The book Three Cups of Tea was an especially interesting read due to the way that it presents being in a foreign land.  In many cases, people joke about learning foreign customs, like bowing to other people in Japan, and how odd it seems.  However, the lack of consideration about other cultures is often what leads to the kinds of problems that Greg Mortensen is trying to tackle in this book.

Throughout its history, the United States and its citizens have been known to try to help underpriviledged regions.  This can be seen through the creation of the IMF and the World Bank, to the many humanitarian missions that the various divisions of the United States armed (and unarmed) forces, most conspicuously the Peace Corps.  However, that doesn’t always mean that those missions have worked as planned.

Not too long ago, many people started paying attention to the problems plaguing people in Africa.  In response, many countries, including the United States tried to send monetary and other kinds of aid.  However, it became common for several corrupt governments to take the aid, and not give any of it to the people it was destined for.  Greg Mortenson faced a different problem.  If he were to get direct aid from the United States, he could potentially face consequences from the governments of the places he was working to build the schools.  Thus, the United States is in a position to help, but outside factors tied their hands.

The fact of the matter is that there is no easy way to aid people in areas that face terrorism, violence, famine, or other similar situations.  Some organizations try to organize groups to travel to effected regions, but as Mortenson points out, simply going isn’t plausible.  Instead, the culture gap needs to be both understood, and an effort must be made to try to either adapt or try to bring the cultures together.  While it seems obvious that there are going to be cultural differences between the United States and regions like where Mortenson worked, the sheer amount of difference isn’t readily apparent.  This is where Mortenson really sets himself apart.  His focus on the difference in culture and the struggles of trying to cope with that really emphasize the need to be considerate of these differences.

So, perhaps the best way to achieve an understanding and really make an effort to affect change is not to try to help through monetary or similar type of aid.  While important contributions, perhaps the best way to try and help these people is simply to be an educator.  There are few groups, if any, out there that exist solely for the purpose of exploring and explaining cultural differences and preparing people who go to these regions to adapt.  Taking it one step further, a program like this could also prepare people to help once the aid has been received.  Building schools is a great first step, but in order for those buildings to bring to fruition the goal of educating, there have to be people willing to make it happen.  A program like this could explore and implement ways of making these projects stick and really begin to thrive.  Thus, the aid that is sent to these regions can be utilized exactly where it is needed. It would also help with the problem of governmental donations since the donations could be filtered through groups like this who specialize in really making a difference.  

Direct aid is always a great sign of humanitarianism, but it doesn’t mean anything unless the goals of that aid are followed through on.  Then perhaps our family can enjoy a much needed cup of tea together.