Traveller1

Traveller1
Location
Buffalo, New York, USA
Birthday
January 01
Bio
Traveling through the universe.....just tarrying on this planet savoring life. I get the "Last Word" sometimes in "The Indian American' and relish the privilege to have a few Op-eds published in "News India Times". Niche 'n nice!

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NOVEMBER 11, 2010 11:29AM

Afghanistan-A Veteran Winning Hearts and Minds

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Greg Mortenson came to town yesterday. An honorary doctorate from 16 universities, twice nominated for the Nobel, I met this shy yet confident personality, who did not seem to be used to the bright light of fame. He spoke from the heart about the work he has been doing in Afghanistan.

I agree that our soldiers, who we honor today have succeeded in their limited mission and cannot also be responsible for the humanitarian work that must follow wars. Greg’s work is impressive in building schools from stones in Afghanistan starting in  Korphe. He has won the hearts and trust of a people who are by nature suspicious of foreigners, the hard way.... school by school, rock by rock.

He started off with a video that showed us the bleak vista which he is helping to rebuild. Even as the camera pans the buildings in Kabul one gets the sense of unadorned simplicity. Here and there are some architectural pieces but they are bombed out of recognition. He talked of the little boy Gul who was so interested in the proposed school project but died by a land mine. Gul’s father’s face was a study in human resilience and suffering. Greg’s personal feelings towards the boy, and Haji Ali were stirring as he went through some of the details in “Three Cups of Tea” to drive home his conviction about the role of education and awareness in bringing lasting peace.

Listening to him talk I could not help having a few questions which went unasked. Would Mr. Mortenson have got as much attention, if instead of Afghanistan he had built these schools in Myanmar, Tibet, Nepal, any of the other depressed Eastern Himalayan sector, or even Kashmir? Another author in the past UB reader’s list was Khaled Hosseini who with his thousand splendid suns illuminated the kite runners from Afghanistan.

Afghanistan is then the focus I must deduce.  Don’t get me wrong, I think the job is splendid, but why is it that such work is so much more glorified that the quiet teacher in a rural town in the US or anywhere else, who do their job the best they can? Why is it that in ethereal circles of well settled professionals, they commiserate about the sibling teacher sister with hushed voices? Why is it that a child who aspires to be a teacher is met with “Why not a doctor?” It must be more the scope of the project at hand rather than teaching itself. Greg’s scope is admirably huge.

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He threw up some slides with known wisdom about education. I could not but think about the one which says “If you educate a boy you educate an individual; if you educate a girl you educate a community” an African proverb. I would take extreme objection to it if I was a male teacher, a responsible father or citizen of the world. This is not to put down the basic principle that yes all girls should be educated and that all children have the basic human right to knowledge. But to separate out females from males by proverbs, which are more socially relevant rather than universal, is surely unnecessary in the US. What about the simple logic that both sexes need to be educated for a healthy society to flourish.

He talked about the importance of “elders” and listening to them and lamented the lack of it in the US or Western world. I come from the East and yes there is a huge advantage in learning from wise elders and talking to them and letting them lead the way. But even Greg would agree that this is an individual honor deserved by the older generation and given by the younger generation voluntarily. Not all elders have wisdom, and I would especially question the elders of Afghanistan who might know wonderful glorious stories of their past but have done very little to take charge of their own society and bring it to modern times. Is it okay for the children there to be so bereft of resources? Is it okay for the warlords to have run the town and kept their own girls down? Aren’t the elders the ones who have actually actively kept the country marking time and confounded them with religiosity, social and cultural taboos? As wonderful as it is for the villages in India to have been hearing the tales from “Ramayana” being told and retold (it is still fascinating, I wholeheartedly agree), or about the British Raj and the Freedom Movement, is it not also incumbent upon society to be proud of their present? Is it not incumbent upon the elders to find ways and means of disseminating knowledge through the means of the newer technologies and thus make the next generation vested in their future? To stick rigidly to history and wishing things to be the way they were without a balancing viewpoint about the present and future is sure the definition of fundamental thought. In fact one of education’s strength is in encouraging creativity and curiosity about the unknown. To make the further correlation that in the Western world there is no inter-generational give and take is not deserved. Modern technology has opened up the world to the silent majority who used to remain quiet in the past and has allowed them to actively participate in discussions.

