important to note that estimates of the number of children enrolled in Afghanistan’s schools vary widely among international agencies, with the MoE usually coming in at the high end, while estimates from the United Nations and others tend to come in lower.
** Mariam’s name has been changed to protect her and her family.

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March 8, 2015 – Historical hero wrote about ‘The Worth of a Girl’

A century ago, women’s activist Bertha Pratt King of Terre Haute, Ind., put pen to paper to celebrate the value and promise of girls.

“She had a special affinity for helping girls, through education, break free of the confines that society created for them,” her hometown newspaper, the Tribune Star reported.

King’s 1916 book, “The Worth of a Girl,” outlined her belief that “every girl should be able to earn her own living, that she should be trained to some pursuit of her own happiness, and that she should become a useful member of society,” according to a quote from the book.

Nearly 100 years later, women in the regions Central Asia Institute (CAI) serves – and around the world – still battle for the same fundamental rights American women sought, and won, a century ago.

King’s story is a good reminder that none of this comes easily.

Bertha Pratt King

The wife of poet Max Ehrmann, King co-founded the King-Crawford Classical School in 1906, an exclusive private school that provided co-ed education through eighth grade, but limited its high school to female students, according to Tom Roznowski, author of “An American Hometown.”

“Seven years of Latin were required and French was taught to every child at every grade level every day,” Roznowski wrote. “The King Classical School was meant to be an exclusive experience, but Bertha Pratt King was determined that it not be a sheltered one.

“All of the girls in their final year were required to do settlement work somewhere in Terre Haute. Furthermore, a private invitation was to be extended once a month to an impoverished girl for a luncheon at the student’s home,” Roznowski wrote.

But it was King’s public lectures and writings on then-controversial topics ranging from women’s suffrage to women wage earners that earned her a place in American history.

Many of the freedoms American women have today did not exist in the early 1900s. Yet King wrote with spirit and an all-encompassing hope for the future.

“How many different kinds of girls there are! Girls in stores and factories, working girls with their brave fight for existence, girls in high school, girls in boarding school, girls in college,” she wrote.

“Girls lifeless, girls ambitious for life; girls strong in the pride of youth, stirred with strange dreams; girls in the cities; girls in the town; girls on the farms, looking beyond their fathers’ fields and meadows towards the alluring gaiety of big cities. In the keeping of all these girls of today are the generations of the future,” King wrote.

Unfortunately, the book is out of print. The cover and press reviews can be seen on a brochure, but the only way to see the book is to visit the Vigo County Historical Museum in Terrre Haute.

Bertha Pratt King died in 1962.

We celebrate her life and her contribution to the ongoing struggle for women’s and girls’ rights today, International Women’s Day. The theme for this year’s celebration is “Weaving the Stories of Women’s Lives.

To read stories of CAI’s heroes in the field, request a copy of this year’s Journey of Hope publication. And check back soon for more stories about the women who inspire us.

– Karin Ronnow, communications director

Photo courtesy of the Terre Haute, Ind., Tribune Star

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March 4, 2015 – Whoever you are, wherever you are, Wednesday is the day to read a story aloud

The first Wednesday in March marks World Read Aloud Day, when millions of adults and children in 80 countries celebrate the power of simply reading aloud, and the right of every child to be literate and have an education.

Some communities that Central Asia Institute (CAI) serves in Afghanistan and Pakistan also promote World Read Aloud Day. But there the coin is flipped, in that the first wave of literate girls and boys will read aloud to their illiterate parents, grandparents, and families instead of the other way around.

World Read Aloud Day

“Here in Afghanistan some children practice World Read Aloud Day all the time, as storybooks are very precious to them, and they are eager to share the stories with their families who are often illiterate,” Wakil Karimi, Central Asia Institute-Afghanistan director said by phone.

According to UNESCO, an estimated 122 million youth in the world are illiterate, and 17 percent of the world’s adult population is functionally illiterate. Of those 793 million illiterate adults, two-thirds are women who lack basic reading and writing skills and are at risk of being exploited, isolated, ignored, and disempowered due to their illiteracy.

Even in the United States, according to a recent National Institute of Literacy survey, there are 38 million adults who do not know how to read or write, and the U.S. Department of Education reports that 19 percent of high-school graduates in this country cannot read above a second-grade level.

Teacher reads to her class

World Read Aloud Day celebrates “the power of words, especially those words that are shared from one person to another,” according to organizers at Lit World, which first rallied people around the concept in 2010.

As proof that some of the best ideas come from children, Lit World founder Pam Allyn recalls a day when she was reading aloud to a classroom and one boy, who struggled in school and came from a troubled childhood with poverty and neglect, lit up with a smile and joy upon hearing the story. The boy later told her, “Mrs. Allyn, let’s make sure everyone knows how good this feels. Let’s have a holiday for the read aloud.”

The concept of World Read Aloud Day is simple, and self-explanatory. Yet it is rooted in the great power and enlightenment of literacy, when a child or adult is empowered with a voice and connected to the world through literacy and print.

Student reads in front of class

In an email to CAI, Pam Allyn said, “Reading is like breathing in and writing is like breathing out, and storytelling is what links both: it is the soul of literacy”.

Historians believe that literacy developed independently at four different times in world history: the first time in Mesopotamia in about 8,000 BCE; then with hieroglyphic writing in Egypt about 3,300 BCE, which included phonetic sounds in addition to symbols; then the Shang Dynasty in China in 1,200 BCE; and then independently with the Zapotec and Olmec societies in Mesoamerica around 900 BCE.

In Islam, the Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) first revelation comes when the angel Gabriel tells him to read (iqra). Reading, literacy, and education are priorities in Islam.

When a village, or valley, or society becomes literate for the first time, there is a profound change and empowerment as people are connected with the outside world and given a voice.

Having seen this with my own eyes in several places, I also am aware that sometimes literacy, unfortunately, can eradicate the centuries-old storytelling tradition that passes on folklore, traditions and knowledge from generation to generation. That is why I personally believe that not only are education and literacy critical and important, but so are reading aloud and storytelling.

According to Allyn, today’s high-tech, Internet-driven society often invests millions of dollars in new technologies or teaching tools to enhance education and literacy, but, “that will not solve the problem.” Rather, it is increased awareness and use of the most basic tools – reading, writing, and speaking – that are the “simplest and cheapest way to make a difference in a child’s life,” she said.

Girls read aloud

Colorado pediatrician Perry Klas is also a global advocate for reading aloud. Through her nonprofit organization, Reach out and Read, she encourages doctors to prescribe books and reading aloud to help keep children healthy and disease free.

On World Read Aloud Day, please join more than a million others and share the power of reading aloud. “By raising our voices together on this day, we show the world’s children that we support their future: that they have the right to read, to write, and to share their words to change the world,” according to Lit World.

Here are a few ideas for World Read Aloud Day:

1. Read a book aloud to a child, and tell them about World Read Aloud Day.
2. Share and advocate on Facebook, Twitter (#WRAD), and other social media.
3. Ask your teacher, local school, or library if they are involved, and, if not, tell them about it.
4. Have your children, class, or group read aloud on SKYPE with an author.
5. Ask your physician to prescribe books and reading aloud as part of a wellness plan.

QUOTE: “You’re never too old, too wacky, too wild, to pick up a book and read to a child.
– Dr. Seuss

̶ Greg Mortenson, CAI co-founder

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February 24, 2015 – Village still reeling after girls’ school bombed

Two weeks before the start of the new school year, leaders in Afghanistan’s volatile Saw village say they are understandably cautious about immediately reopening the Central Asia Institute-supported girls’ school bombed earlier this month by non-local militants.

About 20 percent of the 10-room school in eastern Kunar province, on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, was destroyed in the Feb. 6 explosion, witnesses told CAI.

Rubble at the Saw school

Saw School’s headmaster said some classes could be held discretely elsewhere in the village, or in tents, but only if the community has assurances that the children will be safe.

“The community would like the school to open as scheduled on 9 March, but there are concerns if it will increase [foreign militants’] attacks on the village, and if Afghan Army and police are capable of protecting the school,” said an official who requested anonymity due to safety concerns.

“The situation here now is dangerous after the Peshawar [Pakistan] school attacks, as many Pakistani terrorists have sought refuge in Afghanistan border provinces,” the official said.

A classroom, office, storage room and toilet were destroyed when the bomb on the school’s lower level was detonated. Windows, furniture, and the building’s roof were also damaged.

Floor collapsed into a basement storeroom after an explosion

Foreign militants have been blamed for the attack. The local Afghan Taliban commander has repeatedly said that his fighters were not involved in the school bombing and apologized for the damage done to the school on his watch.

“It is very sad and painful, but we will never stop our hard working for education until end of life,” said CAI-Afghanistan Director Wakil Karimi.

Before deciding whether to reopen the school on time, the local shura (elders’ council) want to have jirgas (meetings) with government officials and local militants to determine the best course of action. The local leaders also want reassurance from the Taliban commanders that anyone involved in working on school repair will not be harmed, threatened, or subject to extortion.

Foreign Taliban still control the road to Saw and have threatened to kill local leaders and civilians if strangers come into the village, according to local officials. Just this past week, a woman and her child were shot and killed by a sniper as they walked a mountain trail toward the village.

Enrollment in the school last year had increased dramatically, with girls coming in two shifts: 253 in the morning, and 344 in the afternoon, Karimi said. That is up from 49 students when the community started holding classes a decade ago (before the school was built).

Brick pile from a collapsed wall

“This is deeply saddening for the people of Saw,” said Christopher Kolenda, CAI consultant who introduced Saw elders to CAI in 2007 while he was serving one of four tours in Afghanistan with the U.S. Army. “When we first met together in 2007, the village elders asked nothing for themselves – all they wanted was assistance for their children’s education. This led to Central Asia Institute supporting a beautiful school for their girls and boys.

“I know how passionately they feel about education and how fiercely they have defended the school and their children’s rights and future from increasingly aggressive threats and attacks from Pakistani militants,” Kolenda said. “I have no doubt this despicable attack will only strengthen the determination of the people of Saw as they fight for the future of their children through education.”

Kunar provincial officials also reported that the roof of another CAI-supported school in nearby Shir Gal village was recently damaged in crossfire between the Afghan Army and Taliban fighters.

Foreign Taliban fighters periodically occupy school buildings in the winter months, when students and teachers are on winter break. The school year runs from March to December.

“We must teach our children to resolve their conflicts with words, not weapons.” – Former U.S. President Bill Clinton

– Karin Ronnow, communications director

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February 19, 2015: School bombed in Afghanistan’s Kunar province

Militants bombed a Central Asia Institute girls’ middle school in Saw, a remote village in Afghanistan’s volatile Kunar province. Witnesses said no one died or was injured in the nighttime attack on the 10-room school, which occurred Feb. 6. Students and teachers are on their annual winter break.

“The Naray police do not know yet who attacked the school or why,” CAI Executive Director Jim Thaden said Thursday. “It may have been because it is a school. Or it may have been a result of a power clash between local Taliban and foreign militants.”

Saw is in a rugged, mountainous area on the porous Afghanistan–Pakistan border where militants frequently come and go. One of the most conflict-ridden zones in Afghanistan, it is also a crossroads for opium, heroin, and human trafficking.

Class at Saw school in Afghanistan

Naray District Education Officer Maulvi Abdul Kayoum, who reported the attack to CAI, said three rooms – a classroom, the school office, and a storeroom – and a toilet were destroyed when the bomb was detonated. Sections of the roof were also blown off.

A health clinic in nearby Shir Gal village was also bombed that same night, but no one was injured or killed in that attack either. CAI also has a school in Shergal, but it was unharmed. The clinic plays a vital role, especially in maternal and infant health for the whole region.

Saw School’s enrollment reached more than 500 students during the last school year, which ended in December. According to the district education officer, more than half of the students in the village are girls and they represent the first wave of literate girls in the area. The community is determined to get some of them into university to become teachers, doctors, lawyers, police officers, and other professionals.

Wakil Karimi, CAI-Afghanistan director, said he is resolved to continue work with the school and the community.

“We will never quit to help the children of Saw and Naray district,” he said. “They are brave maktab mujahedeen [education warriors], who risk their lives to go to school, and we must always honor and help them realize their dreams.”

The school was built in 2008-2009 and has always had fierce community support, including from the local Afghan Taliban, some of who send their daughters to the school.

Girls in class at Saw school

Kayoum also told Karimi that the local Taliban commander for the Naray district had called him to say local Taliban were not involved. The commander reportedly apologized that the bombing had happened under his watch and vowed it would not happen again.

This is just the latest in a string of tragedies to befall Saw School in the past few years.

In 2011, a U.S. military helicopter landed on the school roof, and destroyed about 60 galvanized-steel sheets. Ever since, the roof has leaked whenever it rains or snows in the village, according to local reports. CAI has been unable to get the U.S. Department of Defense to repair the damage.

In June 2012, Malik Akbar, a local scholar and religious leader, and Malim Hidayatullah, a CAI math and Pashto teacher, were murdered by Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan [TTP] militants, not because they were teaching in school, but they were accused of being Afghan spies. The two men responsible for the deaths were killed in a combined NATO-Afghan air strike.

In May 2014, foreign militants killed Ghulam Faruq, Saw School headmaster and a powerful local leader and education advocate, by detonating a bomb on the trail he walked every day to the school. Local sources said TTP fighters killed him after he refused to let militants use the school as a shelter and weapons storage depot. He left behind a wife and eight children.

CAI is still collecting information about Wednesday’s bombing to determine in what capacity it can best help the community. However, it is winter in Saw and weather, the lack of cellphone and Internet coverage make that difficult.

Travel by road is also extremely challenging. The local bridge built by an international Provincial Reconstruction Team has collapsed and for the past 15 days Afghan Taliban have blocked the main road between Saw and Asadabad, the Kunar provincial capital, according to Naray police. Frequent TTP attacks on the roadblocks and checkposts make the situation even more complex.

“We will do everything in our power to help the Saw community continue education in the village, which has embraced the school since its inception nearly a decade ago,” Thaden said.

– Karin Ronnow, communications director, and Greg Mortenson, co-founder

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February 11, 2015 – Teaching the teachers in Pakistan’s mountains

GILGIT, Pakistan – Good teachers are friendly, firm, and fair.

They are organized, punctual, and polite. And they love children.

All of these attributes are important, master trainer Aafiat Nazar told a group of teachers from Central Asia Institute-supported schools recently.

But good teachers also push their students, said master trainer and Wakhi poet Nazir Ahmad Bulbul. They challenge and motivate them – and themselves – to greatness.

“I salute you teachers because you are working with limited resources,” Bulbul told the 93 teachers, most of whom had traveled great distances in winter from their remote mountain villages to participate in the annual training.

But that is no excuse for letting students slack off.

“One thing we lack in this area is that we do not expect high performance from students,” Bulbul said. “Give them challenging tasks. And believe that they – and you – can do it.”


For the third year running, CAI-Gilgit held its teacher-training program in January, during the winter school break. This year’s 17-day training was particularly intense, “without any day off,” said Saidullah Baig, CAI-G program manager.

INTRODUCTIONS: Hussan Jahan, a teacher at the CAI-supported school in Rashith, a village in Pakistan’s Chapurson Valley, introduces a fellow teacher during the opening orientation. Photo courtesy of CAI-Gilgit/2015

The teachers were also required to do their own cooking, rather than having meals prepared for them – an additional learning experience for many.

A team of 10 master trainers helped organize the program and coursework, Baig said. On opening day, they divided the teachers-in-training into three groups – science, methodology, and early childhood development (ECD) – and gave them pre-tests to determine existing skills and capacities.

Then the work began, with every day crammed full of lectures, question-and-answer sessions, roleplaying, laboratory work, group discussions, and presentations.

“It is not easy to cover this mighty ocean in just 17 days, but we tried to create an environments for learning,” Bulbul said. “So we made displays, gave activities to the participants. We made the library corner and asked the teachers to find the answer themselves. We tried to learn new words every day.”

And, he told the teachers, “You have to speak English. You have to make mistakes, talk rubbish. That is the way you learn.”


This year’s emphasis on science-specific teaching stemmed from observations in the field, said Dilshad Begum, CAI-Gilgit’s director of women’s development.

FIELD TRIP: Members of the teaching methodology group stop for a photo after a visit to Mehnaz Fatima School in Gilgit, Pakistan. Photo courtesy of CAI-Gilgit/2015

“Whenever the CAI-G team visits the schools we feel that the teachers need subject training,” she said. “This time we arranged training for science teachers. Next time we focus on other subjects, too.”

Chemistry trainer Saif Uddin said the science teachers in his workshops ranged from high school graduates to a few with master’s degrees in science. “But they all were hardworking teachers; they did not make us feel that they cannot do this,” he said.

“First we gave them basic concepts and then we increased their teaching skills. One important thing I shared with all of the teachers is that if you are well prepared going into the class, the environment itself will be a learning environment. It is up to the teacher how she/he makes their lessons interesting for the students,” Uddin said.

Qasim, a teacher in the science group, said he was grateful for the breadth and depth of the program.

“Before the training I was thinking that my subject is physics and I could not teach biology and chemistry,” he said. “But now, after getting this training, I am able to teach all three subjects of science. I am thankful to CAI-G and CIA-USA for providing us this platform to learn from these experts.”


The methodology and ECD groups’ lessons touched on specific subjects – such as history, art, and geography – but with particular emphases on “pedagogy,” or instruction, and on the psychological components of children’s learning processes.

The trainers underscored the importance of lesson planning, classroom management, homework, feedback, and assessing students’ progress.

LESSON PLANNING: Teacher-training course participants discuss the importance of lesson planning during CAI-Gilgit’s annual winter training program. Photo courtesy of CAI-Gilgit/2015

But none of this should be done in a vacuum, Bulbul said. Teachers must understand each child and adapt teaching methods and styles to suit.

“For teachers, three things are important: content, pedagogy, and disposition,” he said. “Teachers must know the stages of growth of the students. That’s why we ask them to discover their students, to know about the multiple intelligences.”

Rather than rely on old-fashioned rote lessons, teachers were encouraged to experiment with other approaches.

ECD trainer Shahana Bibi, for example, expounded on the value of “cooperative learning.” Students work together in small groups while the teacher coaches the process, she said. As students discuss material, organize their ideas, and help and encourage each other, they develop leadership, active listening, conflict-management, and decision-making skills.

She summed it up this way:
“We Learn:
• 10 percent of what we read
• 20 percent of what we hear
• 30 percent of what we see
• 50 percent of what we both see and hear
• 70 percent of what is discussed with others
• 80 percent of what we experience personally
• And 95 percent of what we teach someone else.”


All of the teachers were encouraged to push themselves.

Too often, in these remote regions, people become teachers due to a death of options, Uddin said.

“If you choose teaching as a profession, this is good,” he said. “But usually what happens is that teachers take this job as a last option. If you only take it as the last option, you are doing yourself and your students no justice.”

Teaching is a profoundly important job, he said, and teachers must be committed to their own continued education.

“I ask you people to be motivated toward learning,” he said. “Reading, yourself, is most important.”

So, too, is taking what is learned in the training and applying it in the classroom.

“I hope that all the teachers will practice what you learned here,” Ghazala, an ECD trainer, said at the closing ceremony. “Don’t keep this knowledge to yourself. Rather, convey it to your students. Use the provided materials. Make it part of your lessons.”

Education is an honorable calling, said physics-subject trainer Fida Muhammad.

“The most beautiful thing about this training session was that your zeal and your zest, all of you have a wonderful interest to learn,” he said. “Being a teacher, it is our duty to know and explore the potential of our students and point them in the right direction. We are here to work for the welfare of the people. We the teachers are part of those who work for humanity.”

QUOTE: “You are always a student, never a master. You have to keep moving forward.” – Conrad Hall

– Karin Ronnow, communications director

With reporting assistance from Saidullah Baig and Dilshad Begum

FOR MORE INFORMATION: Read our 2013 blogpost on the first CAI-Gilgit teacher-training program, and follow-up stories on the teachers and the training in the 2013 Journey of Hope.

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January 26, 2015 – Brave Afghan students, teachers, & staff – and CAI’s donors – are ‘true freedom fighters’

In recent weeks I’ve had the good fortune to spend time with Central Asia Institute’s (CAI) grant partners in Afghanistan.

On this trip, I spent most of my time with the Star of Knowledge Organization (SKO) in Kabul. CAI funds a total of 178 projects and programs in Afghanistan today via education, literacy, and vocational-training grants to our domestic-nonprofit partners. SKO’s 36 projects and programs, led by Wakil Karimi and his competent staff, are beacons of hope in the troubled sea of humanity in and around Kabul.

Wakil Karimi (center-left) and Jim Thaden (center-right) preside over a meeting of Star of Knowledge staff and community-elder advisers. Photo courtesy of Star of Knowledge.

Kabul has, of course, been beaten down by 36 years of war. With more than 6 million residents in a city built to house fewer than 1 million people, it is overcrowded, chaotic, badly war torn and lacking in basic sanitation. Kabul works at a low level of efficiency and the costs to improve the capital city will be immense. Yet today foreign aid is drying up, several major foreign NGOs have either curtailed or suspended operations, and the attention of the world has shifted distinctly away from this region’s plight.

