Local Students Raise Money for Distant Schools

By Beacon Staff

Venue Change: The evening AAUW fundraiser for Greg Mortenson’s Central Asia Institute will now be held at Glacier High School at 7:30 p.m.

For almost a year, an eight-foot aluminum peace pole has stood propped up in the Flathead High School choir room, as organizers waited for the right time to place it in front of the building’s main entrance. Such an occasion is finally here.

Last week, the 12-sided pole was planted in the ground. Black engravings on its sides read, “May Peace Prevail on Earth,” in 10 different languages, while the final two panels commemorate the Glacier Waterton International Peace Park. Just behind the pole, tucked into a small enclave created by the school’s recent addition, is the new Peace Garden. Created by the high school’s international baccalaureate students, the garden is meant to be a mixture of Montana and Asian culture, including river rocks, wildflowers, a life-size Zen garden for raking and a Japanese bridge.

“Things just kind of fell into place; we had the peace pole and the baccalaureate students were finishing up the peace garden, but the right occasion to dedicate them hadn’t really come along,” Kevin Allen-Schmid, the FHS choir director, said. “But, with the chance to bring Greg Mortenson here, we thought that would be the occasion. He’s an international peacemaker and is achieving that through schools.”

Greg Mortenson with Gultori schoolchildren in Pakistan.

Mortenson, a Bozeman resident, is the founder of the Central Asia Institute, which supports community-based education, especially for girls, in remote regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan, and co-author of the best-selling book “Three Cups of Tea.” The book chronicles Mortenson’s failed attempt to climb Pakistan’s K2, the world’s second highest mountain in the Karakoram range. While recovering in a local village called Korphe, Mortenson met a group of children sitting in the dirt writing with sticks in the sand and made a promise to help them build a school.

From that promise grew a humanitarian campaign that, as of last year, has created over 61 schools in rural and often volatile regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan, providing education to more than 25,000 children, including 14,000 girls who previously enjoyed few education opportunities.

In March, the Kalispell branch of the American Association of University Women launched one of Mortenson’s fundraising programs, Pennies for Peace, in several of the valley’s schools. Students at Flathead High School had already begun the program. The fundraiser encourages students to become “penny pinchers,” collecting and saving small change to support the Middle Eastern schools. The idea, Mortenson says, is to build cross-cultural understanding and, through a solution-oriented approach, show students they can make an impact on a global scale.

“Our mission is to support the equity of women primarily through education,” Linda Harris, of the local AAUW, said. “What Greg Mortenson is doing for women in Afghanistan and Pakistan is very consistent with that mission.”

Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin.

Last week the AAUW began collecting money from a dozen schools. The group’s goals was to raise $20,000 through the schools and fundraising. The schools built by Mortenson’s Central Asia Institute enroll boys and girls with an emphasis on community-based learning. Students learn to read and study math, science, health and social studies, all with the ultimate hope of building prosperous and peaceful communities. According to CAI, it takes only $5,000 a year to support a school in Afghanistan or Pakistan, including all school supplies, maintenance and upkeep. A teacher’s annual salary is covered by about $600. And a penny buys a student a pencil.

Mortenson will make several public appearances in Kalispell Thursday, May 22. At 1:40 p.m. at Flathead High School, students will hold a dedication ceremony for the new Peace Garden in front of the school. Mortenson will speak about his projects and the high school students will describe the process of the garden’s creation and its purpose through poems and readings. The high school’s choir will also perform. Then, at 4 p.m., Mortenson will sign books and speak at a tea reception in the Glacier High School library. Both events are free and open to the public.

AAWU is also hosting an evening fundraiser for CAI at Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church. Mortenson will be speaking at 7:30 p.m. describing his work in Central Asia and the local group will present the monies raised from the schools. Tickets for this event are $30 and must be purchased in advance at Books West.

For the students at Flathead High School, Thursday will be the kick off for what they hope is a lasting peace symbol and welcoming area for their school.

“We have a lot of exchange students that come here,” FHS senior Zach Landis said as he finished pouring cement around the peace pole last week. “Maybe we’ll get someone who is from one of these countries and they’ll be able to read this message in their own language and feel really welcome here. It shows we welcome all cultures.”

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