How to support education in Pakistan?
Nadia Naviwala is Pakistan Desk officer at USAID, a recent graduate of the Harvard Kennedy School, and a former national security aide in the U.S. Senate. This article reflects her personal views and does not represent the views of the USAID.
Since the publication of Three Cups of Tea, Americans have lavished nearly $60 million on Greg Mortenson's Central Asia Institute, to build schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Last week, four years after the book came out, someone — CBS's 60 Minutes — finally visited the schools that Mortenson claims to have built, and found many empty, misused or nonexistent.
Reading about the extent of financial irregularity and lack of oversight at CAI, is heartbreaking. But worse, I dread how the crumbling of Three Cups of Tea will reinforce American skepticism and Pakistani cynicism about positive efforts in the region.
The shoddiness of Mortenson's work is not surprising to me. In the spring of 2009 when I volunteered to work with CAI over the summer, I was told that the organization was basically Greg, running around Pakistan, and a few support staff. I was not surprised — the book indicated as much. But, as I soon learned, it takes more than a one-man show to run upwards of 170 schools, anywhere in the world.
I ended up spending my summer with one of the largest and most reputable school-building NGOs in Pakistan — an organization that was founded and run by Pakistanis. I saw what it took for them to support 730 schools. Their office was large, crowded and busy, with education, training, monitoring and testing, and audit departments, supported by four regional offices and field managers. I knew that Greg Mortenson could only be doing a C-grade job on his own.
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