The truth is, Kabul feels like a city that has been abandoned by its allies. There are almost no foreigners on the streets. The newspapers tell of shopkeepers who haven’t made a sale in weeks. The hotels and restaurants frequented by foreigners appear to be empty. In meetings with senior government officials, they express dismay with the way the west is rapidly retreating.

“Unofficially,” while optimistic that a new coalition government has been formed, they express concerns about their new government’s ability to sustain peace in the midst of an impending economic disaster. The reality of the inevitable economic decline is just now beginning to hit the streets. The days ahead are dark.

Jim Thaden and Wakil Karimi (center, standing) visit an education-support program class in Kabul, Afghanistan. Photo courtesy of Star of Knowledge.

The only bright shining lights of hope are the children attending schools and the adults attending literacy and vocational-training classes. These children and adults are the seeds of a self-sustaining economy. In the past 13 years, more than 90 percent of Afghanistan’s economy has been fueled by foreign aid and the spending of it military occupants. The underpinnings of a self-sufficient local economy simply don’t exist. An estimated 60 percent of Afghans are unemployed or under-employed.

The young students and those adults attending vocational training will ultimately come away with the basic skills needed to survive. They are the hope for the future of Afghanistan, but what they most need today is time and support to persevere. Unfortunately, much of the world is quickly walking away from them.

Jim Thaden, CAI executive director, presents a certificate to a graduate of SKO’s women’s literacy program. Photo courtesy of Star of Knowledge.

CAI will not walk away from Afghanistan. In fact, our resolve has never been greater. Today, a few of the first generation of graduates are health workers, teachers, and even lawyers, while many others are better-informed mothers, citizens, and voters. The seeds of change have been planted. CAI will stay to water them and nurture them as they grow.

As I return to CAI’s Bozeman office to begin work on the next wave of school repairs and new project and program expansions initiated by our Afghanistan partners, I feel a tremendous sense of gratitude for those who have worked on the frontlines in Afghanistan in the past and to those teachers, staff, and volunteers dutifully working there today.

On my last day with our friends at SKO, I reminded them that they are the true freedom fighters. They are the ones who, in spite of adverse and deteriorating conditions, hold up a beacon of hope for the future of Afghanistan. Without their continued self-sacrifice to educate the children of Afghanistan, there will never be a self-sustaining economy and peace.

Sitting here looking out at a bright Montana morning sky, I also feel a great sense of gratitude to those generous CAI donors and volunteers who continue to support the efforts of these good people. Without the gift of your money and moral support, these freedom fighters could not carry out their noble mission. With patience and perseverance we will, together, demonstrate that education continues to be the surest path to peace and economic prosperity.

– Jim Thaden, executive director

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January 19, 2015 – Peace is not dead in Afghanistan

On this day when we honor Martin Luther King, Jr., let us use his legacy and vision to inspire our efforts to create a world of peace for our children and grandchildren through education.

Afghan girl focuses on her lessons.

Today, even though the media filled with stories on terrorism, ISIS, Boko Haram in Nigeria, al-Qaida, and the Taliban, there are small strides towards peace that go unreported or acknowledged nearly every day in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Last week, I learned via phone that Taliban senior commanders in Taqab and Tashkan districts in Afghanistan’s Badakhshan Province had ordered their fighters to quit fighting and join the peace process with the new coalition government.

This is just one small step, but as Mother Teresa said, “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to make many ripples.”

Afghanistan’s peace process was first formulated and integrated into the framework of the Constitutional Loya Jirga in 2002. A second Loya Jirga in November 2013 was more robust, but was sidetracked on the issue of immunity of foreign troops from war crimes and incrimination.

Although there has been some support of the process, so far it has been too Western driven. If a more local, organic model can be created, there will be greater public support, legitimacy, dialogue, sustainability, and ultimately more democratic governance.

Over time, getting more senior Taliban and militant leaders – such as Nasir Ahmad and Dawlat Khan Zamani in Badakhshan – to join a peace process can effect powerful change in communities. This has positively affected some Central Asia Institute (CAI) -supported schools in Badakhshan, Logar, Kunar, Urozgan, and Nangarhar provinces since 2007.

Although this sounds unusual, it was remarkable to see the former Uzbek “warlord” Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum – who has a horrific track record of human rights abuses, corruption, and much more – selected as vice president. Yet when President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah were gridlocked and incapable of forming a cabinet for three months, and paralyzed the country’s progress, it was Dostum who worked tirelessly to help galvanize and strengthen a new government torn right at the top by the two leaders. Also, China, Turkey, Russia, Iran, and India have all been courting and working with Dostum, along with former President Hamid Karzai, to make progress in regional trade and development, which has great potential for Afghanistan’s future.

Many people questioned Ghani’s pick of Dostum, but now it seems there was logic and value to that controversial decision. When Ghani first picked Dostum to be his running mate, he forced Dostum to make a bold public apology for his past treachery. Ghani then told Agence France Presse of his decision to go with Dostum, “Politics is not a love marriage, politics is a product of historic necessities.”

Taliban commanders turn in their weapons.

Although history would suggest that it is unlikely someone like Dostum can reform, few other ideas have worked in terms of bringing an end to decades of ethnic feuding and civil war. Sometimes, in a place like Afghanistan, it just might take unconventional, seemingly illogical approaches to affect stability and bring hope for the weary people.

It is easy to criticize these small steps to peace as irrelevant. And unfortunately, the news media rarely reports this type of good news or, more importantly, the complex discussions, significant hard work, and negotiations at the tribal level that help to make this happen. This is a long, slow, difficult process and often too slow for most to appreciate.

Similarly, we should never give up to believe there can be peace through education. As CAI Executive Director Jim Thaden recently told me: “Education is the surest path to peace – that’s not just a slogan, it is the truth. Violence only begets violence, while education enables mutual understanding and dialogue which, in time, leads to peace.”

Another unusual and exciting program is taking place in the teacher-training colleges that CAI supports in Afghanistan.

A girl practices reading in front of the class.
Since 2005, many teachers-in-training have been required to take a one-year intensive “peace studies” program that is unique in all the world.

Karzai started this in 2005. The curriculum involves helping teachers define and understand what peace truly is (often men and women have completely different perspectives on what peace means); how consensus building and collaboration work, especially in tribal society; how education, especially for girls, plays a role in peace; and much more. The 62 CAI-supported female teachers-in-training in Kapisa and Parwan provinces all participate in the peace studies program.

I’ve seen similar concepts at play in Montessori schools. The Montessori curriculum includes teaching kids about conflict resolution, or solving their own fights. There is often a designated “peace table” in the classroom and it is exciting to watch the kids employ their new skills.

During my last two trips to Afghanistan, I’ve studied this and interviewed a few teachers and people who work with the peace studies program. The Ministry of Education introduced a revised Peace Education Resource Book with updated syllabus and curriculum in the fall of 2014.

Few Afghan experts, journalists, and US government officials are aware of this – and of the significant generational impact it is having when combined with the significant improvements in literacy and education. Peace studies integration in the schools can be an effective deterrent of what groups like Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, ISIS, and some Afghan Taliban do to isolate and brainwash children.

Even Afghanistan’s new National Anthem, سرود ملی‎ – “Surūd-e Millī,” is a unity builder. Instead of singing about “the rockets’ red glare” and “bombs bursting in air,” like in the American National Anthem, it poetically embraces all the ethnic groups of Afghanistan, and declares it “the country of every tribe, that will shine forever … in the chest of Asia.”

This land is Afghanistan – It is the pride of every Afghan
The land of peace, the land of the sword – Its sons are all brave
This is the country of every tribe – Land of Baluch, and Uzbeks
Pashtoons, and Hazaras – Turkman and Tajiks with them,
Arabs and Gojars, Pamirian, Nooristanis
Barahawi, and Qizilbash – Also Aimaq, and Pashaye
This Land will shine for ever – Like the sun in the blue sky
In the chest of Asia – It will remain as the heart for ever
We will follow the one God – We all say, God is great.

In some parts of rural Afghanistan there has been slow, steady progress toward peace since 2012, as some Taliban commanders give up fighting against the government or coalition forces and work towards consensus building and collaboration. Yet except for simply reporting about militants who decide to join the peace process, few take the time to understand and study why this is happening.

Young women walk home from school. Photo courtesy of Erik Petersen.

Militants often join a peace process when there is strong, local leadership among the elders, and outside militant groups are trying to exert power and exploit the local community. Sometimes it occurs when there is more money to be earned with mining or elsewhere within the local economy, or when local ulema (religious elders) issue an edict against violence.

Education can also play a profound role in this. For example, in Logar province some Taliban commanders encourage both boys and girls to go to school, and feel education is key to prosperity and peace.

Let us use this day in honor of Martin Luther King to reinspire our efforts in the fight against illiteracy and ignorance. There are tools and proven methods that can be powerful agents of change for peace – girls’ education is one of them.

Watch King’s last speech and be inspired to never give up.

– Greg Mortenson, CAI co-founder

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January 15, 2015 – University library place of learning in volatile Pakistan city

BANNU, Pakistan – Central Asia Institute (CAI) has completed and turned over to the Pakistan government a 34,000-square-foot university library in one of the most volatile regions of the country.

The Central Library at University of Science and Technology-Bannu is the only project of its kind that CAI has done. It was requested by the university’s founding vice chancellor, Asmat Ullah Khan, in 2011.

Girls studying in library

“This university is a newly established institution with a total age of six years since its inception in November 2005,” Khan wrote in his initial request. “The day-and-nights continuous efforts of the university administration have made a record progress in the developmental works and the quality education in this remote, underdeveloped region of the province, although the financial constraints have always been the main obstacles in the achievement of the desired objectives.”

One longed-for objective was a library.

“The university was in dire need of a library,” said CAI’s former Pakistan director, Lt. Col. (Ret.) Ilyas Mirza, who is from the region. “Their budget being too meager, (it) could hardly afford something of the size of what CAI donated to them.”

Plus, he added, “I wanted the youth of this area, victims of the war on terror, to have a state of-the-art library facility and access to a real source of learning.”


Bannu’s location at the edge of North Waziristan, near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, puts it in a sort of “no-go zone” for any international aid organizations, said CAI Co-Founder Greg Mortenson.

“Bannu, unfortunately, has become the epicenter of violence in the fighting between militants and the Pakistan police and army, and the U.S. further antagonizing the locals by drone bombings” Mortenson said. “It’s a consistently high-threat, high-conflict area, traditionally conservative, and often overlooked.”

The city is about 118 miles south of Peshawar, 23 miles east of the Pakistan-Afghan border, and just a little more than one mile east of North Waziristan, headquarters of the Pakistan Taliban and other terrorist networks.

The university is also just 700 meters from Bannu jail, which the Taliban attacked on April 15, 2012, just 15 days after work began on the library.

More than 200 heavily armed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) militants arrived predawn in numerous vehicles carrying AK-47s, hand grenades, and rocket launchers, according to news reports. They blew up the main gate, destroyed the boundary wall, and freed 384 prisoners, including some of Pakistan’s “most-wanted” criminals.

“The next 23 months were full of risk,” Mirza said. “Yet we continued and achieved something that CAI can be proud of.”

Acting Library Director Mohammad Hussain said the entire campus is grateful for the new library.

“I have been working at Bannu University since 2006, and we only had a room with some books for the library,” said Hussain, who is working on his PhD in library sciences from the University of Sargodha in Pakistan. “Now we have one of the best libraries in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province that we are very proud of.”


The two-story, red brick library situated in the center of the campus was completed in 2014.

“It is now for the university to encourage its faculty and students to make maximum use of it,” Mirza said. “Let it be turned into a real place of learning.”

Bannu Library

Bannu is a conservative region and CAI and the university designed the library with separate study areas for males and females. However, some students do mingle in co-ed areas of the library while working on class projects.

In addition to the library, CAI donated a water-supply system for the university and awarded scholarships to nine graduate-level female students for two years of study.

Bannu is situated at the convergence of the Kurram and Gambila rivers, which irrigate the traditional barley, wheat, and corn crops. British visitors to the region in the mid 1800s referred to Bannu as a paradise, said Mortenson, who has visited the Bannu region several times since 1996. It also has a rich history as a place of religious tolerance.

“Until recently, it was a place where Muslims, Christians, Sikhs and Hindus lived in harmony for centuries,” he said.

Hamza Ameer, a writer who visited Bannu four times in 2014 to document the displacement of refugees from the North Waziristan conflict, described a special place in Bannu called Holy Street, “a symbol of religious harmony, patience, and acceptance for the world,” he wrote.

“The street starts with a church, whose wall is attached [to] a Shiite Imam Bargah [Mosque], wall of who is attached to a Hindu Ram Mandir [temple], attached to a Muslim mosque,” Ameer wrote.


But despite that history of tolerance, the region is now in turmoil. In addition to the fighting, the influx of Waziristan refugees, said to total as many as 500,000, has made the city and surrounding areas chaotic, Mirza said.

“The library should be a center of peace and calm amid all the conflict and difficulties,” he said.

Although CAI will remain in contact with library and university officials, maintenance of the new building and work to build a good collection of books is the responsibility of the university and Pakistan’s Ministry of Higher Education.

Girls study in central library

“We have very few resources to enhance the library,” Hussain said. “The KP Higher Education Commission and federal government do not have funds allocated for the ongoing maintenance of the library, and this year the federal government made significant cuts in education funding.”

At the present time, a library support group is being formed to raise awareness and generate more support for books, technology, training, and supplies. However, the recent militant activity, escalating conflict, and lack of federal funding have made progress difficult.

The university has received several donations of books, mostly science, technology, and curriculum-related. But it badly needs more books.

Hussain and others within the university administration expressed hope that libraries in the United States, Canada, and Europe might take an interest in their library and work with them to expand the collection.

“Any joint effort to promote higher education, reading, and learning in the region could also be a catalyst for promoting tolerance, just as the city of Bannu has done for two centuries,” Mortenson said.

Inquiries regarding library support or book donations can be directed to:

Central Library
University of Science & Technology-Bannu
Bannu, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province
Pakistan 28100
Phone + 92-928-633817

QUOTE: “Books permit us to voyage through time, to tap the wisdom of our ancestors. The library connects us with the insight and knowledge … of the greatest minds that ever were, with the best teachers, drawn from the entire planet and from all our history, to instruct us without tiring, and to inspire us to make our own contribution to the collective knowledge of the human species.” ― Carl Sagan

– Karin Ronnow, communications director

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January 6, 2015 – Atiq Allah: Education hero in Afghanistan

BADAKHSHAN Province, Afghanistan – Atiq Allah, until recently the district education officer in the volatile Warduj region, is one of the finest education officers I have met in more than two decades of working to promote education in this part of the world.

Despite unimaginable difficulties and amid great adversity, he always manages to be optimistic and strong.

Atiq Allah and Greg Mortenson in Badakhshan province, 2013. Photo courtesy of Greg Mortenson.

“I am blessed to be an educator, and it is my life’s calling, and I do my best each morning to make a difference for all my teachers and students,” he told me on a recent visit. “We face problems on a daily basis, even before the students get to school. Some parents do not want daughters to go to school, others only want their children to work in the fields, many of our students are hungry, suffer from malnutrition, have worms, or not enough clothing and bad shoes.”

Afghanistan is divided into 34 provinces, which in turn consist of 398 districts. With the exception of about two-dozen extremely remote or volatile districts, each district has an official responsible for the education in that area.

Although many district education officers are looked at with disdain by federal and aid agencies, and big NGOs, I find that many of them are actually dedicated to their people and education, but suffer from a lack of support, funding, and resources. Some district education officers have to cover several dozen schools spread over several hundred square miles and do not even have a vehicle or motorcycle to make their rounds.

About 680 students attend Tigaran High School in two shifts: girls in the morning and boys in the afternoon. Photo courtesy of Greg Mortenson.

Over the past eight years, Central Asia Institute (CAI) has made a concerted effort to develop relationships with these district education officers.

Warduj, in central Badakhshan, is home to about 17,000 mostly impoverished people, who survive mostly on a subsistence diet of potatoes, buckwheat, chickpeas, and a little corn. Afghan Aid reports that one out of every four children dies before the age of 13. And UNICEF reports that Badakhshan’s maternal mortality rate is one of the highest in the world, although that has gradually been improving in recent years.

When I visit Warduj, it is easy to pick out the students suffering from various maladies: swollen knees from rickets, caused by lack of vitamin D; jaundice from hepatitis; tender muscles from magnesium deficiency; cracked lips, bleeding gums, and chronic tooth infections; and bloated stomachs from malnutrition. In the winter there are often epidemics of scurvy, typhoid , whooping cough, and pneumonia. According to the World Health Organization, a cholera epidemic in August 2013 affected 1,492 people in Badakhshan.

In addition to these socioeconomic problems, Tigaran and Sufiyan villages have been the scenes of violent conflict on and off over the past three years, with fighting between Taliban fighters, Uzbek militants, ISAF, Afghan National Army soldiers, and locals.

But Atiq Allah’s resilience and persistence have allowed CAI-supported schools in Tigaran and Sufiyan villages to stay open. He is a tenacious advocate of girls’ education. He keeps calm amid unpredictable, chaotic circumstances. He is always interested in teachers and students. And he works hard to build consensus with rival factions while always keeping education as the top priority.

“On a daily basis, I not only have to deal with and protect students from fighting, but try to get provincial and federal education officials to help with acute shortages of school buildings, teachers, salaries, supplies, electricity, textbooks, laboratory equipment, and many other things. The only thing we have plenty of is clean drinking water, and I am thankful to Allah for that!”

The news out of this remote region of Badakhshan is often grim. [See links below] Very few men could do what Atiq Allah has done in this remote, conflicted area of northeast Afghanistan.

Our thoughts and prayers are with him and his family as he assumes his new post in a much “easier” part of Badakhshan.

– Greg Mortenson, CAI co-founder

Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all the darkness – Desmond Tutu

For more information about the fighting in Warduj district in recent years, follow these links to news stories:
The Nation: Taliban demand release of prisoners in exchange for policemen (Dec 9, 2014)
Central Asia Online: Tajik militants fighting in Badakhshan Afghan official says (Oct. 28, 2014)
Tolo News: 33 insurgents killed in Warduj (Oct. 29, 2014)
Sada-e Azadi: Chechens and Uzbeks killed by Afghan Forces in Warduj (Oct. 30, 2014)
NYTimes: Taliban are said to attack Afghan police (Sept. 19, 2013)
Central Asia Online: Suspected Tajik terrorist confesses on TV (Sept. 29, 2013)
PressTV: Badakhshan MP says US and UK support Taliban local violence (Sept. 22, 2013)
Dvids: Operation Hindu Kush concludes in Badakhshan province (Sept. 17, 2013)
Department of Defense: Combined force kills extremists during search for Taliban leader (June 10, 2013)
Global Post: In remote Afghan district, the roots of insurgency are local (May 6, 2013)
HispanTV: Taliban decapita a seis soldados afganos y mata a un camionero turco (April 17, 2013)
NYTimes: Taliban kill 17 Afghan soldiers in once-quiet area (March 6, 2013)
Agence France Presse: Taliban militants kill 17 Afghan soldiers: officials (March 6, 2013)
AP: Homemade bomb kills Nato service member in Afghanistan (May 30, 2012)

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December 30, 2014 – Afghan students face myriad obstacles to education

BAZGHIR, Afghanistan — “Open Your Books” says the Afghan Ministry of Education poster outside the seventh-grade classroom at Bazghir High School in northeastern Badakhshan province.

Encouragement is key to keeping these kids in school. They face lots of obstacles.

School hallway

The first daily obstacle is distance. Some of these students must walk four hours each day just to attend the Central Asia Institute (CAI)-supported school, Headmaster Alam Gul said.

“The school serves four villages and one is a two-hour walk each way,” Gul, 28, said. “It’s a small village. Fifteen students come from there. Mostly they are the younger kids. The older ones go to Zebak School,” he said, referring to another CAI-supported school in a neighboring district. “That’s farther away, but the older students, they can walk further.”

The school is in Ishkashim district of Badakhshan Province, one of the most impoverished places in the world. It sits in a river valley, surrounded by the peaks of the Hindu Kush Mountains.

“Sometimes in summer when water is coming from the mountains, they all have to go to school in Zebak” because they can’t cross the river to get to Bazghir,” he added.

Another issue is the extremists, the local and foreign Taliban forces fighting for control in nearby Warduj district, about a two-hour drive southwest of here.

“We feel the pressure,” Gul said. “Girls still come, but they come to school scared. Sometimes girls are afraid to walk the road to come to school. And we worry Taliban might come here and then they won’t let kids come and study or people come and teach. Especially girls will just get deprived.”

Girls in class

A third obstacle is teachers. One morning, three of the teachers were late, so the kids sat in their classrooms without teachers, some of them diligently studying, others goofing around. Other teachers stepped into the rooms periodically to try to maintain order, but they had their own classrooms to attend to and couldn’t stay for long.

