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Writer draws crowd at West Sound Academy

POULSBO — This summer West Sound Academy students and faculty members joined an international movement and picked read a book about making a difference.

In response, the man who made this difference, which he wrote about in the New York Times bestseller, “Three Cups of Tea,” joined audiences at WSA Wednesday to tell his amazing tale of philanthropy.

Greg Mortenson, who co-wrote the 2006 book with David Oliver Relin, said his life changed forever 13 years ago after he attempted to summit the world’s second tallest peak, K2. He found himself in a village in Pakistan’s Karakoram Mountains after his descent toward civilization following the failed summit bid in the Himalayas.

Mortenson got lost on his walk down the mountain.

“I made a mistake and took a wrong turn. I took a left instead of a right. I made a mistake,” he told the crowd of 150 people at WSA.

A remote village in the Karakorams took Mortenson in, nursing him back to health following his arrival.

“The first cup of tea, I was a stranger, the second cup of tea I was a friend, (and) the third cup of team I was family,” he said of his stay.

During his time there, Mortenson realized the lack of educational opportunities — especially for girls — and decided to do something about it.

“There were 84 children sitting in the dirt outside going to school,” he said. “Five of them were girls. Little did I know seeing that would change my life forever.”

Mortenson promised the people of the village he would build a school for them and since 1993 he has spearheaded an effort to educate children throughout Pakistan and Afghanistan by doing just that. Mortenson said in conjunction with the Central Asia Institute since 1993, he has helped build 61 schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan serving 25,000 students — 14,000 of whom are female. Educating girls is one of Mortenson’s top priorities.

“If you educate a boy, you educate an individual, if you educate a girl, you educate a community,” he said. “We absolutely have to give each child in the world an opportunity to education. Right now there’s 145 million children in the world deprived of an education.”

WSA head of schools Nellie Baker was thankful a prestigious author such as Mortenson took time out of his busy schedule to visit.

“We’re so grateful that he decided to visit,” she said. “Everyone here read his book over the summer and for him to be here, it’s a wonderful honor. We’re honored he’s making an effort to come to our small school.”

WSA librarian Susan Trower was likewise pleased the author stopped by.

“If you look at his schedule, it’s booked up,” she said. “This is pretty exciting for our faculty and students. Today is his last day here before he goes back to Pakistan.”

When Mortenson made his way to the stage, students eyes in the crowd were as wide as saucers as got to see the person whose words jumped off the pages to them over the summer.

West Sound Academy junior Melanie Fortune was one of those students who read “Three Cups of Tea.”

“It’s incredible that he’s actually here in person. I have been looking forward to it,” she said. “Everything he’s doing is affecting lives all over the world. He’s created a ripple effect that’s had an influence on a enormous amount of people.”

Mortenson said he’s visited 105 cities, 160 schools and has spoken in front of more than 40,000 people since his book hit the shelves in March of 2006.

He said only 800,000 children attended school in Afghanistan in 2000 and currently there are 5.2 million children attending school today.

“In my opinion, that’s the single most important thing that’s happened in that country for years,” he said.

Baker said Mortenson’s visit to WSA is something she hopes students will take with them for the rest of their lives.

“We ultimately want our students to have an understanding of the cultures of the world,” she said. “Greg Mortenson is an example of one person making a difference. That’s the reason why we chose his book.”

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