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By Lorraine Sanders
Earlier this fall, when Vicksburg Street resident Bill McBride reached for the next book on the top of the stack by his bed, he thought he was just opening the latest "must-read" recommended by his fellow teachers and literature-savvy friends.
Little did he know the page-turner would send him on a mission to raise money to build a school halfway round the world in the remote, mountainous regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
"You cannot put it down. It's so inspiring and exciting," says McBride of Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace, One School at a Time, the New York Times bestseller by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin.
The true, first-person account chronicles Mortenson's failed 1993 attempt at summiting Pakistan's K2 mountain and the descent that nearly proved disastrous when the disoriented and exhausted mountain climber became lost without food, water, or shelter. Mortenson eventually stumbled into a small village, whose impoverished Pakistani residents devoted their precious few resources to nursing him back to health. During his recovery, Mortenson watched as children of the village, too poor to have its own school or to pay a teacher's salary, practiced lessons in the dirt using sticks instead of pencils or paper. The experience, and the kindness the villagers showed toward him, led Mortenson to make a promise: he would one day return and build a school for the people that had saved his life.
After a series of fundraising challenges and logistical hurdles ranging from fatwas issued against him to an armed kidnapping, Mortenson succeeded in building the school. But he didn't stop there. Mortenson co-founded the nonprofit Central Asia Institute (CAI) to build more schools. The organization's ongoing projects now total some 130 schools in rural Pakistan and Afghanistan and place a special emphasis on literacy for girls as a means of fostering stability, peace, and economic empowerment.
"I was blown away. I thought what this one man did was so phenomenal. He's done more for building peace than most governments have done," says McBride, who has lived in Noe Valley for a decade.
While the new schools offer education to all children in the villages in which they are built, their offer of classes to women and girls is noteworthy in a part of the world where formal schooling is often unavailable to females. Also notable is the CAI's commitment to involving the community in the building of each new school.
"It's all local engagement. [The CAI] gets the materials, but the people there build it. It's their school," emphasizes McBride, 56.
Author of two novels about teaching --the widely read Entertaining an Elephant (1997) and a sequel, Carrying a Load of Feathers (May 2009)--and a speaker and educator who trains teachers around the country on such topics as student engagement and gender differences, McBride is no stranger to the power of education.
"Great teaching is inspirational... we're going to do whatever it takes to raise $34,000," says McBride, whose fundraising experience began before his arrival in San Francisco 17 years ago.
While living in Chicago and volunteering in a home for people dying of AIDS, McBride compiled and published a cookbook composed of recipes from local restaurants. The book ultimately raised over $100,000 to support people dying of AIDS. McBride also has raised over $100,000 for AIDS causes in San Francisco by donating half of every sale of Entertaining an Elephant to the AIDS charities supported by Under One Roof.
McBride's current fundraising campaign hopes to raise enough to build a CAI school in the name of the people of San Francisco. The $34,000 price tag would cover the cost of building the school, and employee salaries and facility maintenance for the school's first two years.
He and other volunteers kicked off the drive in November with a display in front of the Noe Valley Farmers' Market and a gathering at McBride's home. They also manned a table outside Phoenix Books, where they handed out information about Three Cups of Tea and the Central Asia Institute's programs and goals.
"People wanted to help. We got a lot of thank-you's," says McBride, noting that four people mailed checks totaling $400 within days of his first outing.
Along with more outreach in the coming months, McBride hopes to collaborate with neighborhood schools to launch local versions of CAI's national Pennies for Peace program (P4P), which encourages children to collect and save pennies for projects in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
"Little kids often think, 'I'm just a little kid. I can't do anything.' When they've helped [a project like P4P], it empowers them for the rest of their lives about what they can produce when they come together," McBride says.
He hopes supporting CAI projects will appeal to San Franciscans at a time when many are frustrated with the ongoing conflict, violence, and political unrest in Central Asia.
"Americans right now feel powerless about what to do in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This is an alternative, a long-term alternative, a fifth column in Afghanistan and Pakistan to tear down the ignorance and the lies of the Taliban. And to do it peacefully, without dropping bombs," McBride says.
Anyone interested in volunteering can contact McBride at email@example.com or visit the CAI website at www.ikat.org. Donations may be mailed to the Central Asia Institute, c/o Dr. Bill McBride, 432 Vicksburg Street, San Francisco, CA 94114. Make checks payable to the Central Asia Institute.