The second-grade classroom had been without a teacher for eight days in a row. Gul said, “This is a problem.” He has discussed the absenteeism with education department officials, but the government refuses to fire or replace the teacher.

Eventually it was revealed that the teacher is an opium addict.
CAI helped the community build a new school in 2010. The old school building is in sorry shape – the walls are crumbling, the roof leaks, and the glass in several windows is broken. But rather than tear the old building down, the community opted to use it for higher classes, and teach the younger students in the new building.

The 407 students, including 151 girls, have 14 teachers. But enrollment has decreased by 93 students in the past two years. “Most drop out due to poverty,” Gul said. “Also, some got married.”

The girls in the higher classes typically sit in the back of the classroom. “We encourage them a lot to come to the front [of the classroom] near the teacher by themselves, but they feel shy,” said Arabic teacher Abdul Ghafoor.

Boy leaving school

Keeping those girls enrolled until they complete high school is key.

Roqya, 14, is the middle child of five siblings. Her father is uneducated, “he is a farmer,” she said. Her mother is a literacy teacher who is unemployed. She is determined to finish high school, even though her sisters did not.

“My older sister married while in class 11 and quit school,” she said. “My second sister went to class seven and then married. I have brothers in class 10 and three. We all know education makes us bright and open-minded and with education you can get any job you want.”

She’d like to be an eye doctor, she said.

The students and their families understand the importance of education. Just learning how to read and write has put many of the students light-years ahead of their illiterate parents.

“My parents are supportive,” Razia, 14, said. “They say, ‘We didn’t study and now we have nothing and we didn’t make a good life and now you have to study.’ Education is important to learn something.”

Girl excited about class

The students’ post-high school options may be limited – few can afford higher education. Last year, only one of the 19 graduates was able to attend university. But if they pass the test, they may be able to enroll in one of the teacher-training or vocational-skills colleges closer to home; five graduates were able to do that last year.

But that does not dissuade them from dreaming big. Fida Jan, the No. 2 student in class nine, wants to be a doctor.

“If you don’t have education, you are nothing. If you do have education, you will at least get to be a teacher or doctor or something,” he said.

His classmate, 14-year-old Zahir, said education is also important “because nobody will make fun of us. We will be able to feed ourselves and get money.”

And Dur Mohammad is determined to finish school and become an engineer.

“When you become educated, you will do service,” he said. “You can make roads and bridges for the people and help when there are landslides. My home is in area where there are always floods and landslides and this I want to change.”

Before he loses his audience, Dur Mohammad makes a request. He and his classmates would like a computer lab, he said.

The headmaster smiled. The school has no electricity. Besides, he said, the more urgent need is reliable teachers.

– Karin Ronnow, communications director

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December 26, 2014 – Photo essay: Life in remote Afghanistan & Tajikistan as seen through portals

A portal is a gateway to another place, physically and metaphorically.
Webster’s Dictionary defines it this way:

Portal: [portl] a doorway, gate, or other entrance, esp. a large and elaborate one.

Like photography itself, portals offer a look at something we wouldn’t otherwise see – whether it’s a peek through a keyhole or a glance out the window.

And by looking, we learn.

Jump Rope A single-pane glass window distorts the figures of two girls jumping rope outside CAI’s Vanqala School in the Wakhan district of Tajikistan’s Gorno Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast.
Gate Entrance gates in the walls that surround private homes in this part of the world vary widely. Some are metal, some wood. Some are drab, and some have a character all their own.
Raindrops Raindrops on a car window create hundreds of tiny portals looking out at Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor.
doorway A doorway in the mud wall of a house in the Afghan Wakhan offers a view into men relaxing while women bake bread and prepare tea.
Window Students at CAI’s DeGhulaman School in Afghanistan peer out a window during class.
A keyhole on the entrance gate to a private home in Ishkashim, Afghanistan.
The dizzying view from inside a burka.

We begin to learn wisely when we’re willing to see the world from other people’s perspective.” ―Toba Beta

Photos and text by photographer Erik Petersen

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December 24, 2014 – Wishing CAI friends & family near & far a joyous holiday season

When students at a Montana elementary school saw the photo of an Afghan “school” where the students sat outside, on the ground, crowded into “classrooms” outlined by rows of rocks, they gasped.

“Really? That’s a school?” one student asked.

The photo showed three classes of girls and boys in eastern Afghanistan, no roof over their heads to protect them from the sun, rain, wind, or snow, all sharing textbooks and school supplies.

Joyous Holiday Season

“That’s not fair,” another student said.

Education may be a human right, a teacher pointed out to her students, but not everyone has equal access to the things American students take for granted.

“At this time of year when people of different faiths celebrate life, sharing gifts and giving thanks during Christmas, Eid, Dewali, Hanukkah, Bodhi Day, Kwanzaa, and other religious holidays, there is a common theme of gifts, light, and new life,” CAI Co-Founder Greg Mortenson wrote in an email from Kabul, Afghanistan. “Being here in Afghanistan this month, I’m grateful to have witnessed miracles every day – from children and older women writing their names for the first time to women graduating from teacher-training college, determined to make a difference in the world. From female students excelling in male-dominated engineering and agriculture subjects at university, to the first wave of educated mothers now having children.

“From illiteracy to literacy, from ignorance to hope, and from isolation to integration, education for girls and women transforms lives and communities, and is the greatest gift anyone can bestow to make the world a better place,” Mortenson said.

Many of us celebrate with abundance at this time of year. Yet millions of others suffer from extreme scarcity. So as you come together with friends and family this December, please take a moment to share holiday spirit with someone less fortunate.

“This time of year is about giving, not getting,” said CAI Executive Director Jim Thaden. “Share the joy. Visit a shut-in. Sing in a choir. Recite a poem. Give a hug. Exchange compliments instead of gifts. Bake cookies for a neighbor. Make a resolution to listen to your heart. Give thanks for the abundance. But also please remember the impoverished children who sit outside on the hard ground, whatever the weather, hungry for education and a better future.”

At the heart of the season is love. We overcome our differences. Good overpowers evil. Forgiveness trumps revenge. Light shines through the darkness. Peace prevails.

Happy holidays and blessings of peace from all of us at Central Asia Institute to all of you.

– Karin Ronnow, communications director

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December 22 – Central Asia Institute ‘staffing up’

BOZEMAN, Mont., USA –Central Asia Institute (CAI) is “staffing up” and reorganizing some of its overseas operations and structures, Executive Director Jim Thaden announced Monday.

The nongovernmental (NGO) nonprofit organization promoted one employee and added five new employees and a board member this fall. It also established a new nonprofit entity in Pakistan.

“We are staffing up both domestically and internationally in response to a growing demand for the services CAI uniquely offers,” Thaden said.

CAI promotes education, especially for girls, and provides literacy, vocational, and maternal healthcare programs in remote and impoverished villages of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan. Most of its programs are in the mountains, and many are in high-conflict areas of these countries, Thaden said.

“CAI’s international operations are being reorganized to better ensure compliance with changing local government requirements as well as to better meet the needs of CAI’s international grant partners and the more than 100,000 students they serve,” he said.

Specifically, “We are dealing with a complex situation in a fluid environment in Pakistan and the new Central Asia Education Trust addresses many of the complicated issues that have arisen in recent years,” he said.

Stateside, domestic financial operations have been reorganized and reinforced to ensure ever-improving operating standards are not only met but exceeded, he said. And the CAI fundraising team has been restored to levels required to raise substantially more funding from individual donors and charitable foundations.


Laura BrinSandra Cook officially joined CAI’s governing body in December, bringing the CAI board to 10 members. Cook, 72, spent the past 12 years working and volunteering in the educational sector in Afghanistan. She lived in Kabul, the capital city, worked as vice president of the American University of Afghanistan, and served as co-chair of the board of directors for the Louis and Nancy Hatch Dupree Foundation for the Afghan Center at Kabul University.

While in Afghanistan, she traveled extensively in the areas CAI serves. “I recently crossed Afghanistan’s remote and fabled Wakhan Corridor on horseback and visited several CAI schools along the way,” she said. “The schools were staffed with teachers and being attended by local children.”

Prior to her involvement in Afghanistan, Cook spent 30 years as a senior corporate executive, management consultant, and university teacher and administrator. Much of her work was done internationally.

She earned her bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in philosophy, mathematical logic, and economics from London School of Economics, Wayne State University, and University of Kansas, and completed post-graduate studies at Harvard Business School and Oxford University.
She lives in Piedmont, Calif.


Changes to the CAI-US staff include:

Laura Brin Laura Brin, 27, has been promoted to events and campaign manager after working with CAI for nearly 2 ½ years. Originally from Denver, Brin earned her bachelor’s degree in sociology from Pitzer College in Claremont, Calif., in 2009. Prior to joining the CAI team, she was a youth case manager for Aware, Inc. in Bozeman. Other influential experiences include studies in India’s Darjeeling region in 2008, a semester with the National Outdoor Leadership School in Patagonia, Chile, and six months of work and travel in New Zealand. Brin and her fiancé Lawrence live just outside of Bozeman, in Four Corners.
Meredith Tinseth Meredith Tinseth, 44, is CAI’s new donor-relations manager. She earned two bachelor’s degrees, one in health and human development in 2006 and one in sports medicine in 1994, both from Montana State University (MSU) in Bozeman. She also earned a K-12 physical education and health-enhancement teaching endorsement in 2007. She came to CAI from the Bozeman Deaconess Health Group’s Belgrade Clinic, where she was a receptionist for three years. Prior to that, she taught physical education at Ekalaka Elementary School and Carter County High School (2009-2011) and at Belgrade Intermediate School (2007-2009); was a special education teaching assistant for the Belgrade School District (2007-2009) and a substitute teacher for the Belgrade and Monforton school districts (2006-2007). She did her student teaching in Belgrade in 2006. She has also taught adult education classes, coached soccer, and managed community sports teams. She lives in Belgrade with her two sons.
Lilian Stirling Lillian Stirling, 26, is CAI’s new administrative assistant. Stirling is also a graduate of MSU, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy in 2010. She managed the GNC store in Bozeman for three years prior to joining CAI and has also worked as a sales associate for RoundHouse Sports Center in Bozeman (2010-2011); child ski instructor at Big Sky Resort in Big Sky, Mont. (2009-2010); and support staff for her family’s business in Hamilton, Mont. She volunteers with Eagle Mount’s therapeutic riding programs in Bozeman and as a middle school tutor. She lives in Bozeman.
Christian Rischke Christian Rischke, 31, CAI’s new finance director, is a cost-business analyst, accountant, and senior financial analyst. He came to CAI from Darigold, where he worked as plant accountant from 2013 to 2014. Prior to Darigold, he was a cost/business analyst
 for Nord Gear in Madison, Wisc. (2012-2013); internal auditor for Bemis Corp. in Neenah, Wisc. (2010-2012); senior financial analyst for MACtac, a Bemis company in Columbus, Ind. (2007-2010); staff accountant for Johnson, Price & Sprinkle PA in Ashville, N.C. (2006-2007); and mergers and acquisitions intern at PriceWaterhouse Coopers in Frankfurt, Germany (2005). He earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Mars Hill College in North Carolina in 2006. A native of Germany, he lives in Bozeman.
Hannah White Hannah White, 29, is CAI’s new communications manager. She came to Bozeman by way of Dubois, Wyo., where she worked for two seasons as a wrangler at the Bitterroot Ranch. Before coming out West, she was communications coordinator for The Constitution Project, a bipartisan policy organization in Washington, D.C., and communications and development associate at Karamah: Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights in Washington, D.C. White holds a master’s degree in Middle Eastern studies from the University of Chicago (2009), and a bachelor’s in anthropology, sociology, and archaeology from St. Mary’s College of Maryland (2007). She lives in Bozeman.
Alanna Brown Alanna Brown, 28, is the new Pennies for Peace manager. Brown joined CAI after a stint as alumni-relations officer for MSU’s Alumni Association. Prior to that, she was outreach coordinator for MSU’s Caring for Our Own program, a Native American nursing support program (2013-14), and an admissions evaluator at MSU (2011-2013). As an AmeriCorps Vista worker, she coordinated volunteers for Greater Gallatin United Way and did crisis counseling at the Help Center in Bozeman. She earned a bachelor’s degree in family counseling in 2009 and a master’s in adult and higher education/public administration from MSU in 2013. Her master’s-level research focused on minority education, specifically involving Native Americans. She lives in Bozeman.


The newest overseas entity, the Central Asia Education Trust (CAET), operates out of a central office in Pakistan’s capital city Islamabad, and represents “a significant change in the way we do business internationally,” Thaden said. “Working in conjunction with our legal and accounting advisors as well as our overseas partners in the field, we’ve created a new entity under Pakistan’s Trust Act of 1882 called the Central Asia Education Trust, or CAET.

“CAET is a domestically managed trust established to make grants to domestic nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) conducting educational, literacy, and vocational-training programs in Pakistan – programs that particularly benefit girls and women. CAI-US provides international grant funding to CAET, which then distributes it to our partners in the field,” he said.

Brig. (Ret.) Mian Khalid Habib is president of the trust and its three-person board of trustees. Shakir Ali serves as CAET’s country manager. Mohammad Nazir in Baltistan and Fozia Naseer in Azad Jammu Kashmir are employed by CAET “while we review the best long-term solutions for sustaining, maintaining, and growing our operations in Baltistan and AJK,” Thaden said.


CAI has continued to fully support its overseas operations despite the fact that donations have decreased by more than 80 percent in the past three years, he said. The decline came in the wake of accusations of wrongdoing by CAI and Co-Founder Greg Mortenson in 2011.

Since then, a federal appeals court has dismissed the lawsuit brought against the organization, reiterating a lower-court judge’s ruling that the claims were “flimsy” and without merit.

Since the suit was tossed out, the IRS has given the organization a favorable ruling following a lengthy tax-related investigation. And the Better Business Bureau has accredited CAI with its highest favorable rating.

“With these changes both internationally and domestically CAI will ensure its future performance meets or exceeds all nonprofit industry standards,” Thaden said. “The staffing and organizational changes also put CAI in a position to again grow rapidly while maintaining good operating controls.”

– Karin Ronnow, communications director

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December 18, 2014 – Educators eager to learn about Pennies for Peace

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Educators from around the world who gathered here for the Learning Forward 2014 Annual Conference proved just as eager to learn as their students.

Pennies for Peace

“Many of the attendees were school administrators, eager to find new tools to enhance teaching and learning in their classrooms,” said Alanna Brown, CAI’s Pennies for Peace [P4P] manager, who attended the conference earlier this month. “P4P’s exhibit highlighted the service-learning aspect of the program and visitors were excited to see our free toolkit and curriculum and take them back to their schools.”

P4P is a fun service-learning program that teaches students how they can make a positive impact – one penny at a time. Students learn the importance of education and become philanthropists in the process. CAI has 95 active P4P campaigns, Brown said, and there have been 7,327 total campaigns since 1994.

The Learning Forward conference is a slightly different forum than other educators’ conferences in that is set up as a forum where teachers and administrators share their ideas, passion, experiences, and techniques for motivating students to be successful, Brown said.

“The attendees were eager to learn, just like our students in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan,” Brown said.

An estimated 3,500 people participated in the event at Nashville’s Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center.

P4P Toolkit

“We had many educators tell us how their school participated in Pennies for Peace,” Brown continued. “A teacher from Cavalier Public School District 6 in North Dakota was so excited to see us at the conference that she asked to get her photo taken by our display. She had used the toolkit into her classroom and found it to be incredibly effective for educating her students about the importance of being philanthropists and broadening cultural horizons. After they finished the Pennies for Peace curriculum, the school was so inspired they did a ‘Pennies for Playground’ to raise money to rebuild the school playground.”

P4P also had a booth at the AMLE Conference in November in Nashville, and will be at the American Montessori Society’s annual conference, March 12-15, 2015, in Philadelphia.

“Of all the education conferences I have attended for Pennies for Peace, Learning Forward was unique,” said Laura Brin, CAI events and campaign manager who went to Nashville with Brown. “Each educator who stopped by our booth was genuinely engaged and interested in the program and our mission to help build bridges of peace, one penny at a time.

“Since we were the only service-learning program in the exhibit hall, that set us apart, which was great for us. Hopefully the connections we made will last and those we spoke with will implement the program in their schools” Brin said.

All P4P participants receive a free, standard-aligned K-12 curriculum for teachers, available by mail or online.

You can read more about P4P in our 2014 Journey of Hope or on the P4P website For questions or to share your story, please contact us at

– Karin Ronnow, communications director

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December 16, 2014: CAI gets “A” for accountability from two charity watchdogs

Central Asia Institute (CAI) is pleased to announce that it has successfully completed reviews by two national charity-accountability groups and met their highest public accountability and transparency standards.

Better Business Bureau

The Better Business Bureau’s approved CAI as a member of its Wise Giving Alliance in November.

In early December, GuideStar USA, Inc. approved CAI at its Exchange Gold Participation level.

“This is wonderful news,” CAI Executive Director Jim Thaden said Monday. ““We work hard to provide extensive financial, legal, and program information to the major charity watchdogs to comply with their requirements and showcase our progress. And we are pleased that their thorough evaluations confirmed CAI’s commitment to the highest levels of accountability and transparency.”

Steve Barrett, chairman of CAI’s 10-member board of directors, said these external reviews underscore CAI’s reliability and integrity. “This confirms, for all the world to see, that CAI is responsibly managing its domestic and overseas operations in pursuit of its mission: providing education, especially for girls, in some of the most remote and underserved areas of the world,” he said.

“We especially hope that this news gives people yet another reason to consider CAI in their year-end giving plans,” he added.


The BBB Wise Giving Alliance, based in Arlington, Va., helps donors make informed giving decisions and promotes high standards of conduct among organizations that solicit contributions from the public. It evaluates charities against a comprehensive list of standards and posts those evaluations online at

GuideStar, based in Williamsburg, Va., collects, organizes, and presents information about IRS-registered nonprofit organizations – mission, legitimacy, impact, reputation, finances, programs, transparency, and governance – via its website.

Supporters, individual donors, journalists, and grantmakers can view extensive up-to-date information about CAI on the watchdog’s websites. In addition, the public can add comments or testimonials about the organization on the GuideStar website.

One CAI supporter recently wrote:

““I have donated to this charity for years and intend to keep doing so. … CAI does not just go somewhere and build a school in hopes that teachers and students will somehow show up. They receive requests from village councils to build a school. … In lands that are dominated by warlords, zealous clerics, and tribal chiefs, no one is going to send their children to a school unless such community leaders support it.” ”

CAI’s financial information, including IRS 990s, audited financial statements, and annual reports are always available on the financial page of our website,

– Karin Ronnow, communications director

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December 11, 2014 – Malala says Nobel just the start for girls’ education

Millions of children around the world suffer every day in silence, “forgotten,” “frightened,” and “voiceless” children who want education, peace, and change, Pakistani girls’ education advocate Malala Yousafzai said Wednesday.

The 2014 Nobel Peace Prize – shared by Yousafzai and Indian child rights activist Kailash Satyarthi – is for them, she said.

Nobel Peace Prize Announcement

“It is not time to pity them,” Yousafzai said at the midday ceremony for the prizewinners at City Hall in Oslo, Norway. “It is time to take action so it becomes the last time that we see a child deprived of education. … Not just the politicians and the world leaders. We all need to contribute. Me. You. It is our duty.”

Satyarthi set aside an empty chair at the ceremony to remind the world of the millions of children the world leaves behind, he said.

They are all our children,” he said.

In giving Yousafzai, 17, and Satyarthi, 60, a joint prize, the Nobel Committee “seemed to speak to a desire to transcend differences and forge a common campaign in support of dispossessed children across the globe,” the New York Times reported Wednesday.

Greg Mortenson, CAI co-founder, congratulated the peacemakers not only on the prize, but also “for the spotlight they shine on every child to have a voice and hope for the future.”

“This is a special day for every child on the planet,” Mortenson said in a phone interview from Afghanistan Wednesday. “May it remind us all to persevere for the universal right of all children to have an education and not be deprived of their human rights.”


Both Yousafzai and Satyarthi have risked their lives in pursuit of their goals. Satyarthi has been attacked several times and two of his colleagues were killed because of their work. “You will find the scars on my body right from leg to head,” he told the BBC Tuesday. Child traffickers are “very powerful,” “very well-connected people.”

Girls study on porch

“Malala raised her voice for girls’ education and even after she was shot by Taliban in 2012 in Swat Valley, Pakistan, she never discouraged herself and continued her efforts for girls’ rights and education,” said Dilshad Begum, an assistant program manager for CAI-Gilgit in northern Pakistan. “I think it is the right decision by the Nobel committee to give her Peace Prize. She deserves it. She is a heroine and a role model for all the girls in the world to have courage to fight for their rights.”

Thorbjorn Jagland, Nobel Committee chairman, said at the ceremony that Yousafzai’s “courage is almost indescribable.”

Indescribable, yes, but also inspirational, said two CAI scholarship students in Gilgit.

