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In 1993, mountaineer Greg Mortenson attempted to climb K2, the world's second highest mountain, located in the Karakoram range of northern Pakistan, as a way of honoring the memory of his deceased sister, Christa. As a memorial, he had planned to lay her amber necklace on the summit of K2. After more than 70 days on the mountain, Mortenson and three other climbers had their ascent interrupted by the need to complete a 75-hour life-saving rescue of a fifth climber. After getting lost during his descent, alone, he became weak and exhausted. Instead of arriving in Askole, where his porters awaited, he came across Korphe, a small village built on a shelf jutting out from a canyon. He was greeted and taken in by the chief elder, Haji Ali of Korphe.
To repay the remote community for their hospitality, Mortenson recounted in the book that he promised to build a school for the village. After difficulties in raising capital, Mortenson was introduced to Jean Hoerni, a Silicon Valley pioneer who donated the money that Mortenson needed for his school. In the last months of his life, Hoerni co-founded the Central Asia Institute, endowing the CAI to build schools in rural Pakistan and Afghanistan.
According to the book, Mortenson faced many daunting challenges in his quest to raise funds for the building of more than 55 schools in Taliban territory. Some of these challenges included death threats from Islamic mullahs, long periods of separation from his family, and being kidnapped by Taliban sympathizers.
Reflecting on the state of a post-9/11 world, Mortenson advocates in his books and during his speaking engagements that extremism in the region can be deterred through collaborative efforts to alleviate poverty and improve access to education, especially for girls. Formerly in Afghanistan and Pakistan, schooling focused on boys. Because educated boys tend to move to the cities to find jobs, they seldom return. By contrast, educated girls tend to remain in the community and pass their enhanced knowledge to the next generation, thus, Mortenson suggests, educating girls has more of a lasting benefit for their community.
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