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Greg Mortenson Builds Schools, and Hope, in Afghanistan and Pakistan

Also: A question from Vietnam about the theme music for the program EXPLORATIONS. And the soulful music of singer-songwriter Ledisi. Transcript of radio broadcast:


Welcome to AMERICAN MOSAIC in VOA Special English.


I’m Doug Johnson.

Today we listen to the latest album from singer-songwriter Ledisi …

Answer a listener’s question about the theme music from the Special English program Explorations …

And tell about the popular book “Three Cups of Tea.”


"Three Cups of Tea"


A book called "Three Cups of Tea" has been on the best seller lists in the United States for more than a year. It has sold more than one million copies. The book tells the true story of how one person can make a difference in the lives of many people. Barbara Klein tells us about that person and his story.


The subtitle of "Three Cups of Tea" is "One Man's Mission to Promote Peace ... One School at a Time." That man is Greg Mortenson. He wrote the book with reporter David Oliver Relin.

Greg Mortenson was born in the state of Minnesota and grew up near Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. His parents were religious workers who started a teaching hospital and international school there.

Mortenson became a nurse who worked in hospital emergency rooms. He loved to climb mountains. In nineteen ninety-three, he attempted to climb K2 in Pakistan, the second highest mountain in the world. He failed to reach the top. And he became separated from his climbing group on the way down. He was extremely tired, sick and lost. He had no food, water or shelter.

Mortenson finally reached a poor village called Korphe in the Karakoram mountains of Pakistan. The villagers had never seen a foreigner before. They provided food and a place to sleep and nursed him back to health. Mortenson became friends with the villagers and asked to see their school. But they had no school.

Greg Mortenson promised to return and build a school for the children of the village. This was not easy. He had to return to the United States, ask people for money, purchase materials in Pakistan, transport them to the village and supervise the building. But he finally carried out his promise after more than three years. That first school in Korphe was so successful that he decided to continue building schools in Pakistan and later Afghanistan. It turned out to be a remarkable humanitarian campaign.

"Three Cups of Tea" tells about the many interesting people Mortenson met and the problems he faced. He survived a kidnapping by the Taliban and a firefight between opposing Afghan groups.

He also faced opposition by Islamic religious leaders, death threats and long separations from his wife and children.

To date, Mortenson and his foundation, the Central Asia Institute, have built more than sixty schools. The schools are teaching more than twenty-five thousand children, more than half of them girls. The schools were built in rural areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan where some people have turned to extremism and terrorism. Mortenson believes that education is the best weapon against terrorism and the influence of Islamic militants. "Three Cups of Tea" tells the story of how his efforts have given thousands of children a chance for a better life. Many people have called Greg Mortenson a true American hero.

The title of his book comes from something Haji Ali, the village chief of Korphe, tells Mortenson: "The first time you share tea with a Balti, you are a stranger. The second time you take tea, you are an honored guest. The third time you share a cup of tea you become family ... You must make time to share three cups of tea."

Now there is a CD called "Three Cups of Tea." Greg Mortenson's nine-year-old daughter, Amira, recorded it along with Jeni Fleming. Money from sales of the CD will help the Central Asia Institute that Mortenson heads.




Our listener question this week comes from Vietnam. Nguyen Trong Tuyen asks about the beautiful music we play at the beginning and end of the Special English program EXPLORATIONS. Here is a little of that song, called “All Souls Waltz.”


Musicians Peter Kater and R. Carlos Nakai wrote “All Souls Waltz.” The song is on their album “Honorable Sky.” It was released in nineteen ninety-four.

Peter Kater is from Germany. He was raised in New Jersey. He plays the piano. R. Carlos Nakai is of native Navaho-Ute ancestry. He grew up in Arizona. He plays the Native American flute.

“Honorable Sky” is part of a series of albums Kater and Nakai recorded together. They say the work is an exploration of male soulfulness and of close ties between people.


In the liner notes of “Honorable Sky,” Peter Kater says he writes many songs in honor of the Earth. He says humans depend on the planet and must care for it.

R. Carlos Nakai notes a feeling of loneliness throughout the music on “Honorable Sky.” We hear this clearly on “All Souls Waltz.”




Singer-songwriter Ledisi performed in jazz and rhythm and blues clubs for more than fifteen years before her first major album was released. As more people hear her soulful voice they ask, “Who is Ledisi and where has she been? Mario Ritter has the answers.



Ledisi Young was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, more than thirty years ago. Ledisi means “to bring forth” in the Yoruba language of Nigeria.

Many people had not heard of Ledisi until she received a Grammy nomination for best new artist of two thousand seven. She said she was very honored to be recognized by the music industry. However, she said she laughed when she received the news because her first album, “Soulsinger,” was released in nineteen ninety-eight. The song “Take Time” became a favorite among her fans.


Ledisi also received a Grammy nomination for best rhythm and blues album for “Lost and Found.” It is her first album released by a major record company. Ledisi says she wrote the song “Alright” during a time of professional struggles and successes. She sings about remaining positive even when faced with situations that are not perfect.


Many people now know the answer to the question “Who is Ledisi?” Music critics say her powerful voice and soulful songs will be around for a very long time. We leave you with another song by Ledisi from her album “Lost and Found.” Here is “In the Morning.”



I'm Doug Johnson. I hope you enjoyed our program today.

It was written Shelley Gollust, Lawan Davis and Caty Weaver, who was also the producer.

Join us again next week for AMERICAN MOSAIC, VOA’s radio magazine in Special English.