“When Taliban took control of the Swat Valley, one girl refused to be silenced and fought for her right to get the education – Malala,” said Bilqis, of Ghizer region. For that, “she was shot by Taliban,” but “she never stopped her voice against Taliban. She is a symbol of peace for all of us.”

“All the people know Malala,” Sadna Talib, 16, of Pakistan’s Hunza region, said. “She is one who fights tooth and nail against the global terrorism. She is the young girl who woke up all Pakistan.”

Yousafzai’s book, “I Am Malala,” is available in Urdu, the national language, and easily found in libraries and bookstores across Pakistan, Dilshad said. And the girls do read it, finding a role model in the teenager who hails from a region not that far from Gilgit.

“Malala is active, confident, and brave,” Sadna said. “She is an example for every Pakistani girl as well as the girls of the world; everyone thinks that she is an example for them. She gives us hope.”


Although Yousafzai’s experience and advocacy have increased global awareness of the need for girls’ equal access to education, it hasn’t changed much on the ground in Pakistan yet.

Girl in front of chalkboard

And that’s why Bilqis and Sadna count themselves lucky. They know they’re still the exception rather than the rule, making history and turning the tide.

“Girls are part of society and change, progress, development, and prosperity [are] only possible when both boys and girls get education,” Bilqis said.

Mahbuba Qurbonalieva, CAI’s program manager in Tajikistan, said that in Gorno Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast (GBAO), where she lives and works, “few people know about the heroic deed of Malala. Maybe this is because in Tajikistan education is a right of every child and parent are obliged to give education to their children. I have talked to several students regarding Malala and only two of them knew that she is a Pakistani girl who was fighting for education for girls. None of them knew about Malala’s Nobel Peace Prize.”

But the prize may bring Yousafzai and the issue well-deserved international attention, Qurbonalieva said.

“This prize is a victory for all those girls who have no access to education,” she said. “Seeing this will give power and confidence for millions of other girls all over the world to fight for their right for education as well. For CAI’s continuing working it is a reminder that we must not stop. We must go ahead with giving education to children in developing countries. CAI achieved success by giving education to more than 100,000 children. These efforts and Malala’s self-sacrifice are not in vain.”


In her Nobel speech, Yousafzai said: “Why is it that countries which we call strong are so powerful in creating wars but are so weak in bringing peace? Why is it that giving guns is so easy, but giving books is so hard?”

Malala's Nobel Peace Prize diploma

Mortenson said he found these words particularly poignant. “I was inspired to hear Malala challenge ‘strong’ governments that use their powers and affluence to start wars, but have failed to achieve universal education.”

Over the years, Mortenson has repeatedly said that young people are our best hope for change. Together, they can and do make a difference. Yousafzai’s comments this week in Oslo echoed that sentiment, as she repeatedly talked about the role of her “fellow children” in the fight for universal education.

On Tuesday, she told reporters: “We are not here just to accept our award, get this medal and go back home. We are here to tell the children, especially, that you need to stand up. You need to speak up for your rights. It is you who can change the world.”

Underscoring her point, she invited five other teenage girls’-education advocates from Pakistan, Nigeria, and Syria to Wednesday’s ceremony, where she spoke directly to the world’s youth: “I call upon my fellow children to stand up around the world. Dear sisters and brothers, let us become the first generation to decide to be the last. The empty classrooms, the lost childhoods, wasted potential – let these things end with us.”

– Karin Ronnow, communications director

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December 5, 2014 – CAI’s community-driven Afghan projects succeed where others fail

War has been an everyday fact of life in Afghanistan for 35 years. Since the Soviet Army invaded in 1979 to prop up the communist government, through civil war, to today’s battles against al-Qaida and the Taliban, uncertainty and violence have been the norm.

The war touches everything in this beautiful yet impoverished and struggling country, including Central Asia Institute’s (CAI) work. We are not immune.


Taliban fighters have killed four of our community partners, although not always because of their ties to CAI-supported schools. Some CAI projects have been significantly delayed or damaged because of the fighting.

But Taliban have never closed any CAI-supported schools in Afghanistan. It’s a fine line, but an important one.

“The fundamental reason that CAI-supported schools in Afghanistan manage to remain open – we even have new schools opening – is that we work to build relationships with all members of a community,” CAI Executive Director Jim Thaden said. The organization has started, supported, or built more than 100 schools in the country – along with dozens of other programs – in the past decade and, contrary to media claims, nearly all are running strong.

“Our experience underscores the importance of locally driven, inclusive, grassroots community building in any effort to support education – especially in conflict zones.” Thaden said


The question of Taliban impact on CAI’s projects in Afghanistan came up again recently after a Taliban commander named Aimal ordered closure of at least 23 schools, and a teacher-training center in eastern Nangarhar province. Aimal was trying to coerce the government into releasing his detained brother, also a senior Taliban.

Tribal elders in the region, worried about their children’s education, immediately began negotiating to get the schools reopened, Khaama Press reported. The situation was resolved a few days later, however, when Aimal was killed in a U.S. drone strike, Pajhwok reported. The schools subsequently reopened.

Several CAI supporters wondered whether this incident affected CAI’s work. The simple answer, in this case, was no. None of these were CAI-supported schools.

“All CAI schools are open, none of them are closed by Taliban, even in Nangarhar Province, where we have nomad school in an area under control of Taliban,” said Wakil Karimi, who manages CAI’s projects in central, eastern, and southern Afghanistan. At that school, which serves a nomadic Kuchi tribe, “the Taliban district education director monitors the quality of teacher training and subjects, but they are not against any subjects.”

As Karimi’s comments point out, not all Taliban see education in the same light, CAI Co-Founder Greg Mortenson said.

“The media usually lumps the Taliban into one simple category, as in Taliban equals ‘bad guys,’ and it is ‘us against them,’” Mortenson said. “That’s a media-perpetuated myth. It’s much more complex than that. There are big differences between the older, ideologically driven Taliban, viral Taliban, ‘mafia-style’ Taliban, and all the foreign militants who get lumped in with the Taliban. They have many different objectives, ideological severity, tribal identity, funding sources, and geo-political aspirations. It’s like a chess game in constant motion.

“Plus, there are Taliban elders who support CAI schools,” he added. “But really, trying to understand all these nuances is not our mission. Our mission is to promote peace through education. And when it comes to that, the ‘Taliban,’ as lumped into one group, is not our enemy — the enemy is ignorance.”


But that is not to diminish the steep price some communities have paid for their efforts to educate their children.

• Taliban killed two people in Urozgan province: the chokidar (guard) at CAI’s Geno School and the grandson of an elder and outspoken education advocate just outside Kakrak School.
• Taliban killed the headmaster of Saw School in Naray district of Kunar province, near the Afghan-Pakistan border. He died when a remotely detonated bomb exploded on the path he walked to school every day.
• Afghan security forces occupied a CAI-supported school in the Warduj district of Badakhshan province during 2012-13 operations against the Taliban. Students and teachers were temporarily forced out, although classes continued in nearby homes, according to local education officials.
• A large CAI-supported girls’ school in Maidan Shah, Wardak province, was damaged in 2013 when a bomb exploded on a nearby road. No students were injured, but the explosion broke windows and left the building temporarily uninhabitable. Classes continue, with the 950 students studying in nearby houses.
• Fighting also significantly slowed the progress of some projects, extending the construction period over years rather than months. In Urozgan, for example, CAI’s Geno and Kakrak schools have been works in progress since 2010, with frequent interruptions due to security problems.

Unfortunately, Afghans have become accustomed to paying the ultimate price in pursuit of a better future.

“We Afghan people are strong,” Karimi said. “We fight for more than 35 years now. We want peace, but Afghan people will never change by bullet or bombs. And CAI schools are strong because we have connection with elders and community. You have to make friendship with people and help them to get education. CAI understands this better than anybody.”


CAI began working in Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks. While the military goal was to hunt down Osama bin Laden and oust the Taliban government that had sheltered him and his al-Qaida terrorist network, CAI’s goal was to help communities build a better future through education.

At that time, no one had any idea that Afghanistan would still be at war 13 years later, fighting an insurgency that had repeatedly regrouped.

Men Review Figures

Just this year, the extended uncertainty that follow the spring election, before the unity government was installed in September, “emboldened the Taliban insurgency to fill the vacuum and launch yet more attacks,” Reuters news agency reported. By mid-summer, the New York Times was reporting on an increased Taliban presence in Parwan, Urozgan, Kunar, Wardak, Kapisa, Logar, and Nangarhar provinces – all places where CAI works.

These Taliban advances had gone largely “unreported because most American forces have left the field and officials in Kabul have largely refused to talk about it,” the Times reported.

In August, Karimi sent an email to CAI’s office in Bozeman, Mont.: “I got a bad news about Saw Girls’ School in Kunar Naray district, which is damaged by Taliban in last three days fighting. All students are safe, but four local people are injured. The situation gets worse day to day in Kunar and all over the country.”

This fall, Taliban attacked numerous targets in Kabul and other regions, waging what Amrullah Saleh, former chief of Afghanistan’s National Intelligence Service, called a “terror campaign” designed to “force out foreign civilians, shatter the sense of optimism, scare investment away, and remind both Afghans and their allies that the Taliban are creeping at the gates.”


Frustration on the part of war-weary Americans, who wonder if the investment in Afghanistan has been worth it, is nothing compared to the anxiety and battle fatigue felt by Afghans.

Girl Teaches Class

Life in such a chaotic environment – where an entire generation has grown up without knowing peace – requires a lot of hope. For many communities, that hope is best symbolized by a school.

CAI now has 180 projects in Afghanistan, more than half of them under Karimi’s management.

“I am very glad I could build school at most remote and insecure villages in Afghanistan where government and other NGOs were not able to help those poor children who were not able to taste education,” Karimi said. “Some schools have problem, but Taliban could not stop our mission because of close connection with elders, community, commandants, Taliban.

“We are not afraid. We are, all Afghan, proud of our schools. I am proud CAI could help them, even in most insecure provinces in Afghanistan, and support them for long term, inshallah.”

– Karin Ronnow, communications director

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November 26, 2014 – Education heroes rise above hardship in 2014 ‘Journey of Hope’

“My own heroes are the dreamers, those men and women who tried to make the world a better place than when they found it, whether in small ways or great ones. Some succeeded, some failed, most had mixed results… but it is the effort that’s heroic, as I see it. Win or lose, I admire those who fight the good fight.” – Novelist George R.R. Martin

In some parts of the world, just getting up in the morning, putting your shoes on, and going to school is one of the bravest things you can do – especially if you are a girl.

Gul Bahar at her home in the Wakhan Corridor, Afghanistan. Photo courtesy of Erik Petersen.

Gul Bahar does it. The eighth-grader walks three hours each day in the remote mountains of northeast Afghanistan just to go to school.

In Pakistan’s Hunza region, Naseem overcame enormous odds in the wake of a devastating landslide to finish high school and college. She’s about to begin her university degree, determined to earn enough money to help her impoverished family educate her younger siblings.

Rahila, a high school student in Tajikistan’s high-altitude Pamir region, goes about her daily routine without her parents, who moved to Kyrgyzstan to find jobs and send money home.

These three young women are among the more than 100,000 students enrolled in Central Asia Institute – established or – supported schools in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan. They don’t know each other. They don’t even speak the same language. But they share a tenacity for education– despite the obstacles.

They are our heroes.

Their stories are highlighted in this year’s edition of CAI’s annual Journey of Hope magazine, published this month.

“Although illiterate and impoverished communities are often ignored by global society, the communities and individuals profiled in JOH are often willing to do anything to help their children get an education, including sometimes risking their lives,” said CAI Co-Founder Greg Mortenson.

“A society has no chance of success if its women are uneducated. … No chance.” – Novelist Khaled Hosseini

Afghan schoolgirls review a lesson. Photo courtesy of Erik Petersen.

For nearly two decades, CAI has pioneered educational projects and programs in impoverished regions often overlooked by governments and other aid organizations.

In many of these regions, illiteracy has been the norm for generations, restricting access to better health and economic opportunity. Uneducated girls were forced into arranged marriages, relegated to domestic chores, and expected to give birth to a dozen or more children. They had no part in household financial decisions. Unaided, they battled the diseases and grinding poverty that plagued their families. And many died young, often in childbirth.

But much has changed. Mortenson said he sees profound differences in communities CAI serves as the first generation of graduates become parents themselves.

“Educated women have fewer kids, their maternal mortality rates drop, and they create economic opportunities for themselves,” he said. “They are interested in news, politics, and elections. And, most importantly, they encourage their own kids to get an education.”

This year’s Journey of Hope includes statistical information on the benefits of girls’ education and anecdotal evidence of its profound effects on the lives of educated young people, their families, and their communities.

The ripple effect of girls’ education, in particular, is profound, said Shogafa Talash, a chemistry teacher in a CAI-supported school in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Girls and young women identify letters in one of CAI's Kabul literacy centers. Photo courtesy of Erik Petersen.

“Educated women can teach kids before they come to school and they [will] learn better,” she said. “Educated women also make better decisions about their own life and which things are good and bad. It is a big difference when women are educated, this is something clear. Education has helps them know what to eat, they know the value of cleanliness, that it will prevent sickness and not pass diseases one person to another. And if a woman is educated she can help other women, too, in her village to get educated and have a better life.”

On page 45 of the Journey of Hope, Mortenson also writes about the millions of children around the world unable to attend school and the failed international efforts to provide “education for all” as part of the Millennium Development Goals.

Pauline Rose, director of UNESCO’s “education for all” monitoring report, put it this way in remarks to Deutsche Welle (Germany) newspaper: “In the last few years, we’ve gotten complacent,” she said. “Aid to education has slowed, and we’re now in a situation where if we don’t do something urgently, many children are not going to have the chance that they deserve to have an education.”

Children in war zones, including Afghanistan, are especially vulnerable, she said. “Education just isn’t seen as a focus of children who are living in conflict-affected countries. And yet, these are the children who need education the most.”

CAI recognizes the need for urgent action. And we’re doing something about it.

“Even the air of this country [Afghanistan] has a story to tell about warfare.” – Novelist Nadeem Aslam

War and conflict touch – in some way, shape or form – every community CAI serves. The 64-page Journey of Hope includes a review of those conflicts and how they have affected CAI’s work. But in just the short time since we went to press, the ground game has changed.

U.S. President Barack Obama announced last May that the U.S. military role in Afghanistan post-2014 would be limited to 9,800 troops training Afghan forces and “hunting the ‘remnants of Al Qaeda,’” the Times reported.

Students walkig home from school in Tajikistan's Pamir region. Photo courtesy of Erik Petersen.

But just last week we learned that the longest war in American history will not end at the end of this year. The New York Times reported Nov. 21 that Obama has extended the role of American combat troops in Afghanistan for at least another year.

Nevertheless, “The national mood in Afghanistan this year is one of cautious optimism,” Asia Foundation President David Arnold wrote in the preface to the 2014 Survey of the Afghan People.

The survey found – and CAI’s reporting from the field concurs – that security, corruption, and employment are key concerns among the Afghan people. Education plays a huge role in that.

Although much is made of the number of children now enrolled in Afghan schools – up from fewer than a million before 9/11 to 10 million today, according to the Afghan Ministry of Education – there’s still a long way to go.


New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote in March 2014 that surveys indicate most Americans “have lost faith in the idea that American political and military institutions can do much to shape the world.” Instead, they “have enormous confidence in personalized, peer-to-peer efforts to promote democracy, human rights and development.”

We at CAI also believe in the collective power of individuals to bring about change. And that’s where you come in.

Release of the eighth-annual Journey of Hope coincides with our 2014 fall fundraising appeal, a video version of which can be seen HERE. The JOH is a collection of reports on our work, stories from the field, updates, and stunning photos that paint a picture of how your generous support helps in a big way.

The fall appeal is a reminder that we need your help.

Like Gul Bahar, Naseem, and Rahila, the CAI team is determined to get up every morning, put our shoes on, and get to work. We will stay the course. We believe education is the surest path to sustainable peace in the region, and in the world. Will you help?

– Karin Ronnow, communications director

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November 19, 2014 – Safe, Private Toilets at Schools Increase Girls’ Enrollment

Latrines, toilets, loos, outhouses, bathrooms – whatever you call them – are a critical piece of the equation for keeping girls in school.

Photo courtesy of

“One in five children worldwide does not complete upper-primary school,” Anjali Adukia of Harvard University wrote in a May 2014 report “Sanitation and Education.” Yet dropout-prevention strategies often overlook “the most rudimentary of human needs.”

Simply put, “Latrine construction increases student enrollment and lowers dropout for all students.”

Toilets may not be “polite” dinner-table conversation. The subject is even taboo in some places. But at Central Asia Institute (CAI) we talk about toilets all the time because they play a key role in girls’ school enrollment, attendance, and completion.

“Toilets are much important, and top priority like teachers and desks,” said Wakil Karimi, who oversees CAI programs in central, east and south Afghanistan.

When there are no toilets at a school, students – especially girls – and teachers must search for a bush, boulder, or hill to hide behind. Being hidden may give them some privacy, but it also makes them vulnerable to nosey, teasing, and/or aggressive males. And it creates health hazards, spreading disease.

“Over the two decades that I have worked in Central and South Asia, once the students, teachers, and parents get to know you, the discussion of toilets is often on the top of their list, along with access to clean water,” said Central Asia Institute (CAI) Co-Founder Greg Mortenson.

CAI installs basic toilets at its schools, said CAI-Gilgit (Pakistan) Director Saidullah Baig. “More people understand that toilet use is better than using open field or under bushes and rocks.”

But there is always room for improvement when the facilities are rudimentary.

“We visit projects regularly and try to get teachers’ and students’ opinions about their problems and how to help,” he said. “We also realize their needs on the ground when we visit. Sometimes they don’t see solutions but we do. We are learning all the time.”


The United Nations designated Nov. 19 as World Toilet Day to raise awareness of the 2.5 billion people around the world with no access to sanitation and toilets.

The health-related benefits of toilets are commonly understood: they reduce the incidence of diseases such as salmonella, Hepatitis A and E, typhoid, and diarrhea.

“Inadequate sanitation is estimated to account for roughly half of all hospitalizations in the developing world,” Adukia wrote.

Open defecation in particular “perpetuates the vicious cycle of disease and poverty,” according to UNICEF. “Those countries where open defecation is most widely practiced have the highest numbers of deaths of children under the age of 5, as well as high levels of under-nutrition, high levels of poverty, and large disparities between the rich and poor.”

A recent World Bank study also found that exposure to fecal matter “harms infants and stunts the growth of young bodies and minds,” Jaehyang So, manager of the bank’s water and sanitation program, told Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“Our research showed that 6-year-olds [given access to proper sanitation] during their first year of life were more likely to recognize letters and simple numbers on learning tests than those who were not,” said Dean Spears, lead author of the paper.

“Latrines are very important part of all schools,” said Mohammad Nazir, CAI’s Baltistan, Pakistan, program manager. “Important for students, but also for neighbors. When there are no toilets, this is big problem for people who have fields near schools” where students go to relieve themselves.

But a lack of toilets at school has other repercussions, too.

Rather than use the neighbor’s field or find a place to hide, some girls try to hold it, waiting to urinate or defecate until they are in a safe, private place, or until it is dark out to avoid being seen. But that doesn’t always work.

“We have had a number of incidences of young girls, especially the very shy ones, ending up wetting themselves in class,” a primary school teacher in Lesotho, in southern Africa, told UNICEF. “Mishaps like this one don’t just affect the child’s self-esteem but also his/her performance in class. Some may even drop out of school or transfer to schools with better facilities, which could mean a few extra kilometers to walk, exposing particularly girls to more security risks.”

Other girls try to “manage” the situation by not eating or drinking on school days.

“If the absence of a school latrine causes children to refrain from eating or drinking during the day, the resulting discomfort and malnourishment or dehydration may worsen educational outcomes,” she wrote. Plus, “prolonged avoidance of urination or defecation can cause urinary-tract infections, incontinence, or constipation.”


The onset of menstruation marks a turning point for girls in the developing world in more ways than one. Without a safe and private place to deal with their monthly period at school, many pubescent-age girls skip school.

“Girls were observed missing school during their menstrual periods when their school latrines lacked a door,” Adukia wrote. “By contrast, female school attendance increased by 11 to 15 percent following the provision of separate sanitation facilities to girls in Bangladesh.”

The onset of menstruation also signals a girl’s biological capacity to become pregnant, said Dilshad Begum of CAI-Gilgit. In traditional societies, that brings early marriage into play. And marriage usually brings a halt to a girl’s education.

“Many parents think their daughters become adult after she starts menstruation,” Dilshad said. “That is one reason for early marriages and leaving school.”

But if their pubescent-age daughters have access to clean, safe toilets at school, if there are “separate latrines for male and female,” parents have one less reason to pull girls out of school, she said.

Separate-sex latrines are also important to teachers, who use the bathrooms during the school day. Female teachers in particular are more likely to “work at schools, or show up for work at schools where those schools have a functioning latrine,” Adukia wrote.

This matters because “girls do much better in school with female teachers, but often toilets and sanitation for female teachers is ignored, and that discourages women from teaching,” Mortenson said.


