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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
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Wednesday ó February 4, 2004

Features

Group reaches out to children world away

Goal is to build school
in Karakoram Mountains


By DANA DUGAN
Express Staff Writer

A group of Wood River Valley residents are part of a group spearheading a fundraising drive called "Build a School, Change the World!" Their goal is to raise $25,000 to build a school in a mountain range that straddles Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Children write on slates in a Panbrok village in Northern Pakistan. Photo by Greg Mortenson

Based in Bozeman, Mont., the Central Asia Institute is a nonprofit organization started in 1996. Initial funds to establish CAI were provided by Dr. Jean Hoerni, a Swiss physicist who was one of the pioneers of the Silicon Valley microchip industry.

Hoerniís widow, Jennifer Wilson, a resident of the Wood River Valley, owns Isabelís Needlepoint shop and was instrumental in restoring the Ezra Pound birthplace in Hailey, which now serves as the Hailey Cultural Center.

Greg Mortenson, who co-founded CAI with Hoerni, spoke at the Environmental Resource Center in Ketchum in 2003. The "Build a School, Change the World!" project materialized as a result of his presentation.

Since the establishment of CAI, 34 schools have been built in the remote mountain villages of northern Pakistan, the steppes of Mongolia and Kyrgyzstan.

As a condition of funding, CAI requires that these schools commit to increasing their enrollment of females.

"Educating girls reduces infant mortality, levels off the population explosion and improves the quality of health and life. Itís an important step in reducing terrorism and helping the nations rebuild," Mortenson said.

"A literate girl passes on the importance of education when she becomes a mother. Literacy also prevents a despotic Islamic mullah from using illiteracy to control people and undermine a community."

Young Northern Pakistani girls, whoíve never been in a school before, discover the wonders of books. Photo by Greg Mortenson

 

The key is also in empowering villagers through educational programs to manage and run their own school and the other projects that CAI has helped fund. In fact, before a project starts, the community matches project funds with equal amounts of village resources and labor.

The schools, built with timber, rock and mortars are carried piecemeal by villagers up miles of rough terrain. A committee of village elders guides each selected project. In this way, long term success is made more probable.

Residents of Lafayette, Calif., have made a similar fundraising commitment. Their school will be built this spring.

"Itís our wish that the Wood River Valley and its four municipalities will be the second community to do so," said Liz Schwerdtle, who, with her sister, Amy Bingham, are the community organizers of the drive.

Kate DeClerk of CAI will be in the valley 7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 4, at the Distance Learning room in the Wood River High School in Hailey. She will also make an address at the Clarion Inn in Ketchum on Thursday, Feb. 5, at 7 p.m.

DeClerk visited CAI schools last November and took many photographs while compiling data regarding the progress of the 34 schools.

At present, local school clubs such as the Blaine County Teen Advisory Council and some church groups have committed to raising money for the project.

For more information on the Central Asia Institute go to www.ikat.org. Locally, call Schwerdtle at 788-4058.

 

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The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.