Here are a few highlights:
• The Pennies for Peace program of Mortenson’s Central Asia Institute is a grassroots campaign started by school kids to donate pennies to build schools, especially schools for girls, in Pakistan and Afghanistan. It’s estimated that there are enough pennies lying around the U.S. to eradicate global illiteracy, which would take $6 billion a year for 15 years.
• Mortenson discussed the direct effects of female literacy on decreasing fertility rate and used Bangladesh as an example of a success story. In Bangladesh, there was a national literacy campaign which tripled female literacy, and now the birth rate has decreased to 3.5 live births per woman.
• In terms of cultural norms in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Mortenson pointed out that when a woman is married, she severs maternal ties and goes to live with her husband’s family. By learning to read, she can teach her mother how to read. Then, the married woman and her mother will have a means of communication by letter writing.
• Another interesting point is that for a man to go on Jihad, he needs his mother’s permission. Not to have his mother’s permission/blessing is an enormous sin. Women who are educated are less likely to allow their sons to go on Jihad.
• The final point of the lecture was about Obama’s surge in infantry in Afghanistan this summer. Mortenson argued that Afghanis want brainpower, not firepower. Generals have said there’s no military solution to Afghanistan, so Mortenson suggested that perhaps listening and talking to Afghanis before deploying troops would be best.
• Mortenson also pointed to good news that very few people knew (it doesn’t make the NY Times): in 2000, there were 800,000 boys in school in Afghanistan. In 2008, there were 7.2 million Afghan kids in school, 2 million of whom were girls. This is the biggest increase in child enrollment anywhere ever!
One of the themes from his discussion was the idea that you can’t solve poverty from a think tank in Washington D.C. You need community participation, involvement and support.