Flush toilets are typically out of the question in most of the places where CAI works; there is no infrastructure to support them and no plumbers to call when things go awry.

Pit latrines are sufficient, as long as they are functional, ventilated, private, and clean. And they aren’t particularly expensive. In Baltistan, a basic pit latrine costs about $600 and “good” one costs about twice that much, Nazir said.

Common sense suggests and experience proves that the “good” toilets are what really make a difference. Separate the boys’ and girls’ latrines, add doors and a well, and, voila, the school will see an increase in female students’ enrollment and retention.

“It is imperative that we always design toilets keeping local culture in mind,” Mortenson said.

In the short run, poor sanitation, “especially not having separate girls’ toilets” has proven a key factor in the world’s failure to achieve the Millennium Development Goal of reducing gender disparity in education, researchers at the University of London’s EPPI-Centre noted.

That matters because girls’ education has proven “a necessary investment for a peaceful and poverty-free world,” Pauline Rose, director of UNESCO’s Education for All Global Monitoring Report, wrote in an op-ed for Reuters news agency. “When such inequalities are eliminated, educated girls and young women go on to improve their own prospects and those of their families and communities.”

And isn’t that what we all want for our daughters?

By Karin Ronnow, international communications director

For more information:

The story of Khadija, a Bangladesh schoolgirl, whose educational future beyond puberty was made possible by a toilet: WATCH THE VIDEO

Editor’s note: This story has been revised to reflect that the onset of menstruation signals a girl’s biological capacity to become pregnant, not her capacity to bear children.

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November 14, 2014 – Hope Blossoms in our Backyard

Ask a child what they want to be when they grow up and you’ll get many different answers: a doctor like their mother or father, a cowboy like the ones they see in the movies, or even a superhero from their favorite cartoon. But not Ayden Ebbighausen.

Ayden Ebbighausen, age 11, in Manhattan, Mont. Photo courtesy of Ebbighausen family.

This eighth-grader from Manhattan, Montana, has a different role model: Greg Mortenson.

Humanitarian may not be the first thing to spring to most young peoples’ minds when they hear the word “hero.” But that didn’t matter to Ayden. When he was just 11 years old, he wrote:

“One of Greg’s quotes is ‘promoting peace with books not bombs’, and that is why I think Greg was nominated and should have won the Nobel Peace Prize.”

Greg’s attempt to summit K2, his encounter with the children of a remote village, and the subsequent founding of the Central Asia Institute (CAI) resonated with Ayden, inspiring him to delve deeper into his hero’s life work and write a paper about it.

In his two-page essay, when discussing CAI’s international service-learning program, Pennies for Peace, he astutely noted:

“A penny in the United States is almost useless, however, in Afghanistan it can buy a pencil and give a child the ability to read and write. … Every child in the world deserves an education.”

CAI works in some of the world’s most remote and war-torn regions. Yet, stories like Ayden’s, and his desire to change the world at such a young age, that remind us that important work can be done right here at home, in our very own backyard.

It’s a time-worn cliché, but children really are our future. With young, blossoming humanitarians like Ayden on the job, we think it’s safe to say, our future is in good hands.

Start Your Own Pennies for Peace Campaign

Read Ayden’s Paper

QUOTE: Children are likely to live up to what you believe of them. – Lady Bird Johnson, former U.S. first lady

– Hannah White, CAI communications manager

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November 13, 2014 – Remembering CAI’s philosophizing trailblazer

Sarfraz Khan (1957-2012) was good at many different things, not the least of which was his remarkable capacity to casually articulate some of life’s fundamental and most profound truths.

As Central Asia Institute’s (CAI) most-remote-areas program manager, he worked to promote education, especially for girls, in some of the world’s most challenging environments. He sacrificed time with his family, spending long periods of time in places far from home and way, way off the beaten path.

Sarfraz Khan

But no man is an island.

“When you don’t know what to do,” he once told me, “when something seems impossible, don’t act like you are in control and know what you are doing. Ask people to help you, and you will find your way.”

And that is how he got it done.

He made friends everywhere he went, forging relationships and building alliances among people, including those who could barely stand to be in the same room together. He believed everyone had something to contribute. He showed the way, but always asked for help when he needed it.

Today, on the second anniversary of his death, we remember Sarfraz, our friend, our colleague, and our teacher. And we send our love and prayers to his widow, Bibi Numa, and nine beautiful children: Fozia, Azra, Hassan, Anita, Nawaz, Shenaz, Mehnaz, Gulshad, and Qudrat.

RIP, dear friend. We miss your wisdom, your humility, and your exceptional way of being in the world.

QUOTE: Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much. – Helen Keller

– Karin Ronnow, communications director

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October 16, 2014 – CAI executive director responds to Washington Post story

Dear Editor,

Kevin Sieff, the Washington Post’s former Afghan bureau chief requested and was given extensive information about Central Asia Institute’s (CAI) operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan in the course of reporting his story this past summer. CAI has initiated 400 total projects, 292 of which currently receive support, and 108 of which have been either completed, suspended, or operate independently of CAI. By design, the projects we support are often located in rural, high-conflict regions where poverty and oppression of women’s rights by extremist groups are prevalent. Because of the complicated regions we serve, we expect that not all of the projects will continue to be supported by their communities or the government after we have turned them over. Mr. Sieff and his editors at the Post knew or should have known that, based on the materials provided to you, which are also publicly available. Instead, Mr. Sieff’s article is riddled with inaccuracies, generalizations, and false information that portray CAI as inept and ineffective.

We have no quarrel with the Post, the Associated Press, and NBC for continuing to cover the “Greg Mortenson Fallen Hero” storyline. Apparently they collectively believe “inquiring minds want to know.” It would only seem fair, however, that they not repeatedly paint CAI with the same broad brush, which places CAI in a false light.

It is true that CAI suffered from the growing pains of colossal success from 2009 through early 2011. During this period, while the media was busy hoisting Greg Mortenson on their shoulders like a God, CAI’s revenues grew by over 300 percent and our business processes and procedures, as well as the personal capacity of a small management staff, split at the seams and broke. That has been acknowledged, but that was also years ago.

Since then, under the oversight of the Montana Attorney General’s office, CAI has shored up its systems, procedures and personnel policies, meeting and exceeding every reporting requirement. Today, with several years of successful external audits, tax filings, and management reviews, CAI functions effectively and efficiently; operating at efficiency levels at or above national and international standards. For more details, please visit our website (

Unfortunately, the story of CAI’s perseverance, good works, and an 18-year record of continuous expansion isn’t deemed newsworthy. Instead of telling the story of thousands of young women in war-torn Afghanistan being liberated by literacy and education, Mr. Sieff and his editors at the Post wasted our time, and readers’ time, by treating us all to another tired old tale that does nothing to move us all ahead. Instead of disseminating constructive, newsworthy information, they have diminished the ongoing success of all those who seek to bring about sustainable peace through education. We think we deserve better from the leaders of our national news media.

Jim Thaden
Executive Director
Central Asia Institute

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October 15, 2014 – Education ‘is humanity’s most important engine of improvement’

NOTE: Below is the introduction from the opening pages of the 2015 Journey of Hope calendar. Central Asia Institute is now taking preorders for the calendar, at $12 each, including shipping. ORDER YOURS NOW! All proceeds go toward CAI’s work promoting education, especially for girls, in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan. The calendars are scheduled to ship by mid-November.


“Welcome to Afghanistan, the land of stones,” an Afghan woman told me as we sat down to tea in her house last spring.

“The ‘Land of Stones?’” I asked.

“Yes,” she said, “the Land of Stones, because it is a hard place to live.”

The same could be said for all of the places where Central Asia Institute (CAI) works to promote education, especially for girls, in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan.

Our focus has always been on impoverished, isolated, mountainous areas where few if any other humanitarian organizations dare to tread and government programs are scarce or nonexistent. Many of these historically underserved areas are also plagued by conflict and extremism, which magnifies their isolation. And we emphasize serving girls and women because, as CAI Co-Founder Greg Mortenson says: “You can hand out condoms, drop bombs, build roads, or put in electricity, but until the girls are educated a society won’t change.”

This pioneering work is making an indisputable difference. Because of CAI’s patient and persistent dedication over the past 18 years:

  • Thousands of children have received education; and many of them represent the first literate generation in their families – ever.
  • A growing number of high school graduates are going on to pursue college and university degrees.
  • Women who for years felt trapped in their homes, unable to read and write or make a meaningful contribution to the household finances are now sewing, stitching and weaving their way to a brighter future for themselves and their children.
  • Fewer women die in childbirth.
  • Communities testify to better overall health due to the availability of healthcare workers, a more educated populace, access to medicine, and a new awareness of how clean water and basic hygiene play into the equation.

Journey of Hope Calendar

CAI’s work helping communities develop the tools to help themselves is particularly important in a world increasingly defined by the great divide between the haves and the have-nots.

Studies show that, “By the most meaningful measures – how long we live, how healthy and happy we are, how much we know – life has never been better,” as David Leonhardt wrote in the New York Times Book Review in late 2013. “The share of people living on less than $1 a day has dropped to 14 percent.”

We celebrate the progress. But it’s not enough for us. Even if a person earns $2 or $4 a day, that’s not enough to cover the basic costs of living – food, shelter, clothing and medical expenses. And it means that families face difficult choices, not the least of which is whether to send children to school or put them to work.

We need to do more. CAI’s mission is based on the premise that education is the best way to ensure that everyone has access to economic progress and the related health and welfare benefits that accompany it. As Leonhardt wrote: “Knowledge – which is to say education – is humanity’s most important engine of improvement.”

Journey of Hope Calendar

CAI’s perseverance and commitment are illustrated in the photos in this year’s Journey of Hope calendar. Photojournalist Erik Petersen’s images depict students in our nontraditional Afghan nomad school (January) and others in a classroom at the end of the road in Hushe Valley, Pakistan (March). His photo of a school in the Wakhan Corridor illustrates the stunning beauty of the harsh landscape (February). His photos of children working (June and October) and children playing (August and November) show life outside the classroom.

All of these photos have stories behind them, will be published in CAI’s annual Journey of Hope magazine, due out in November. If you would like a copy of the magazine, let us know and we’ll send you one.

As the woman in Ishkashim told me, Afghanistan is a hard place to live. But despite the obstacles, CAI’s schools, vocational and literacy programs, public health and community programs really are making dreams come true.

Thanks for joining us on another journey of hope.

QUOTE: We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future. – Franklin D. Roosevelt

– Karin Ronnow, communications director

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October 9, 2014 – Taliban kill guard at CAI school under construction in Afghanistan

A chokidar (guard) was killed in September when Taliban fighters attacked construction workers at the Central Asia Institute (CAI)-supported Genno School in Urozgan province, local sources reported.

Genno School, a Central Asia Institute-supported project in Urozgan province, Afghanistan. Photo courtesy of Wakil Karimi.

Ghulam Nabi, 31 and a father of six children, was a “very poor and very brave man” who had lived in Dae Rawood village all his life, said Wakil Karimi,” Kabul-based community program manager supported by CAI.

“Taliban beat the laborers in that school and Ghulam Nabi is killed because of helping labors and protecting school,” said Wakil Karimi. “He had two sons and four daughters.”

One of the most isolated and underserved areas of Afghanistan, Urozgan has been a Taliban stronghold for decades. In 2011, an estimated 382,000 mostly Pashtun people lived in the province, located in semi-mountainous central Afghanistan.

Genno School is 90 percent complete, but the work has taken much longer than anticipated due to fighting and Taliban opposition to education, especially for girls, said Haji Ibrahim, a community leader and education champion.

“There are 22 schools in all this area, but 12 of them are closed by Taliban,” Ibrahim said. “The other 10 schools are running, but no girls’ school.”

Taliban fighters in the area, who include both local and foreign militants, do not control any village 100 percent, “but attack and escape.” They attacked the laborers because “they want to keep people poor and not getting any money for working,” Ibrahim said.

Karimi said work continues on Genno and another school in the village, Kakrak, despite the attack. Both schools have been under way since 2010. The goal is to “finish soon so we will try to deliver them to government as soon as possible. Then we will not be responsible to protect the school,” he said.

Ghulam Nabi’s death was not the first associated with CAI’s efforts to improve access to education in Urozgan. In January, Ibrahim’s 17-year-old grandson, Abdul Basi, was killed by a roadside bomb while walking to the Kakrak construction site.

The 11th grader was the first literate person in his family and supported his grandfather’s work with CAI, Karimi said. The boy attended high school in the provincial capital Tarin Kowt and was in the village visiting family for the weekend.

Urozgan is extremely conservative. Women are rarely seen in public. When they do venture out of their homes, it is under the cover of a burka.

But the demand for education is huge. “Urozgan is one of the neglected and backward provinces in terms of education,” according to Pajhwok Afghan News. “A few numbers of boys and girls go to school. However … people demonstrate keen interest to send their children to school.”

In Dae Rawood, Ibrahim requested “more help for students and more quick-learning centers,” which bring students who missed out on education during the fighting up to age-appropriate grade levels.

Ghulam Nabi is survived by his wife, mother, and six children: Sangeena 11, Rubeena 9, Farzana 7, Ghutee 6, Sardar Wali 3, and Noor Ali 5. The two youngest children are boys. The three oldest girls attend a CAI-supported school now operating in a discrete location.

QUOTE: Causes do matter. And the world is changed by people who care deeply about causes – about things that matter. We don’t have to be particularly smart or talented. We don’t need a lot of money or education. All we really need is to be passionate about something important; something bigger than ourselves. And it’s that commitment to a worthwhile cause that changes the world. – Steve Goodier

– Karin Ronnow, CAI communications director

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October 7, 2014 – CAI uses many of same ingredients found in ‘secret sauce’

People in the international development world, especially funders, are always on the hunt for the “secret sauce” that leads to successful aid programs.

A couple of weeks ago, Duncan Green, a strategic advisor for Oxfam in the UK, identified some new research along these lines. In his From Poverty to Power blog, Green wrote about a September paper entitled “Politically smart, locally led development” from the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), an independent think tank in the UK.

ODI’s David Booth and Sue Unsworth looked at seven large, successful aid programs in search of the ingredients that, when combined, allow NGOs to succeed “despite the odds” working against them.

Experienced staff, experimentation, relationships, trust, local leadership and long-term commitments are just some of the ingredients in successful development projects the world ‘round. Photos by Karin Ronnow.
The research did not include Central Asia Institute (CAI). However, their findings reveal common elements for success that underscore CAI’s philosophy and approach.

Those elements include:
* “Purposive muddling”: Project teams experimented, hit dead ends, and tried something else. Spending and results built up over time. There was a lot of learning from previous failures, which required having experienced staff who knew where the institutional bodies were buried.
* Brokering relationships: Teams invested in the hugely time-consuming effort to establish relationships and build trust and credibility with partners and institutions.
* Politically smart: Leaders were politically well informed and had the skills to use that knowledge effectively. They acquired

Greg Mortenson

their knowledge and skills in a variety of ways (personal experience, commissioned political economy analysis, well-connected intermediaries). * Local leadership: The projects addressed issues with real local salience and solutions were locally negotiated and delivered because project managers allowed local actors to take the lead. There was a common willingness of the funder to take a back seat; donors provided external stimulus and had their own vision of the kind of change they sought to support, but avoided dominating either the agenda (in the sense of specifying what to do) or the process (specifying how to do it). This was critical in freeing the front-line personnel to explore changes that were both worthwhile and tractable.

* Flexible funding: None of the programs were under pressure to meet particular spending targets or timetables. That supported iterative approaches to design and implementation and allowed people to respond to opportunities as they arose.
* Long-term commitments: Funders were willing to make extended commitments and , there was an unusual degree of staff continuity.

“What is the ‘so what’ for donors?” Green asked. How can funders and organizations work together to create an “enabling environment” where local people “who happen to emerge at the right time and place” can actually get things done?

He quoted the ODI paper: “Iterative, adaptive problem-solving requires an underlying relationship of trust between the funder and front line operators: the funding agency must show some willingness to let go. … The good news is that there is nothing inherently new or esoteric about politically smart, locally led approaches that support iterative problem-solving: they have much in common with good policy-making anywhere.

“Indeed it is a measure of how detached the aid business has become from everyday reality that we should consider any of the seven cases remarkable. They show that donors can facilitate developmental change in very challenging contexts, but only if they are prepared to align their own thinking and practices with the uncomfortable reality that processes of developmental change are complex, unpredictable, mainly endogenous, and pervaded by politics.”

We agree wholeheartedly.

– Karin Ronnow, communications director

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October 2, 2014 – 2015 Journey of Hope calendars available for pre-orders

The 2015 limited-edition Journey of Hope calendar is available for pre-order. Each calendar is $12, with delivery available mid-November.

Central Asia Institute 2015 limited-edition Journey of Hope calendar

This year, photographer Erik Petersen and CAI Communications Director Karin Ronnow documented CAI projects in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan. The calendar includes stunning photography of CAI projects, explanations of CAI’s programs, and a map of the areas we serve.

Proceeds from all calendar sales help CAI carry out its mission to promote and support community-based education, especially for girls, in remote regions of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan.

CAI calendars make great gifts and you can help us spread the message of peace through education.


Feel free to call 406.585.7841, email, or send a note to: Central Asia Institute | P.O. Box 7209 | Bozeman, MT 59771, USA.

Thanks for your support.

– CAI staff

Sneak peek at what’s inside:

Central Asia Institute  2015 limited-edition Journey of Hope calendar

Central Asia Institute  2015 limited-edition Journey of Hope calendar

Central Asia Institute  2015 limited-edition Journey of Hope calendar

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August 29, 2014 – Toilets & clean water fundamental to girls’ education

Khadija poses with her class in Bangladesh. Photo courtesy Charity Water.

No toilets + poor sanitation + no clean water = Decreased quality & enrollment in girls’ education.

One of the top three reasons, girls who hit puberty drop out of school is because of a lack of toilets, sanitation and clean water, and yet little initiative or effort is put into fixing this problem.

In Pakistan, 37 percent of all schools have no latrines, 41 percent have no clean water, and 45 percent have no electricity, according to Dunyan News.

According to Dawn, even in urban Rawalpindi district, one of the most progressive places in Pakistan, there are 37 schools without toilets. Pakistan Gender News also reports on the importance of sanitation for girls’ education.

Here is a beautiful, inspiring video about a school in Bangladesh where the community decided to do something a put in toilets and clean water with a profound impact.

– Greg Mortenson, cofounder

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August 29, 2014 – Mortenson on death of dedicated Ebola doctor

Dr. Sheik Umar Khan. Photo courtesy Pardis Sabeti, BBC News.

My prayers and thoughts are with the family of Dr. Sheik Umar Khan, one of the world’s leading infectious disease doctors, who passed away recently after contracting the Ebola virus, which he risked his life to fight.

Khan, a renowned physician, medical school professor, and leader, had rejected a prestigious offer for a Harvard University residency, opting instead to stay on the front lines serving his people to fight the Ebola virus.

When Khan got the Ebola virus in late July 2014, he went to a Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) hospital, where doctors debated whether to give him ZMapp, a drug that at that point had not yet been tested on humans. The MSF doctors decided not to favor Khan over others individuals with ZMapp, and he died within a few days.

In early August, American medical workers Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol picked up the Ebola virus in Liberia, received ZMapp, and within three weeks walked out of Emory Medical Center, cured of the disease.

According to Reuters news agency, 1,427 people have died in the latest Ebola virus outbreak, including at least 100 medical workers who risked their lives to work with the deadly virus.

BBC News also reports on the death of Mr. Khan.

– Greg Mortenson, cofounder

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August 27, 2014 – Malala Fund CEO, Shiza Shahid, inspires us to be the change we wish to see

CAI team members Laura Brin and Sarah Webb pose with Shiza Shahid at the library. Photo by Paula Beswick.

It’s back-to-school time in the United States, which means new beginnings for millions of students and teachers. Here in Bozeman, it has brought lots of talk about the importance of girls’ education in the world.

This week, incoming freshmen and returning students at Montana State University in Bozeman joined local residents at the annual convocation to hear keynote speaker Shiza Shahid, CEO and cofounder of the Malala Fund.

A 24-year-old Pakistani with deep ties to her country and a dedication to education, especially for girls, Shahid is a bit of a rock star in her own right. When Malala Yousafzai was shot by the Taliban for speaking out for her right to education, Shahid rushed to her side.

“I dropped everything,” Shahid said, explaining that she had met Malala a few years earlier, “and never looked back.”

On Monday night, Shahid urged MSU freshmen to focus on three things over the course of their journey as students: growth and development, passion, and power. She wove education through all three, explaining that it is at the root of personal growth, motivates passion, and bolsters power.

Cover of I am Malala, this year's book choice for One Book-One Bozeman. Photo courtesy Hatchette Book Group.

“We are the change we’ve been waiting for,” she said. “There are no superheroes – just us.”

She recalled losing her best friend at age 16 in the 2005 earthquake. Her grief prompted her to volunteer at an earthquake relief center in Islamabad. As the only female volunteer, she was called upon whenever there were “women’s issues” to deal with and frequently helped young girls cope with the disappointment – and shame – that accompanied their male relatives’ insistence that girls could not go outside.