His idea of empowering local people instead of doing charity rang a bell with me. I have always considered those who label their life work as charity as disingenuous. The word itself has inequality embedded in it automatically presuming that one is somehow better than another and is thus more qualified to be doing “for” rather than “with” someone. Logically helping one’s co-traveler results in a journey being successful, all scientific endeavor is collaborative, we are a society not individual islands. Education is the only way to enlightenment and awareness and has been the shining torch in the world and for me all my life.

As we snaked our way through the lines for his autograph I couldnt but notice the number of police that had been recruited to keep peace around the man.

Thanks for personalizing my copy Greg and Namaste indeed!

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 Salute to all veterans of the world and to my father (Late) Colonel MM Ghosh AMC

Epilogue:

After being shuffled around in research at Roswell Park Cancer Institute two years ago, I changed the course of my own life.  I searched and found a science teaching program through Department of Energy and the Joint Genome Institute and wrote up an innovative teaching curriculum and took it to the colleges and departments in the University. Finally Biotechnical and Clinical Laboratory Sciences at the University of Buffalo saw my vision and collaborated with me to get the program in. Steve and I traveled to California to train in the program of Genomic Annotation thus bringing active research into the science classroom and after wrestling an adjunct Clinical Assistant Professor position in the department, I now conduct research in “Pancreatic Cancer” and I teach Bioinformatics to undergraduate and grad students, High School teachers and kids in and around Buffalo. We have applied for a grant even though I could not be the principal investigator or even co-PI because I don’t have a formal affiliation. I still worry that after all that hard work, I might be marginalized when the money does come in eventually. But I refuse to let negativity get in the way of work. Greg’s work has only re-energized me!

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Comments

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ms traveler ... we certainly fail our society when we fail to cherish our
"elders" ... i certainly impressed to here of this man's heroic work ...
thanx ... rated ... lew
ms traveler ... checked out your MMGhosh and Profile ... interesting
to see the parallels that i read in Thomas Friedman's "The World Is
Flat" ... keep doing your great work and also sharing with us on OS
... rated ... lew
Thank you for the visit. as much as I agree with cherishing our elders I also feel it HAS to be earned.
Rated. Respect must be earned.
Thanks for the visit Tink. Greg has done so much good work that it becomes tough to actually critique objectively. But the questions that come up as you listen to or read the news make for the critical thinking that should engage all citizenry. I am glad you agree with my assessment of that issue.
Re the educating girls/educate a community point you bring up, this has been proven many, many times, especially in the Third World. Women who are given micro loans nearly always use the money to better the lives of their families through education; many of the programs where the money was given to the men ended up squandered. Of course there will always be exceptions, but there is a reason why many aid programs focus on women and girls first since they will be raising the children.
And I agreed to the fact. However as a universal message of education I think it should be to educate all. One might still focus on the women for the various reasons as well as the fact of thousands of years of disadvantage. But it surely cannot be the message.
Interesting...In the teachings of Baha'i Faith all children are to be educated but if for some reason the family cannot educate all their children, girls are given priority.

This also reminded me of a quote I saw at an Indian Reservation "If you are here to help us, thank you, but go home. If you are here to go with us in search of the path, welcome."
Thank you for our visit MT. As I get older , as much as I respect differences in beliefs , for myself I cannot agree that any religion or any one organization has a better understanding of right and wrong than another. As such I feel that there should be no discrimination amongst sexes in disseminating the collective human wisdom to the next generation.
War was the norm a few centuries ago. In fact the trajectory of humanity has been towards trying to live in relative peace. But with the population of the world exploding and the natural resources limited I do believe that war is inevitable. Science and technology is the only hope that allows me to believe that there might be alternate solutions on earth.

I have written elsewhere

The universe came into existence about 13.5 billion years ago with a big bang (theory actively pursued by hypothesis driven investigation). Earth came into existence about 4.5 billion years ago. The first microorganisms some 500 to 600 mill years ago. The first animals came to land some 250 to 300 mill years ago. There have been at least 4 major extinction periods in earth history alone where life was almost eliminated. Life however perseveres. About 1 million years ago, humans arrived on the scene, and were among the first animals to be able to think of the past and the future and started to ask questions. Why are we here? What is our purpose? What happens when we passon?
The possibilities are infinite ...............
I am not surprised when I watch 60 minutes today April 17, 2011 when finance problems have been found with Mr Mortenson's efforts. It is all very well to say the means justifies the end but when monies are taken for charities from children in the form of pennies the story told should at least be an honest one. Deeply disappointed in something that is so silly becasue inasmuch as he has told many lies he really has done some good too. The question that remains unanswered is WHY the lies? What lies behind the lies? Who is benefiting and why? What purpose could be served?