Best-selling author shares goal to counter extremist schools

Georgette Braun

David Oliver Relin is a writer but he entertained with movie-director skill Wednesday night at Rockford College before a full house of 600 people who came to hear his lecture.

Relin and Greg Mortenson co-authored the long-running best-seller, “Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace ... One School at a Time.”

The book is this year’s selection for the Rockford Public Library’s One Book, One Rockford program, which encourages everyone in town to read the same book and discuss it.

As Relin talked, you could almost smell the tea made with yak butter as a photo of a weather-worn Pakistani man filled a screen on stage. The man had offered the tea to nourish Mortenson, who’d become weak after trying to climb the world’s second-highest mountain, K2, on the border between China and Pakistan.

And you cringed with fear as Relin developed story line after story line about how hard people’s lives are in the mountainous border towns of Pakistan, where Mortenson happened upon after getting lost during his failed attempt at K2.

Another photo highlighted a truck that had to back up so another could pass on a one-lane dirt road with a 1,000-foot drop just inches from the wheels. Another showed a refugee camp of tents in an earthquake-ravaged area set up by terrorist groups to teach their extremist ways to the poorest of poor children.

There were funny moments, too. Like when Relin showed a photo of himself wearing Pakistani garb the wrong way. He later learned his misstep was the equivalent of a guy walking around with the zipper of his pants open.

Relin’s visit to Rockford also was tied to a fundraising effort to gather $50,000 in pennies and contributions ahead of Mortenson’s Sept. 19 visit to Rockford. The money will be used to help Mortenson’s group — the Central Asia Institute — build and maintain a school for girls in Central Asia.

Mortenson vowed to build a school in the impoverished village that had helped him recuperate when he lost his way after his mountain-climbing attempt. The group serves 30,000 students, mostly girls. Educated girls not only build their own self-esteem and skills, they’re less likely to be beholden to narrow extremist influences and will teach their children likewise, Relin said.

Relin said it’s great that the CAI has built 78 schools. But it is estimated that the extremist groups have 20,000 schools.

“We need to replicate (the CAI effort) on a massive scale to offer hope,” he said. The alternative? Kids there will be turned into “Taliban foot soldiers,” he said.

Georgette Braun may be reached at (815) 987-1331 or