At Stanford University, Shahid continued to fight for gender equality in her native Pakistan. She hosted a girls’ summer camp for 30 girls, including Malala, then 11 years old. Shahid laughed as she remembered the difficulty of planning the event: She had no NGO affiliation, and was simply asking donors to help her cover the costs. But despite warnings that her efforts were dangerous, Shahid never gave up.

Shahid is often referred to as “Malala’s right-hand woman.” She was profiled in the 2014 Forbes “30 Under 30″ social entrepreneurs for her commitment to social change and girls’ education.

Her convocation speech was delivered in conjunction with the assigned reading of the book I am Malala for all incoming MSU freshman. The book was also chosen for the One Book-One Bozeman communitywide read, prompting discussions about gender equality, privilege, and the right to education.

Last week, CAI partnered with the Bozeman Public Library to kick off a series of community events focused on girls’ education. And on Monday night, at a library foundation dinner prior to convocation, Central Asia Institute cofounder Greg Mortenson talked about his life’s work promoting education in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

“Education is the most effective investment, it’s also the cheapest of all the things we can do,” Mortenson said. “If you want to get bang for your bucks, then educate girls.”

He pointed to the increased enrollment in Afghanistan’s schools since 2001.

Mortenson prepares to make his speech at the library foundation dinner. Photo by Sarah Webb

“Before 9/11 there were about 40,000 girls in school and about 800,000 boys in school,” he said. “Today, there are over 10 million children in school in Afghanistan, including 2.6 million females. That is the greatest increase in school enrollment in any country in modern history.”

But, global progress on girls’ education is far from finished. Mortenson cited examples such as Boko Haram, the extremist organization in Nigeria, which still attempts to prohibit females from their right to education.

And he praised the role of books, and libraries, as educational tools. He fondly recalled seeing women read a book for the first time, and said the joy on their faces was “indescribable.”

Both Shahid and Mortenson left us with a powerful message: everyone can make a difference.

On Tuesday morning, the Bozeman community continued its celebration of girls’ education with a talk by Shahid at the public library. Shahid spoke of her work with the Malala Fund and took questions regarding the organization’s progress.

She also publicly thanked CAI for its dedication and leadership on girls’ education in Pakistan.

CAI is honored to be included in the community events on girls’ education, and grateful that this topic has been brought into the Bozeman spotlight over the past month. As Shahid reminded us in her presentation at the library, “change is slow” and is often difficult to wait for.

Together, we are headed in the right direction.

QUOTE: “One child, one teacher, one book, and one pen can change the world.” – Malala Yousafzai

– Sarah Webb, communications assistant

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August 22, 2014 – Malala’s biography inspires talks about girls’ education

Photo by Carmine Leighton.

The late-summer thunderstorms cleared just in time Thursday afternoon for the Central Asia Institute (CAI)-Bozeman Public Library kickoff celebration of One Book-One Bozeman (OBOB) and celebration of girls’ education.

Children blew bubbles and helped illustrate the sidewalks on the large plaza outside the library in downtown Bozeman while some of the older kids wrote pen-pal letters to CAI students overseas and young and old jotted down their ideas for CAI’s Global Chalk Campaign – all to the steady beat of bluegrass music provided by Backwoods Dreamers.

The library and Montana State University (MSU) invited CAI to participate in OBOB this year after organizers selected “I am Malala” as the 2014 feature book.

Photo by Carmine Leighton

“The story of Malala Yousafzai’s determination to get an education in Pakistan and her fight for girls’ education is a good match with CAI’s mission,” said CAI Executive Director Jim Thaden. “The purpose of OBOB is to connect community members along a common theme and we are proud to be included. Plus, we are thrilled to see so much energy and discussion going into the expanded understanding of the importance of girls’ education, especially in the developing world.”

Upcoming events in the OBOB programming include:
* Aug. 25: Shiza Shahid, CEO of the Malala Fund, will speak at MSU’s freshman convocation at 6:45 pm; tickets are required.
* Aug. 26: Shahid will speak at the city library at 8:30 a.m.; CAI staff, including Greg Mortenson, will also attend to talk about girls’ education.
* Sept. 16: CAI will lead a community wide evening program about girls’ education at the library.
* Sept. 29: Karin Ronnow, CAI communications director, will join a panel discussion on women’s voting rights. Hosted by the League of Women Voters, the event begins at 7 p.m. in the library community room.

– By Sarah Webb, CAI communications assistant

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August 18, 2014 – Join the international education effort to get every child in school

Photo by Erik Petersen.

Every child has a right to go to school. Yet around the world, millions of boys and girls never have the opportunity to see the inside of a classroom or achieve even basic literacy.

That’s why Central Asia Institute (CAI) is encouraging all its supporters to join #EducationCountdown , a 500-day international campaign urging world leaders to fulfill their promise to get every child into school and learning by 2015.

Campaign organizers chose today, International Youth Day, to launch the campaign urging fulfillment of Millennium Development Goal (MDG) #2, which calls for boys and girls everywhere to receive at least a primary education.

“As we approach the 2015 deadline, 58 million children remain out of school,” according to campaign organizers. “Hundreds of millions more are not learning. At the current rate of progress, it will be 2086 before the last girl is able to attend primary school. This is unacceptable. We must accelerate efforts to get every child into school and learning.”

Pakistan, for example, has the second-largest number of out-of-school children in the world; 32 percent of its children are not receiving education, according to A World at School. And the quality of education received by those enrolled is often marginal: one of every eight Pakistani children cannot recognize basic digits after two years of schooling.

As the MDGs target date draws closer, many are taking a hard look at their relative success and failure. No doubt these arguments will be debated for some time. However, CAI believes one of the greatest accomplishments of the MDGs was to put the issue of education front and center on an international development agenda.

Photo courtesy A World at School

We know that education helps to advance social justice objectives: girls’ rights, poverty alleviation, health, economic empowerment, conflict resolution, and child labor, among others. By urging governments everywhere to enroll children in school, the MDGs have raised awareness of the crucial role education plays in building a better future for all.

However, progress has stalled on the education goal, as noted by A World at School, so this campaign was conceived as a way to revitalize efforts.

“We are here to make education the No. 1 priority,” according to the campaign. “We believe education is the key to opportunity and the right of every child.”

How do they plan to do it? “We make noise and champion the work done to accelerate progress in education. We share stories, highlight challenges and … turn to our network to mobilize support. We engage with governments,” organizers said. Ultimately, “We form a relentless campaign that will not stop until every child is in school and learning.”

CAI urges everyone to take action and help us keep education at the top of the list of development priorities.

To accomplish the goal, the campaign urges people to take the following steps:
1) Pledge your support for the #EducationCountdown here.
2) Change your social media profile photo to show your support here.
3) Sign up for updates here.

And send CAI your photos and stories of how you, your classmates, friends or coworkers are taking steps to help protect every child’s right to an education.

Make noise! Help us raise the volume on the call for Education for All.

– Karin Ronnow, communications director

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August 7, 2014 – Central Asia Institute Publishes its 2013 Annual Report

Dear Friends of CAI,

I write as the new Executive Director of Central Asia Institute (CAI) with a positive report and message to accompany our 2013 financial statements.

In April 2011, CAI suffered a nationally televised assertion of widespread wrongdoing by a powerful reporting source. Within months, the Office of the Attorney General of Montana (OAG) had launched an investigation that resulted in a voluntary settlement that required CAI make specific improvements to its governance, management, and operations systems. These changes have all been made. A civil suit also resulted from this report; but in October 2013 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit upheld a lower federal court judge’s ruling that the lawsuit stemming from the media accusations contained “imprecise, in part flimsy, and speculative” claims and theories and permanently dismissed the claims.

But, CAI was far from vindicated. Grave damage had been done. These allegations directly led to a devastating 80% drop in CAI donations and CAI’s reputation was significantly harmed. Yet, in spite of this onslaught of adversity, CAI learned from its mistakes and has survived and is living up to its promises to be an improved, more transparent, and efficient organization.

CAI grew rapidly from 2007 through early 2011. With an extremely lean management team and a rapid pace of growth, the organization’s management made some noteworthy mistakes in judgment during this period. Yet it is worth remembering that in the 18 years since its inception, CAI has provided funds to build 191 new schools and pioneered another 208 education and community-service programs. This is an accomplishment nearly everyone, including CAI’s critics, regard as nearly miraculous. Today, contrary to accusations in the press, CAI remains committed to the hundreds of schools, projects, and programs it built and/or currently supports. And most importantly, that ongoing commitment means that even now, tens of thousands of students, mostly girls, are enrolled in school.

Photo by Erik Petersen.

CAI learned some important lessons from this experience. In addition to addressing all of the actions required in its agreement with the Montana Attorney General, the Board of Directors and employees have gone far beyond these to verify that every penny donated is accounted for, making numerous improvements in financial and operating systems. CAI goes through an annual, rigorous audit and has recruited well-schooled and experienced additions to its domestic team. Finally, CAI has developed a new respect for the necessity of conforming to and complying with regulations and reporting requirements in the United States and each of the countries and provinces it serves.

As you will see in the pages that follow, CAI made substantial improvements in every facet of operations in FY 2012/2013, with one vitally important exception: Donations remained depressed. The favorable federal court ruling came too late in the year for CAI to reverse the tide of negative donor perceptions in 2013.

But time is a healer and CAI has proven its resiliency. Armed with the decision of the courts, in FY 2013/2014 CAI expects to halt the downward trend in donations while simultaneously consolidating its gains in international operations.

It is an honor and a privilege to be part of the resilient team at Central Asia Institute. We love our mission and the people we live to serve. CAI does frontline work in regions where the need for literacy and education is desperate and where few others dare to tread. Many times this work is difficult and dangerous, and the difficulties and dangers increase daily. I am filled with personal admiration for each and every member of the CAI team. Every day, I see them working with energy, enthusiasm, and a deep sense of commitment to the worthwhile cause of promoting peace by enabling literacy and education.

CAI is on the move again. We hope you will join us, or re-join us, on this marvelous Journey of Hope*. We look forward to walking this path with you and the good people of the mountainous regions of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Tajikistan.

Jim Thaden
Executive Director
Central Asia Institute.

CAI’s Annual Report, the full audited financial statements, and Tax Form 990 are also provided on our Financials Page.

* Journey of Hope is CAI’s annual magazine. Visit to register for a free subscription.

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August 4, 2014 – Early childhood development (ECD) reaps rewards for girls in Pakistan

“Click Photo to View Video”

There’s no disputing it: Children who learn to count and recognize letters of the alphabet before they start first-grade get the best start in life — academically, socially, physically, and intellectually.

And these benefits to the individual child are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the merits of investing in early childhood development (ECD).

“We know ECD helps prepare children for better success in school and in life,” said Dilshad Begum, a CAI-supported program director with Central Asia Institute (CAI) – Gilgit in northern Paksitan. “And we know it helps build better society in the long term.”

When CAI first began its work in the mid-1990s, its focus was on primary education, with an increasing emphasis on girls. As those students climbed the academic ladder, communities began to ask that the CAI-supported primary schools be expanded to include middle, then high school classes. In some communities, CAI has even built and supported higher-secondary or college-level schools.

But at the same time, there has been a growing awareness in regions where CAI works of the value of ECD, or preschool, classes.

The greatest opportunity for helping disadvantaged children “attain a more equal start in school” is during “the earliest years of life,” “when children’s brains are developing most rapidly, and the basis for their cognitive, social and emotional development is being formed,” according to Unicef.

Preschool classes prepare children for success by nurturing their “physical, social and intellectual development” at a critical time, said Nahida Ikram, an ECD teacher and trainer who has helped CAI-Gilgit.

Children “who don’t learn to read and write in the first few grades become handicapped learners who struggle in school and quit,” Ikram said.

In addition to prepping children for academic success, ECD classes have proven community benefits, according to the World Bank.

Photo by Ellen Jaskol

“Higher levels of social and emotional functioning encouraged by ECD programs make them a highly cost-effective means of strengthening society as a whole by ensuring that it’s individual members live up to their full potential,” the World Bank reported. This is especially true in underdeveloped and impoverished areas. “There is mounting evidence that interventions in early childhood particularly benefit the poor and disadvantaged.”

Of particular importance to CAI are the benefits to girls and women. Investments in early childhood development: Lead to more girls entering primary school; Increase enrollment rates for older sisters, by reducing the need for child care at home;And increase female labor force participation, by freeing up mothers to take paid work.

Thus far, CAI’s greatest investments in this arena have been in the Gilgit region, including this school in the Chapurson Valley. The school was inspired by Begum, an ECD-certified teacher, and community program manager Saidullah Baig.

“I think it is more accepted here because the whole region is more open minded,” Ikram said. “Now girls are in school and have gone to many countries for education, no problem. It depends on the area where you are working if this is accepted or not. Here we accept early the new things.”

QUOTE: “Let us think of education as the means of developing our greatest abilities, because in each of us there is a private hope and dream which, fulfilled, can be translated into benefit for everyone and greater strength of the nation.” – John F. Kennedy

– Karin Ronnow, communications director

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July 14, 2014 – CAI Celebrates Malala Day

Photo courtesy Malala Fund.

“As we celebrate Malala Day on July 14, I have both hope and heartbreak. I thought we had hit a turning point in our history, that never again would a girl face what I had to face.”

Malala Yousafzai recently wrote these words in anticipation of the day set aside to commemorate her determined battle for girls’ education. Two years ago, the Taliban shot Malala in the head as she returned home from school in her northwest Pakistan village. She was 15 years old.

Since then, Malala has pursued her own education while speaking out on behalf of girls’ education around the world. “I know education is what separates a girl who is trapped in a cycle of poverty, fear and violence from one with a chance at a better future,” she wrote.

She’s right. Education is the first step in preventing child marriage, reducing maternal and infant mortality, and promoting female empowerment.

“My birthday wish this year is that we all raise our voices for those under oppression, to show our power and to demonstrate that our courage is stronger than their campaign of fear,” she wrote.

Join Central Asia Institute in wishing Malala a happy 17th birthday. You can also support Malala and her #StrongerThan campaign. It’s time to raise our voices to stop international oppression of girls. Learn more about her #StrongerThan campaign.

QUOTE: “No student, anywhere, ever, should be a target of conflict or violence. Let us all lay down our weapons.”
– Malala Yousafzai

– CAI Staff

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July 10, 2014 – CAI’s blog No. 1 in international nonprofit PR competition

Graphic courtesy PR Daily.

Central Asia Institute’s Communiqué is “a winning blog” replete with “compelling narratives about the people it works with,” according to judges of PR Daily’s 2014 Nonprofit PR contest.

Those judges named the Communiqué winner of the Chicago-based publication’s “Best Blog” award. They called it “a vivid reminder of just what a blog can do to promote the work of a nonprofit, not only in this remote but geostrategic region, but around the globe.”

“For the past 16 years, CAI has pioneered schools, education and literacy programs in the most remote and often dangerous regions of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Tajikistan,” said Jim Thaden, CAI’s executive director and a former Rand McNally senior executive.

“We think we best tell the stories of the people we serve through compelling narrative and creative images and we are very grateful for the recognition of our efforts by PR Daily.”

More than 200 organizations around the world participated in the contest, according to Danielle Schultz, award programs manager at PR Daily.

“A girl living high in the Himalayas gets surgery to repair a hole in her heart. Rural teachers study map reading. Children attending an Afghan tent school become the first literate generation of their seminomadic community,” the judges wrote. “These are some of the stories featured in the blog of the Central Asia Institute. Along with a compelling design, they won the institute the gold in the Best Blog category.”

Photo by Erik Petersen.

The blog is edited and primarily written by Karin Ronnow, CAI international communications director, with contributions from Co-Founder Greg Mortenson and Communications Assistant Sarah Webb. It was launched in 2011 as another way for CAI to share news, profiles, feature stories and photos from the field.

“Sustaining peace in these long-troubled regions is vitally important to the rest of the world,” Thaden said. “CAI believes peace is best promoted by liberating people through literacy and the free access to information. We admire the hard work of everyone who helps to tell the truth of the goodness of the people of this region. And we also admire those who give them hope by sharing their stories throughout the world through the global media.”

Contest winners will be featured on PR Daily’s website, where banner ads will also direct people to the Communique, according to Danielle Schultz, award programs manager at Ragan Communications, which publishes PR Daily. A list of all the winners is posted on online.

QUOTE: “After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.” – Phillip Pullman

– Karin Ronnow, communications director

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July 3, 2014 – Embrace Ramadan’s spirit of gratitude, humility, and self-restraint

Just as summer has finally arrived in the mountains of Montana, Central Asia Institute’s Muslim friends around the world have begun to observe the month of Ramadan.

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic (lunar) calendar and represents the historic period during which the Koran was revealed to Prophet Muhammad. The Koran is “the sacred scripture that Muslims revere as the words of God,” Imam Sohaib Sultan, of Princeton University, wrote for Time magazine this week.

“For most of the rest of July, it is Ramadan in the Islamic world, and the focus is on faith, humility, sacrifice, and forgiveness,” said Greg Mortenson, CAI Co-Founder. “Most of the communities we serve observe Ramadan. Even the schoolgirls and teachers observe the fast, but continue on with their education.”

Wakil Karimi, a CAI manager in Afghanistan, said by phone, “Children are taught to observe Ramadan from an early age as one of the five pillars of Islam. But they also learn that the first word of the revelation of Allah in the holy Koran is Iqra – the Arabic word that means ‘read’ – and that education should be a top priority of all Muslims.”

Muslims observe the holiday with extra prayers and by fasting from sunrise to sunset each day, from Suhour, the meal before dawn, to Iftar, the meal after sunset.

As the faithful do not eat or even drink water throughout the day, work slows down during this time in the places where CAI works, Mortenson said. People are tired, having gotten up early to eat before sunrise and stayed up late each night to break the day’s fast. Plus, when Ramadan falls during the summertime, it coincides with power outages in the areas that have electricity, which means no fans or air conditioning on these hot summer days.

“I’ve spent about seven Ramadans in Pakistan or Afghanistan over the past 21 years and often fast with my colleagues,” Mortenson said Wednesday. “During this time, things often fizzle out midday. Everyone is quasi-functional and expectations of productivity are down, however the personal introspection helps renew hope and perseverance. For me, this time has special meaning as a time to slow down, serve the poor and neglected, have reconciliation, introspection and reflection, to make amends, repent, and forgive.”

For non-Muslims, particularly those in the hard-charging Western world, it is important to respect this period of spiritual renewal, he added. CAI Executive Director Jim Thaden agreed.

“Here in the USA, CAI is invigorated and continues to forge ahead with great determination, yet during Ramadan we make an extra effort to do our work with humility and respect,” Thaden said. “Energy and direction are important, but so too is respect for the spirit of the season celebrated by our friends and family.”

Photo by Erik Petersen.

The universality of the Ramadan message is important, said Iram Shah, a Chicago-area member of CAI’s board of directors. For Muslims, this is a time for soul-searching and charity, but the principles are shared by people of all faiths around the world.

“I pray that this holy month brings health and happiness to all, regardless of religion or belief, as we are all so close, with the same fears and hopes,” she said.

All the Abrahamic faiths are represented on CAI’s board, which includes three Muslims: Shah, Talat Khan, and Farid Senzai,.

“Ramadan is about love, sacrifice, devotion, forgiveness and caring,” Khan, a retired chemistry teacher from the San Francisco Bay area, said. “It is patience, charity, effort, and one month in a year to try to be a complete human.”

Gratitude is of particular importance during Ramadan, and Karimi took the opportunity to thank CAI and all its supporters “for the gift of education to the poor, which is the most precious and holy gift anyone can give us, to provide a future of hope and peace.

“Peace is important to everybody, but especially to families here, who worry everyday whether their children will return home from school, or be injured or killed in suicide bomb, roadside bomb, or shooting,” he said.

Because the Islamic world uses a lunar calendar, the dates of Ramadan change each year on the Gregorian calendar. This year it began on June 29, when the first crescent of the new moon was sighted, and will continue through late July.

QUOTE: I think it is only important to love the world, not to despise it, not for us to hate each other, but to be able to regard the world and ourselves and all beings with love, admiration, and respect. – Hermann Hesse

– Karin Ronnow, international communications director

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June 26, 2014 – Video highlights evening of bluegrass, bubbles, chalk, and education

Six-year-old Nolan says education should be a right for all children, “so they learn.”

In etching his answer on a chalkboard in Bozeman, Mont., last week and then posing for a photo, Nolan joined hundreds of children and adults all over the world who have participated in CAI’s Global Chalk Campaign.

And he’s the opening act in this video of CAI’s gathering.

“Click Photo to View Video”

The chalkboards were just one activity that stormy June evening. The event was held at Red Tractor Pizza, which generously donated space, free pizza samples, and fountain drinks.

As Nolan wrote his answer, other kids were whirling and twirling to the foot-tapping bluegrass music by the Backwoods Dreamers, which also donated its time and talent.

