Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Greg Mortenson, and when it’s hard to know how many cups there are in three cups

The humanitarian philanthropic world is aflutter this week over the news of Greg Mortenson – literally, he became a trending topic on Twitter two days ago.  For those unfamiliar, Greg Mortenson is the co-author and main protagonist along with his charity the Central Asia Institute (CAI) of the bestselling book Three Cups of Tea and its recent follow-up Stones Into Schools.

The mountaineer turned humanitarian started building schools, primarily for girls, in rural Pakistan and Afghanistan after a failed attempt summiting K2.  Or so everybody thought, until 60 Minutes aired an investigative wackjob last Sunday that called a number of books’ claims and CAI’s finances into question.

Some serious questions are already being asked of 60 Minutes’ reporting, but if its story holds – and indeed it has been followed this week by a much more in-depth, researched, and less sensationalist work by Jon Krakauer – then Greg Mortenson is in danger of becoming the Bernie Madoff of international philanthropic humanitarianism, not because Mortenson is being accused of anything criminal (yet), but because he risks becoming the symbol of something much larger.

Friday, April 8, 2011

March Wrap-up and my Great Trek North! aka, Site Visits (slideshow at end)

Well, March was certainly an action packed month!  At site, school had a week of spring break, my nurse partner and I held our second public health education activity for the community, my work with the soup kitchen has been going full speed ahead as we finished off a grant application, I planned my first seminar for the teachers at my school, and I facilitated a raft of needs assessments with partners.

A lot of these projects were long on the to do list, so spring break came at a welcome time to do some catch up.  Break it was not, and come to think of it, neither was it spring (though the latter was finally making some progress this past week, with the exception of last Monday’s rather unfortunate snow…)

Both for better and for worse, action packed also meant a month when I was away from my site far more than normal – a full third of the month by my tally. Previous posts have already covered the exciting 50th Anniversary Kickoff  and even more exciting visit by Vice President Biden.  Aside from that, other travels that pulled me away from my non-routine routine at site included facilitating two GLOW seminars (Girls Leading Our World, a global Peace Corps girls empowerment program) and an extended trek through the north of Moldova to 5 other volunteers’ sites during the final week of the month.

“Site visits” are a practice heavily encouraged by Peace Corps.  There are a number of reasons for site visits, but they generally involve some combination of work, learning through observation of fellow volunteers, and cultural curiosity/travel. I’ve hosted a number of volunteers on visits at my site.  Melissa came to facilitate a Schimb de Experienta for my youth club – twice, in fact, as the you may recall the first one was snowed out.  Craig came out of a general curiosity in the HESC program, and another time just to keep me company when my host family was away.  Most recently, Lindsay (my BFF here in Moldova) spent the night after we co-facilitated a GLOW seminar in a neighboring village.  Yet despite all my own hosting and Peace Corps’ encouragement, I had yet to pay visit to other volunteers.

My own trek north was an odyssey of long-overdue social visits, youth programs, and classroom observations.  It was my first time north of Chişinău, and in the space of a week I doubled the number of raions (districts) I’ve visited, from four to eight.