By Shane Eric-Hensinger
MA Candidate, International Security
Josef Korbel School of International Studies
An outpouring of support from the University of Denver community will help fund a law school scholarship for women in Afghanistan and Pakistan struggling to help their war-torn countries build new futures.
A capacity crowd of students, faculty and staff from The Center for Sustainable Development and International Peace at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies joined Greg Mortenson, author of the best-selling novel "Three Cups of Tea" and a nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize, along with Josef Korbel School master's candidate Gretchen Peters in a wide-ranging conversation dealing with current events in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Nicole Vilegi, associate director of graduate admissions at the Josef Korbel School, presented Mortenson with $550 collected from students, staff and faculty of the Korbel School to fund the work of his Central Asia Institute.
In thanking the crowd, a grateful Mortenson explained that the money donated would fund a year's law-school tuition for a woman in Central Asia.
The informal discussion allowed for a free exchange of ideas and Mortenson and Peters spoke about their experiences in Afghanistan and Pakistan in dealing with education of women and girls.
The speakers said they both believe improving education is key in reducing the appeal of extremism in the region.
Peters emphasized that the madrassa structure of education in Pakistan and Afghanistan, which is religion-centered, contributes to the rise of extremism.
Mortenson relayed the importance of carefully listening to those to whom aid is donated and told how, following the devastating 2005 earthquake in Pakistan, the United States donated canvas tents without asking if tents were appropriate or necessary. Mortenson said the tents were highly combustible and contributed to the deaths and injuries of some refugees for whom the tents were intended to provide protection. When it comes to offering aid "The answers lie with the people," Mortenson said.
Peters said "There seems to be a problem in asking people questions and listening to their answers."
Neither Mortenson nor Peters shied away from tough questions on issues, including the call for more U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
Mortenson said better training for Afghan forces was more important than sending more troops to the region. Both speakers agreed that continued humanitarian aid is critical to the region.
Peters is a former Associated Press and ABC News Reporter in Afghanistan and Pakistan
and is the author of "Seeds of Terror: How Heroin is Bankrolling the Taliban and Al
Qaeda." She is a master's candidate in Homeland Security and Criminal Justice.