Sidewalk chalk art, bubbles, and a raffle for CAI swag rounded out the evening.

CAI is extremely grateful to all of our local sponsors who have made the Global Chalk Campaign such a great success. We feel very lucky to have the support of so many Bozeman businesses and individuals. Our sponsors include: Red Tractor Pizza, the Backwoods Dreamers, Wild Joe’s Coffee House, Leaf & Bean, Lockhorn Hard Cider, Rockford Coffee, International Coffee Traders, The Daily Coffee House, and The Gem Gallery. And we would like to thank Irving Elementary School for donating extra chalkboards for our campaign.

Shukria. Tashakur. Thank you.

– CAI staff

(Video Credit: Erik Petersen 2014)

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June 19, 2014 – Young woman pioneers agriculture studies at Karakoram University

Khalida looks for a book in the library at the hostel where she lives while attending university in Gilgit. Photo by CAI/2013

At first glance, Khalida Darwar, 25, looks and acts like other female students at Karakoram International University (KIU) in Gilgit, Pakistan. She wears layers of brightly colored shalwar kameez (two-piece, pajama-like tunic and pants), pulls her long hair back in a braid, and lights up the room wherever she is with a happy smile.

Perhaps a bit unusual is that she often wears tennis shoes instead of the low-heeled leather shoes popular with young women. And she is always on the move.

What sets Khalida apart from her classmates is that she plans to get an advanced degree in agricultural sciences, and return to serve her people in northern Pakistan’s Hunza Valley with improved agriculture and farming methodologies. She is also the first female in her family to get an education. Her father was killed in service with the Pakistan Army when she was just 7 years old.

Since early childhood, Khalida has wanted to be a farmer. “It’s the only thing I ever wanted to be,” she said. “Since I was a little girl in Hussaini village, Upper Gojal, I’ve loved farming and animals, and I told my father Ghulam and mother Shah Bibi that I always wanted to be a farmer.”

Najma Najam, former vice chancellor of KIU, said, “Khalida is an exceptional student and one of our bright stars, and we are excited she is paving new grounds in a profession typically reserved for men.”

Khalida’s family has always supported her pursuit of education, however being quite poor, they often had to pool their resources and make significant sacrifices for Khalida to remain in school. They also made her work hard tending the goats and sheep, and fields of buckwheat, barley, wheat, and potatoes.

Terraced fields make efficient use of limited space and water in northern Pakistan. Photo by Erik Petersen/2013.

For centuries the Hunza, Burushushki, and Wakhi people of northern Pakistan have farmed on alluvial terraces that cling to the steep mountain terrain. The terraces are irrigated with an intricate system of dykes that channel glacier melt and spring water through the fields and provide the alkaline soil with water and nutrients.

About 75% of Pakistan’s roughly 180 million people are directly or indirectly linked to agriculture, according to the U.N.’s Food and Agricultural Organization.

However, in recent decades, more farmers are looking to produce cash crops, which puts excess stress on the soil, nutrients, and limited water supplies. It is not sustainable.

“Two and three generations ago, my ancestors practiced more sustainable farming, and were aware of rotating crops and using local fertilizers to keep the soil fertile,” Khalida said in a phone interview. “But now people are more interested in money instead of sustainability.

“We grew up in a paradise for farming, and had buckwheat, barley, corn, wheat, spinach, herbs, lettuce, cabbage, carrots, potatoes, mustard seed, cherries, mulberries, apples, pears, apricots. My brother, two sisters and I did almost everything related to farming – planting, weeding, fertilizing, watering and irrigation, cutting grass, picking fruits, canning, and making jams.

Khalida walks with other students and professors from KIU's agriculture and food science department. Photo by CAI/2013

“We mainly grew the potatoes as a cash crop, and ate the rest or traded with our community,” Khalida said. “Besides farming, we had cows, sheep, and goats and we all took turns as shepherds to take them into the mountains to graze and protect them from predators.”

Her middle school was a 30-minute walk from home. “I was so happy to go to school, I sometimes would run to save time,” she said. “The teacher that inspired me the most in middle school, and really inspired me to get into agriculture, was Sir Firasat Shah. He taught me to believe in myself and follow my dreams.”

However, her daily walk to Al Amin Model High School, was twice as far, and took her about an hour each way. Khalida said she used the time to memorize some of her math and science problems. “We had to walk, as there was transportation problem, being girls it was security issue to take lift from any strangers,” she said.

Khalida receives a Central Asia Institute-supported scholarship for her studies at KIU. The university was established by President Pervez Musharraf in 2002 as the first higher degree institution in the region, and has 2,400 students in bachelor’s to PhD programs. Approximately 100 professors and education staff serve in 16 academic departments.

Although she has a scholarship, Khalida still has a hard time making ends meet. Sometimes paying fees on time, buying extra lab equipment and reference materials is difficult. And she does not have a laptop computer, which makes it hard to compete with other students, “As an orphan girl I face many problem as you know in our society,” she said.

But she is determined. “My strongest subjects are agriculture, horticulture, soil science, and statistics. I basically like all my subjects, and love to learn more. Since all of our society depends on agriculture, I will always have a job and can help our society improve. Food is important, it is the substance of life that God has given us to enjoy. In these modern times, people are eating more and more unhealthy food, and it is causing health and nutrition problems.

The girls at the hostel organize an impromptu cricket game. Photo by CAI/2013.

“When I get done with my BSc honors program, it is my dream to go to a developed country like Europe or America and learn advanced technology and techniques so I could return home and influence the agriculture of my own region.”

Even though Khalida got married this year, she plans to continue her studies, “He and his family support my education, as much as I want to go, including a PhD. Many women are not allowed to continue their education after they get married, but his family believes that education is top priority in life.”

When asked what her dream is, Khalida said, “The biggest dream in my life is to serve my people, who are basically poor and suffer in many regards, especially nutrition and farming. Even in my short lifetime, I’ve seen our land turned into barren fields and farmers out of greed to make money do not try to farm in a sustainable way.

“There are many challenges we face in the future, but I am excited to make difference with sustainable agriculture after I complete my studies,” she said.

QUOTE: Agriculture not only gives riches to a nation, but only the riches she can call her own. – Samuel Johnson

– Greg Mortenson, CAI Co-Founder

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June 5, 2014 – Maternal mortality miracles empower Afghan women

Marika, 20, with newborn baby in Faizabad hospital. Badakhshan Province. Photo by Paula Bronstein, Getty Images.

KABUL, Afghanistan: Over the many trips that I have made to Afghanistan and Pakistan over the past two decades, the question I often ask women is, “What is most important to you and how can we help?”

You would think that a woman would say she wants prosperity or a good husband or list some desired material or luxury goods.
But in Afghanistan, women consistently tell me three things, “We want peace, we want education, and we don’t want our babies to die.” More recently, I’ve learned that they desperately fear dying in childbirth and being unable to take care of their babies.

Although there has not been peace in this war-torn country since 1979, I’ve witnessed two dramatic and inspiring changes since my first trip to Afghanistan 13 years ago: a surge in school enrollment, and a substantial decrease in maternal mortality rates.

The number of students in school, according to the Afghan Ministry of Education, has increased from around 800,000 before 9/11, to more than 10 million today, which makes it one of the greatest increases in school enrollment in any country in modern history.

But the decline in maternal mortality rates is simply a miracle. Just a decade ago, the Afghan Ministry of Public Health states, 1,600 of every 100,000 births ended with the death of the mother. In 2013, “only” 327 of every 100,000 women died while giving birth.

NOTE: School enrollment figures vary from 8 million to over 10 million, depending on the source (Afghan government, United Nations, World Bank, USAID), and the situation in a given area (security, displacement, and funding are all contributing factors). Maternal mortality rates also vary and it is difficult to ascertain the number of women in remote rural villages who die during childbirth with no trained provider to help them.

The Afghan Midwives Association (AWA) attributes the reduction in maternal mortality to the introduction of about 3,500 trained midwives who often provide critical services in remote areas where there is little or no health care. Other factors are increased literacy, and improved roads, cellphone, and public health awareness. However, Afghanistan still needs and hopes to at least double the number of midwives to 7,000 in by 2020, and then up to 20,000 later.

Bano and Parveen, CAI maternal health care providers in Wakhan, review a training manual. Photo by Greg Mortenson, 2013.

“When we lost my aunt during delivery, it really motivated me to pay more attention to the rural areas, where women have no resources or hospital or even trained midwives to help,” Victoria Parsa, AMA executive director and a midwife since 2004, said at a recent AMA conference.

Parsa has worked relentlessly to get more midwives in Afghanistan, especially in the rural areas, and more recently has been advocating for increased awareness of and treatment for debilitating fistulas, which are often the result of child-brides having babies at very young ages.

Remote Badakhshan province, home to about half of CAI’s Afghan schools and projects, previously had one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world at 6,000 deaths per 100,000 live births. But that figure, too, has dropped dramatically, to an estimated 1,000 deaths/100,000 births.

“Now that we are starting to have the first wave of literate and educated girls in high school and beyond, we are prepared to get as many local educated women as possible into maternal healthcare training,” said Pariwash Gouhari, CAI’s manager in the Badakhshan’s Wakhan Corridor and one of the region’s first educated females. “But the problem is that there are few programs like that in Afghanistan.”

In the isolated and remote Wakhan, CAI has helped train and supports two maternal healthcare providers. These two brave women, Bano and Parveen, have essentially reduced the maternal mortality in their villages from several women per year to zero or one. Bano and Parveen’s villages have no phone, electricity, Internet, or potable water.

Last fall Parveen said to me in her village of Wargeant, “It’s not just about the delivery. What really makes a difference is what we do every day to educate the mothers and children about hygiene, nutrition, and sanitation. Also, since nearly all the pregnant women are anemic and suffer from malnutrition, we get angry at their husbands who don’t want to share meat, eggs or protein with their wives – sometimes I carry a big stick with me to make that happen”.

Dr. Suraya Dalil, Afghanistan minister of Public Health, is also a fierce advocate for midwives. She recently received the Global Leaders Council for Reproductive Health’s Resolve Award for leadership in expanding health service access.

Rahima discusses infant and maternal mortality in CAI women’s literacy center. Photo by Greg Mortenson, 2014.

Ironically, the maternal mortality rate in the United States maternal mortality rate in the United States has simultaneously risen sharply, from 7.2 deaths/100,000 live births in 1987 to 18.5 deaths/100,000 live births in 2013, according to a University of Washington study. The US maternal mortality rate is double that of Saudi Arabia and Canada.

Women’s literacy also helps reduce maternal mortality, as literate women are more aware of their own and their children’s health, can read educational materials and medical directions, and more. CAI has established women’s literacy centers – some in formal settings in buildings and others in teachers’ homes. Some of the women are afraid to tell their husbands that they are learning to read and write for fear they will be beaten or shunned. However Nasima, a women in a CAI literacy center near Kabul, said her illiterate husband quickly changed his mind when Nasima was able to help him enter names and numbers on his cell phone.

Rahima, a widow who teaches a CAI woman’s literacy course in a rural house courtyard packed with women, also teaches her students about infant and maternal mortality. Last week Rahima told me, “None of my women had literate mothers, many have lost their babies at an early age, and nearly all of them had someone in their extended family die in childbirth. That is my fight, not only for peace through education, but to prevent unnecessary death.”

Clean drinking water at CAI school in Kapisa Province. Photo by Greg Mortenson, 2014.

As a former nurse and advocate of home births and midwifery, being in the presence of confident midwives in Afghanistan or Pakistan easily ranks among the most moving experiences I’ve had over the past 21 years of working in these regions.
When I visit most CAI schools in rural Afghanistan, about 80 percent of the girls say they want to become doctors. Another 10-15 percent want to be teachers (not desired due to low pay), and the others police, lawyers, engineers, businesswomen, journalists, farmers, and even pilots.

Few of the girls have ever heard of midwives, so I have encouraged some of these high school girls who want to be doctors to consider becoming midwives, especially in villages without healthcare. In the months and years ahead, we plan to encourage our teachers to motivate female students about midwifery and have midwives visit some of our schools to talk to students about careers in this noble profession, so that the miracle of life and fulfillment of one of the women’s main wishes continues.

QUOTE: Only mothers can think of the future – because they give birth to it in their children. – Maxim Gorky

– Greg Mortenson, CAI co-founder

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May 19, 2014 – CAI school headmaster, advocate of girls’ education, killed by militants in Afghanistan

Saw school under construction, Ghulam Faruq, second from right. Photo by Wakil Karimi.

“When a great man dies, for years the light he leaves behind him lies on the paths of men.” – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

With a heavy heart, I write to inform you that Ghulam Faruq, headmaster of Central Asia Institute’s (CAI) Saw Village School in Afghanistan’s Kunar province, was killed by militants on May 6 as he walked to school that morning.

Villagers said Ghulam died immediately. It was Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) fighters who deliberately targeted him with a remotely detonated bomb that exploded on the trail he walked every day to the school in Kunar’s Naray district, according to CAI’s sources in Saw village. He left behind a wife and eight children.

I had the honor to meet with Ghulam twice in Kabul. He was in his 50s, a handsome, engaging man with a silver beard. He was a battle-hardened, former mujahedeen (fighter), who fought the Soviet occupation in the 1970s, yet had a humble spirit. While many tribal leaders are known for their speeches and talking, Ghulam was known for his listening skills.

A well-educated man with a college degree in teaching, Ghulam was the area’s greatest advocate for education, including for girls. Today, more than 50 percent of the approximately 400 students at Saw School are girls, although enrollment rises and falls depending on the security situation. Saw is in the mountains near the porous Afghanistan-Pakistan border, right along the corridor for militants who come from Pakistan to attack U.S. and Afghan forces and then retreat back across the border.

Baba (respected elder) Ghulam Faruq. Photo courtesy of his family.

Ghulam started the community-run Saw School a decade ago, using tents and rented rooms in a mud-brick house as classrooms. The school had no government support at that time.

In September 2007, I received an e-mail from Col. Chris Kolenda, who is now CAI’s new senior international advisor and a former U.S. commander at Forward Operating Base (FOB) Naray, near Saw village. He wrote about the dire need for education in north Kunar and Nuristan provinces, which at the time was a hotbed of fighting, conflict, and Taliban cross-border attacks.

Two months later, Wakil Karimi and the late Sarfraz Khan, former CAI manager, made a difficult, dangerous journey to meet Kolenda and discuss a CAI school with villagers. Jirga meetings ensued between Ghulam, religious leader Malik Akbhar Khan, elders, government officials and even the Taliban. All parties agreed to support a community school, built by CAI. A Naray district chief, who even had a son in the Taliban, helped secure the local Taliban’s cooperation and agreement not to attack the school or harm the students.

In 2008, CAI built Saw School, which became a catalyst for a school in nearby Samarak village, and other villages in Naray district, even though it remained a region of considerable turmoil. The school grew thrived. More and more students enrolled, especially girls.

Then in 2012, more TTP fighters started to cross the border from Pakistan into Kunar province. Compared to local Taliban, who were more ideological, the TTP began a ruthless campaign to extort money, food, supplies, and shelter from the villagers, kidnap for ransom and/or kill local Afghan civilians.

In June of that year, TTP militants “arrested” CAI teacher Mualeem Hayatullah and Malik Akbhar Khan, conducted a short illegal tribunal, charged them with spying for the Afghan government, and executed them. The men left behind two widows and 14 children. Afghan and U.S. forces later killed the TTP fighters responsible for the men’s deaths.

Saw community school students. Photo by Wakil Karimi.

Mualeem (teacher) Hayatullah was the first CAI teacher killed. Now Ghulam is the second. According to locals, both teachers were killed, not because they taught girls, but because they refused to concede to extortion. Saw community is in mourning, and has lost an education pioneer and leader, but plans to continue on with the school. The Afghan Army, Naray lashkar (vigilante), and even local Taliban are determined to find the men who killed Ghulam for justice and revenge.

This senseless murder of our dear brother Ghulam is a huge loss, and difficult to process. He was not a polarizer, but a consensus builder. Ghulam was a true tribal Pathan Kunari, never cut off communication with his enemies, and tried to solve problems through dialogue and mediation. His courage and resolve to support girls’ education, in the middle of a conflict zone, and with antagonistic forces at work against him, is his lasting legacy.

Please remember Ghulam’s family in your thoughts and prayers. May Ghulam’s light of hope through education and Iqra (‘read’ in Arabic) never be forgotten.

– Greg Mortenson, CAI co-founder

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May 14, 2014 – Executive changes strengthen CAI’s management and strategy team

BOZEMAN, Mont. –Central Asia Institute (CAI) this week announced executive-level staff changes, aimed at continuing to build the international NGO’s long-term commitment to community-based education and empowerment.

On Tuesday, CAI announced that Development Director James T. Thaden has been named interim executive director.

In addition, Christopher Kolenda, an expert on international operations and strategy in regions where CAI works, has joined CAI as its senior advisor for international affairs, a new position.

“Both Jim and Chris are very well qualified to help guide CAI’s ongoing work to promote education and literacy, especially for girls, in the remote and underserved parts of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Tajikistan – a very important and strategic part of the world,” CAI Board Chairman Steve Barrett said. “Their combined experience and leadership will be enormous assets as we reignite CAI’s engines and move ahead into the next phase of the organization’s evolution.”

Thaden, 61, brings to CAI a wealth of executive-level experience in both for-profit and nonprofit business sectors. He has been a key national and international executive level leader at Graphic Packaging, Rand McNally Media Services, McQueen International, and Discovery Place.

Kolenda, 48, adds a new dimension and depth in international operations and program development to CAI’s management team. He served as senior advisor on Afghanistan and Pakistan to the U.S. undersecretary of defense for policy and to three International Security Forces-Afghanistan (ISAF) commanders. In his advisory role for CAI, he will help craft and communicate strategy to sustain and strengthen its overseas projects.

“Jim Thaden has a particular expertise in building the necessary infrastructure which allows organizations like CAI to continue to carefully grow and achieve their mission over the long term – and CAI is committed to the long term,” said Greg Mortenson, CAI’s co-founder. “I’m very happy to see Jim taking on this new role at this time.

“Chris Kolenda has been a friend of CAI since 2007,” Mortenson said. “His exceptional leadership skills along with his relationships and understanding of the nuances of managing operations in Afghanistan will be invaluable. His input at the strategic level for CAI, especially amid the current transition in Afghanistan, will help insure our continued success in achieving CAI’s long-term mission.”

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May 13, 2014 – CAI considers best way to help Afghan landslide victims

Photo Courtesy of Afghanistan Express.

Central Asia Institute continues to monitor the humanitarian relief effort in Ab-e-Bareek village in northeast Afghanistan, where torrential rains triggered landslides that killed hundreds of people and left thousands homeless.

Afghanistan’s worst natural disaster in a decade occurred May 2 in a remote village in the Badakhshan province’s Argo district. CAI supports dozens of projects in the province, but none in the Argo district.

“We want to express our deep sorrow for the families affected by this disaster,” CAI Executive Director David Starnes said this week. “CAI is surveying the situation on the ground to determine how best to be of meaningful assistance without interfering or disrupting efforts of the UN and other well-positioned disaster-relief organizations that are the best at responding to such events.”

Janagha Jaheed, the CAI-supported project manager in central Badakhshan, is consulting with government and charity disaster-relief agencies. If and when CAI decides to contribute directly, our efforts will be mission-oriented, focused on providing support for children to continue to have access to education.

The Ab-e-Bareek school in Badakhshan was not destroyed by the landslide, “but it is 90 percent at risk of more slides so students won’t go to it anymore,” Jaheed said.

CAI’s history of post-disaster assistance includes setting up tent schools in northern Pakistan’s Hunza River Valley after a massive landslide in 2010 damned the river and created a lake, flooding numerous villages. Later that year, CAI also assisted hundreds of victims of the epic Pakistan floods.

Photo Courtesy of Khaama Press.

Most significantly, after the earthquake in Azad Kashmir in 2005, CAI quickly set up some temporary tent schools and later pre-fabricated earthquake-proof structures so children could continue their education during reconstruction. Some of those temporary structures are still being used as a lack of government funding has limited construction of new schools.

“In times of disaster, often the physical needs of food, shelter and medicine are met, but education needs come last, and children sit around with nothing to do,” said CAI Co-Founder Greg Mortenson. “Simply putting up tents, rounding up a few teachers and getting a few supplies or slateboards can be an enormous psychological boost and galvanize a mourning community to focus on the future.”

The Ab-e-Bareek disaster actually included two landslides. After the mountain broke loose the first time, people in the area rushed in to help those buried by the wave of mud and rocks. Just 20 minutes later a second landslide occurred, and the rescuers were buried alive along with area residents, according to news reports. About 300 homes were destroyed, and 500 to more than 2,500 people were killed.

The numbers vary so much because no one “could say exactly who was home and who was out,” the Guardian reported.

Photo by Shah Marai/AFP/Getty Images.

“The disaster site is going to be left as it is, essentially a mass grave,” the Wall Street Journal reported Sunday.

For those who did survive, the situation is bleak. Many are now homeless and hungry. Even if their homes were not buried, many people are terrified of returning for fear that the visible cracks in the mountain will lead to another slide.

