Greg Mortenson was born in 1957 in Minnesota to Dempsey and Jerene Mortenson. He was raised in Tanzania on Mt. Kilimanjaro with his brother and two sisters. In Tanzania, Greg's father Dempsey co-founded Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Center, and his mother Jerene founded the International School Moshi. At age sixteen Greg and his family moved back to the United States. For the first time Greg experienced life in America. In 1977 Greg joined the army and served for two years. After his service he attended the University of South Dakota, and went on to graduate school for neurophysiology.
Greg had been very close with his sister Christa throughout his entire life. Christa suffered from epilepsy, so Greg was both very protective and supportive of her. In 1992 Christa died from a massive seizure. To honor the memory of his beloved sister, Greg made the decision to climb Karakorum 2, the world's second highest mountain. On his climb, Mortenson encountered several difficulties, and never made it to the top of the mountain. Devastated that he was unable to honor the memory of his sister by reaching the mountain's peak, and exhausted from his journey, Mortenson became lost several times on his way down the mountain. He came across a village called Korphe, and it was here that a much bigger journey began.
BEGINNING OF CAI
After almost making it to the top of K2, Greg stumbled upon the small village of Korphe. Here he met his mentor, and the village leader, Haji Ali. Haji Ali taught Mortenson the Pakistani traditions and culture. One of these traditions was that a newcomer to Pakistan would drink three cups of tea with their host. With the first cup you werre a stranger, the second you were a friend, and third you are family. In Korphe, Mortenson saw how the children were being taught. The Korphe children were taught infrequently, and not only did they not have adequate school supplies, but the children wrote their lessons in the dirt using sticks. Greg was appalled by these conditions, and upon leaving Korphe, he made a promise to Haji Ali that he would return to build a school for the children.
When Mortenson returned to America, he immediately set to work gathering money and resources for the Korphe School. He sent 580 letters to various celebrities, politicians, and philanthropists, and not one of them wrote back. Greg's mother saw how hard her son was working to no avail, so she gathered pennies from her elementary class. Mortenson's first donation was six hundred twenty three dollars and forty-five cents in pennies from elementary students. After almost giving up hope, and having sold everything except his car (which he lived in), Mortenson came into contact with Jean Hoerni, a wealthy physicist and engineer, who gave Mortenson the funds for the Korphe School.
Mortenson returned to Korphe, only to find that they not only needed a school, but also had a pressing need for a bridge. So Mortenson returned to the States and Hoerni provided the resources for the bridge as well. Mortenson went back to Korphe once again, and built the village a bridge. Finally, with much hard work and help from the Korphe community, Mortenson succeeded in finishing his first school, and began his journey towards a more peaceful world.
After the Korphe School, Mortenson and Hoerni founded the Central Asia Institute, its mission to promote peace by spread education throughout the remote areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Mortenson and the CAI focus on the education of girls, because, as Mortenson says, "You can hand out condoms, drop bombs, build roads, or put in electricity, but until the girls are educated a society won't change." Females often have fewer opportunities in society than men, and Mortenson is hoping to change this by educating these females. As of 2008 the Mortenson has built seventy eight schools, educating more than 28,000 children, 10,000 males and 18,000 females.
Mortenson's work has not been without difficulty, or danger for that matter. Mortenson has overcome two fatwehs, which were issued by two different Islamic leaders, who believed that Greg was going against the laws of Islam. In 1976 Mortenson was kidnapped and held for eight days. He also escaped a fire fight between opium warlords by hiding under rotten animal hides. Here in America Mortenson has been investigated by the CIA due to his connections with Pakistan and Afghanistan, and the events of September 11 th . He has always received hate mail from fellow Americans who disagree with what Greg is doing. Mortenson's has had determination and courage to continue his work despite these obstacles, and he has helped Afghani and Pakistani children in countless ways. He promotes peace in an individual way, and has found a much more peaceful path to end the war on terrorism. Greg Mortenson received the Sitara -e-Pakistan (Star of Pakistan), Pakistan's highest civil award.