“Right now we have nothing except our life and we are very scared” of another landslide, Ab-e-Bareek resident Mohammad Zia told Dawlat Mohammad, a CAI representative who visited the area last weekend. “Our children are much afraid. They need help. Their school is not destroyed but it is at risk and we cannot send them to that school anymore.”

Provincial and national government agencies, the United Nations, and the Afghan Red Crescent Society have served as first responders to the disaster, delivering medical care, food, water, tents, blankets, and other supplies, according to news reports.

“The scene was very sad and noisy because people were trying to find their dead relatives, but they did not have any useful equipment except one dozer that was very weak,” Dawlat said. “They were also not satisfied with distribution of the aid and support, so they were shouting at government and other NGOs to help them.”

The chaos reportedly escalated and the relief effort was temporarily suspended amid “a host of problems,” including whose names were on the list to receive aid, the New York Times reported. However those issues appear to have been resolved for the time being.

QUOTE: Love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation. – Kahlil Gibran

– Karin Ronnow, communications director

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May 13, 2014 – David Starnes resigns as Executive Director of CAI

Central Asia Institute (CAI) announces the resignation of David Starnes as the Executive Director effective immediately. David has served an integral role in moving CAI forward in pursuit of its purpose of supporting education in remote areas of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan. Jim Thaden, Director of Development, will serve as acting Executive Director in the interim. CAI is grateful to David for his hard work and role as a critical change agent for CAI. CAI wishes the best for David in his future endeavors.

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May 5, 2014 – CAI partners with Red Tractor to promote education, good food

Photo by Sabre Moore, Central Asia Institute.

Education should be a right for all children because “Everyone deserves to shine!” says Red Tractor Pizza co-owner Tiffany Lach.

Lach’s contribution to Central Asia Institute’s (CAI) social-media campaign, the Global Chalk Campaign (GCC) Global Chalk Campaign (GCC), came amid the grand opening of her new brick-oven-baked pizza restaurant in Bozeman, Mont. Dozens of people gathered on a rainy Saturday evening to enjoy pizza samples and live music. CAI was the featured charity at the event.

With the iconic red tractor behind them, Lach then joined CAI Executive Director David Starnes for a photo. Their photo (seen at right) is one of hundreds collected and posted online to promote discussion of the question “Why should education be a right for every child?”

The festive event included pizza samples, fresh from the restaurant’s one-of-a-kind brick oven. Selections included BBQ Chicken and the Hot Hawaiian, an old favorite spiced up with the addition of pickled jalapeños and honey drizzle. All the pizzas, including the gluten-free varieties, are made with local ingredients.

Under a canvas canopy outside the restaurant, the band BozoMojo entertained the crowd with Latin tangos and 1930s-era swing tunes, followed by bluegrass music by Flatt Cheddar.

Photo by Sabre Moore, Central Asia Institute.

Alongside the temporary stage, CAI Communications Assistant Sarah Webb handed out chalkboards and chalk and asked people to join the campaign. Chalkboards were also available inside for visitors to offer their thoughts while feasting on a slice of pizza.

A few people had to mull the question with the help of a glass of beer, provided by Red Lodge Ale for the grand opening. Their answers ranged from “Education is art,” by Loretta to “Every child has something unique to contribute and deserves the chance!” by Sahara.

After writing their thoughts, people of all ages had their photos taken by the red tractor.

CAI’s Bozeman staff joined the fun, too. Development Director Jim Thaden wrote, “Education is Growth.” Greg Mortenson, co-founder, chose to pose with a fire hydrant with the words, “Education lights the fire within.”

Lach, who also owns Bozeman’s Sola Café, and Adam Paccione opened Red Tractor Pizza at 1007 W. Main St in January. Hailing from New York City, Paccione brought a passion for pizza and has been dubbed the Pizza Magician.

“Adam works very hard to connect with local farmers to bring fresh ingredients to Red Tractor,” Lach said.

Photo by Sabre Moore, Central Asia Institute.

Red Tractor serves more than 15 pizza varieties, many with gluten- and dairy-free options, as well as salads and desserts. The New York-style thin crust is hand tossed and made from organic Montana grains. New creations are added regularly, depending on the availability of ingredients.

After the event, Paccione offered his thoughts for the Global Chalk Campaign.

“Education goes beyond the classroom,” he said, “In my opinion it’s also important that kids are educated with the knowledge they need to know about growing good food.”

The Red Tractor already has a display of GCC contributions, including many from students at Bozeman High School, which is just around the corner from the restaurant, and will host a benefit event for CAI’s ongoing efforts to promote education, especially for girls, later in May.

“I want to thank Tiffany and Adam for allowing CAI to participate in their big event, and for their support of education as a right for every child,” Starnes said.

QUOTE: Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much. – Helen Keller

– Sabre Moore, executive/administrative assistant

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May 1, 2014 – CAI Launches its 2014 Spring Campaign

Photo by Erik Petersen.

Asalaam Aleikum. Peace be with you. Spring has finally arrived in the mountains. Trees and flowers are blossoming, the air smells sweet, and the songbirds are singing. It is indeed a season of renewal, rebirth, repentance, and charity.

In many of the remote mountain villages of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Tajikistan that Central Asia Institute (CAI) serves, early spring is bittersweet. Food stocks are depleted, immune systems are weakened, and snow has meant months of isolation, far from medical care. Too often, babies die in the spring. Yet the season also brings hope and optimism as students head to school for the start of a new academic year.

Sixteen years after the first CAI-supported school opened its doors, we have reached a critical milestone in our efforts to work toward stability and sustainable peace through education – especially for girls. With the support of many thousands of individuals just like you, we have educated a generation of young people, and today our first students are becoming teachers, health workers, and leaders in their communities.

Shakeela is a good example. She attended the CAI-supported school in her village in northern Pakistan. She then received a CAI scholarship for higher education. Now 25, married, and the mother of a little girl, Shakeela is the sole healthcare provider in a valley not far from her childhood home.

“Mostly my work is to give help delivering babies, sometimes in my clinic, sometimes home delivery,” she said. “I cover 16 villages – the whole valley.” She knows women are more likely to die in childbirth if there is no midwife present. So when the call comes for help – she gets there.

Shakeela is among a growing cadre of young CAI graduates who take risks and make sacrifices to sustain the mulit-generational change required to build a better future. Yet their continued success depends upon people like you who see the value of this powerful positive change – especially now.

Photo by Erik Petersen.

May 1 marks the official start of CAI’s 2014 Spring Campaign. We are asking for your help to raise $650,000 by Sept. 30, 2014. CAI is unique in that the majority of our funding comes from individual supporters; we have not accepted any government funding. By making a one-time or recurring donation today, you can continue to participate in this essential life-changing work.

Just before he left Afghanistan last year, Gen. John Allen, former commander of U.S. and NATO forces, told Reuters news agency that improved access to education was one of the most important accomplishments in Afghanistan in the past decade. “Here’s an opportunity for this young generation … to grow up in an environment where education is inherent in who they are,” he said.

This is an opportunity we cannot afford to miss. With ongoing instability in Pakistan, and U.S. forces withdrawing from Afghanistan, the prospects for extremism and violence will likely increase.

But CAI is committed to sustaining the enormous investment in the future that we have made together. Local heroes like Shakeela and other CAI graduates can be counted on to carry the ball on their end, but they need our help. And there’s so much work yet to do.

Please give generously. Every penny you donate to this campaign will go exclusively to CAI’s overseas programs, unless otherwise specified by you.

The children and their families thank you.

Follow the progress of the Spring Campaign here.

QUOTE: “Love only grows by sharing. You can only have more for yourself by giving it away to others.” – Brian Tracy

– CAI Team

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April 30, 2014 – Community and CAI open new high school in eastern Afghanistan

Photo by CAI Afghanistan.

A new 12-room Central Asia Institute (CAI) -supported high school was inaugurated in Safed Sang village in eastern Afghanistan’s Logar Province this month.

In speeches and prayers, the students and teachers, community leaders, and the provincial governor, education director, and police commander praised CAI for its contribution to a better future, CAI-Afghanistan Director Wakil Karimi said.

“The physical fight has finished,” local elder Haji Jan Mohammad said. “It is the time of the pen and the book. The person who has knowledge will be strong and will have power. So it is important for all of us to send boys and girls to school to get education. If we want a strong and a developed Afghanistan, we should give education to our children.”

Photo by CAI Afghanistan.

The new school has eight classrooms and four teacher-administrative rooms, five toilets, and a water well, Karimi said. It will accommodate all 1,618 students, 28 teachers, six administrative workers, and three janitors. The new structure replaces an old, six-room school that was so overcrowded that students had to attend in three shifts.

Safed Sang is in Logar’s Mohammad Agha district, south of Kabul. The region’s population is mainly Pashtun, and classes are taught in that language.

The area desperately needs more schools. In 2012, Afghan Minister of Education Dr. Farooq Wardak encouraged CAI Cofounder Greg Mortenson and Karimi to consider establishing more schools in Logar. Even though Logar is close to the capital in Kabul, ongoing violence has curtailed other nongovernmental organizations’ work there and the Afghan government faces a severe lack of funding for schools. CAI has four schools in the province, including Safed Sang.

Literacy rates in Logar are low – 31 percent for men and 9 percent for women, according to the Afghan Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development. The Kuchi population, a nomadic group, in Logar “has particularly low levels of literacy with just 5.6 percent of men and 0 percent of women able to read and write.”

Photo by CAI Afghanistan.

Although there are 236 primary and secondary schools in the province, only an estimated 45 percent of children between 6 and 13 are enrolled in school – 30 percent are boys and 13 percent are girls, according to the ministry. Three-quarters of the schools are boys’ schools.

However, a report by Pajwok (Afghanistan) newspaper last summer said the number of schools in the province had increased to 266, including 85 schools for girls. Yet “as many as 88 schools have no buildings, forcing the students to get education in rented houses.”

One resident complained that in his village, the “girls’ school has no building, forcing the kids to study in tent or open sky in this scorching heat. He said that owing to the problems, his daughter stopped going to school.”

Other problems include shortages of textbooks, professional teachers, and teacher housing.

As for security in the area, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan recently “reported that the security situation in Logar province is not good although it is stable in some districts. The biggest risk is anti-personnel mines for military forces and attacks by opposition groups operating during the night,” according to the Afghan Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development.

Taliban briefly kidnapped some of the carpenters and masons working on a CAI-supported project in 2012, Mortenson recalled.

But during construction of Safed Sang school, Karimi said, “We did not have any problem with security because there were many police and army” in the area around the school.

Security was out in force, too, for the inauguration ceremony, which marks the official handover of the project to the Afghan government.

QUOTE: Knowledge will bring you the opportunity to make a difference. – Claire Fagin

– Karin Ronnow, communications director

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April 29, 2014 – Devastating floods leave thousands homeless in northern Afghanistan

People trapped on roofs as flash floods destroy villages in northern Afghanistan’s Jowzjan province. Photo by Navid Nazari | BBC.

Flooding caused by heavy spring rains killed more than 180 people in northern Afghanistan this past weekend, according to news reports and a Central Asia Institute (CAI) supported project manager.

Two days of torrential rain triggered the flooding that began Thursday April 25. The remote province of Jowzjan – 242 miles northwest of Kabul, on the border with Uzbekistan – has been the hardest hit. But flooding has also been reported in Faryab, Sar-e-Pul, and Badghis provinces.

CAI does not have projects in the area.

Dozens of people were still missing as of early this week, and local authorities said exact information on the most remote areas was still hard to come by.

“Thousands of people remained on the roofs of their mud houses and due to so much floodwater, there was no way to come away,” Janagha Jaheed, the project manager in Badakhshan province, said after seeing news reports of the flooding. “As their houses are made of mud, they face much risk of damage and destruction of houses [dissolving] into the floodwaters.”

Although no CAI projects were affected, “these types of disasters often have severe implications for education, as people are displaced and schools are often destroyed,” said CAI Cofounder Greg Mortenson.

A man carries his belongings after floods devastated northern Afghanistan. Photo by Mustafa Najafizada | AP.

Rescue helicopters worked the area, the BBC reported, and carried hundreds of people to higher ground in neighboring districts. The helicopters, provided by the Afghan military, were also able to help with distribution of food and other emergency supplies.

Jaheed said local officials and media are asking for help from national and international NGOs, companies, UN agencies, government, and individuals.

“In Jowzjan province, floods caused many human, animal, agricultural and economic casualties,” he said. More than 3,000 houses were destroyed and “25,000 people are displaced and they have nothing to eat, wear, or place to stay.
“The roads are damaged and closed. Thousands of domestic livestock – sheep, goats, and cows – are dead. And farmland has washed away. Help is needed for those who have lost everything, to save those on the roofs, and also to help find those people who are missing,” he said.

AFP | 2014.

Local officials reported shortages of drinking water, food and medicine, Agence France-Presse reported.

Flooding is not unusual during the rainy spring months in northern Afghanistan. Earlier in April, rains combined with a minor earthquake triggered a landslide in Takhar province, killing four people and destroying around 100 houses, AFP reported.

Unfortunately, natural disaster is just one of many hardships Afghans face every day, Jaheed said.

“It is so hard to watch the men, women, and innocent children in Afghanistan dying, being kidnapped, and facing so many more problems,” he said.

Afghan Red Crescent Society:
Save the Children:

QUOTE: How strange it must all have seemed to them, here where they lived so safely always. They thought such a dreadful thing could happen to others, but not to them. That is the way. – William Dean Howells

– Karin Ronnow, communications director

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April 22, 2014 – Educated, confident, and determined Afghan women cast their votes

Women at a CAI-supported literacy center in Kabul display their ink-stained fingers after voting in the April 5 election. Photo by CAI-Afghanistan.

Motivated by a desire for change and empowered by their hard-won educations, women and girls from Central Asia Institute’s (CAI) Afghanistan schools and literacy centers joined the millions of voters who turned out for their country’s historic national election this month.

“Almost all the women from my village who were eligible to vote, voted,” said Noor Banu, a CAI high school student in northeastern Badakhshan province. “I voted because I am tired of watching other Afghans die every day while the president is silent. I want someone who really cares about us – our country and people.”

Gul Nisa, 19, walked for an hour and a half to reach the polling station near her home in Badakhshan’s Ishkashim district. Like Noor Banu, it was her first election. And her CAI-supported education gave her the tools to participate in a meaningful way.

“Most of the women in my village voted, but many must ask their husbands who to vote for because they are illiterate and don’t know who to choose,” said Gul Nisa, who also attends a CAI girls’ high school. “This was not the same with those who are educated, like me. I think we better understand about politics than the older, uneducated women of my village.

“But we all voted because we believe the next president will bring peace and make a better life for everyone in Afghanistan,” she said.

Nearly 40 percent of the 7 million Afghans who cast votes on that rainy Saturday were women. They challenged traditional gender roles. And they defied Taliban threats to disrupt the election.

In Kabul, women stood in line for hours waiting for an opportunity to cast their votes.

“At the time of distribution of election cards, my husband didn’t allow me or our daughters to [register],” said Rohgul, CAI literacy center student in Kabul. “But I said, ‘I am a member of Afghanistan people and I have the right to vote.’ On Election Day, my daughters and my daughter-in-law and I went together to the polling place and gave our vote.”

Their ink-stained fingers (Afghan voters’ fingers are marked with blue ink to prevent repeat voters) became a symbol of their defiant participation in the election. “Social media was overrun with women in blue burqas raising blue fingers,” Farishte Jalazai of Radio Free Europe reported.

Young people, too, posed for photos with their inked fingers and uploaded them to Facebook and Twitter, the Guardian newspaper reported.

Afghanistan’s youth – 68 percent of the population is under age 25 – were particularly motivated to participate, Uri Friedman wrote in the Atlantic magazine April 4. “These young people appear to be more concerned with building the country’s future than litigating its past.”

Women queueing to vote in Afghanistan’s Herat Province. Photo by Aref Kharimi/AFP.

“About 1.5 million Afghan youth are unemployed,” Ehsanullah Hikmat, of the Kabul-based Young Activist Network for Reform and Change, told Friedman. “What are the schemes for this unemployment? What are the schemes for the economics of our country?”

Back up north in Badakhshan, Fahira, a 12th-grader at a CAI girls’ school, was so invested that she volunteered as an election monitor at one of the women’s polling places in her area.

“Especially women and girls now know better their rights and the importance of their vote,” she said. “We voted because we hope life will get better by our vote.”
“Education does make a difference, and these young people – inspired by [CAI] schools – are seeing changes that their generation must address,” said Martha Church, former president of Hood College, and lifelong advocate of female education, wrote on CAI’s Facebook page.

It wasn’t all good news. In some areas, voters were turned away at the polling places when ballots ran out and male relatives insisted women stay at home.

“In my village most of the Ismaili women voted because their families let them, but the Sunni women were not able to vote because their families and husbands didn’t let them,” said CAI student Sahira, 18, who lives in a rural village in Badakhshan’s Ishkashim district, “But I voted because I am 18 and am able to vote and choose the better president for my future.”

Education gives women a voice, CAI Cofounder Greg Mortenson said, “and it was certainly true in this election. Afghanistan has come a long ways in the past 13 years since 9/11. The number of girls in school has increased from under 100,000 to about 3 million today. Nearly all the people I’ve been in contact with in Afghanistan, especially the women, were excited and proud to participate in these elections.”


The Afghan Constitution prevents President Hamid Karzai from pursuing another term in office. Photo by Mike Theiler/UPI.

In the months leading up to Election Day, presidential candidates campaigned with rallies and speeches, and via proxies in the remote areas.

The April 5 ballot included eight candidates vying to replace President Hamid Karzai, who served for 12 years and is banned by the constitution from seeking a third term. Votes are still being counted, and Afghan election authorities are investigating complaints of voting fraud. If no one candidate receives a majority – 50 percent or more – of the votes, a runoff election will be held for the top two candidates, with the presidency going to the winner.

The news media played an unprecedented role in this election, Reuters news agency reported, as did live broadcasts of debates.

“Most of the people knew about different candidates because there were a lot of debates on TV among the candidates and people watched with interest,” Sahira said. “Also there were a lot of posters about candidates in bazaar and village.”

Social media made a difference, too. “Campaigning via social media and mobile technology have, for the first time in Afghan electoral history, become critical components of the race,” Friedman wrote, adding that in 2013 there were 2.4 million Internet users in the country, up from 2,000 during the 2004 election.

Students at a CAI’s women’s literacy center in Kabul. Photo by Ellen Jaskol.

Despite the proliferation of information, some Afghans were still inclined to choose their candidates based on religion or ethnicity. In the Baharak district of Badakhshan, “Unfortunately, as I saw, most of the people voted for ethnicity,” said Feroza, manager of the CAI-supported Baharak Learning Center. “For example, all Uzbek people in our area vote for Dr. Ashraf Ghani because his first vice president is Dostum, who is an Uzbek leader.”

But many women defied the tradition of voting based on the recommendation of their husbands or fathers, local mullahs or commanders.

“My father said, ‘Give your vote to Dr. Abdullah,’” said Soghra, a student at a CAI women’s literacy center in Kabul. But I gave my vote to the candidate whom I like because he is talented. I voted according to my wish.”

Soghra and her classmates said the literacy program helped them understand the democratic process and their role in it. “Because of the literacy class we know our rights,” Soghra said. “We know we are citizens of Afghanistan and have right to participate in deciding our country’s future. And because of literacy class, we can study the candidates and give our vote to our choice.”

In Badakhshan, too, education made the difference, Feroza said. “Surely education and literacy programs, general information and awareness helped the women to vote their choice and participate in the election. People voted for their hope to have a better life and a government by their votes.”

“Education has changed my ideas and my friends’ ideas about politics and democracy,” Noor Banu, the 12th grade student in Ishkashim, said. “My [illiterate] aunt had to ask my uncle who to vote for. But I read about what is going on in my country and the world. Being educated helps you a lot in choosing your candidate yourself.”

These changes don’t happen quickly, noted Church, a longtime CAI supporter. Today in the United States, for example, 30 percent of the nation’s university and college presidents are women and female students have begun to outnumber men on campuses. But, she said, “This took hundreds of years to happen.”

Likewise, this first generation of literate voters, especially in remote areas of Afghanistan, represents the evolution of democracy in Afghanistan, she said. “The young women and men who graduated from CAI schools are part of a new generation that is much more aware of all the needs ahead for Afghanistan and all its citizens, women and men.”

Note: According to Afghan media, at the time of this post, former foreign minister and physician Abdullah Abdullah leads the polls with 44 percent of votes, ahead of former finance minister and World Bank official Ashraf Ghani, who has 33 percent of the vote.

– Karin Ronnow, communications director

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April 14, 2014 – Uniting behind education


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.


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.


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


You can see the amazing array of answers to the question on the Global Chalk Campaign’s own Facebook page:

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.


“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.”


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 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.


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.


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.


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




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.


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.


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


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.


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.


“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.


“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 17, 2014 – Teachers discover wonder of maps

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


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.”


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.


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.”


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.


“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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