'Three Cups of Tea,' Spilled
In person, Greg is modest, passionate and utterly disorganized. Once he showed up half-an-hour late for a speech, clumping along with just one shoe — and then kept his audience spellbound with his tale of building peace through schools.
Greg has spent chunks of time traipsing through Afghanistan and Pakistan, constructing schools in impossible places, and he works himself half to death. Instead of driving around in a white S.U.V. with a security detail, he wears local clothes and takes battered local cars to blend in. He justly berates himself for spending too much time on the road and not enough with his wife, Tara Bishop, and their children, Amira and Khyber.
I've counted Greg as a friend, had his family over at my house for lunch and extolled him in my column. He gave a blurb for my most recent book, "Half the Sky," and I read his book "Three Cups of Tea" to my daughter. It's indisputable that Greg has educated many thousands of children, and he has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
And now his life's work is tottering after a "60 Minutes" exposé and an online booklet by Jon Krakauer, a onetime supporter. Greg is accused of many offenses
I don't know what to make of these accusations. Part of me wishes that all this journalistic energy had been directed instead to ferret out abuses by politicians who allocate government resources to campaign donors rather than to the neediest among us, but that's not a real answer. The critics have raised serious questions that deserve better answers
My inclination is to reserve judgment until we know more, for disorganization may explain more faults than dishonesty. I am deeply troubled that only 41 percent of the money raised in 2009 went to build schools, and Greg, by nature, is more of a founding visionary than the disciplined C.E.O. necessary to run a $20 million-a-year charity. On the other hand, I'm willing to give some benefit of the doubt to a man who has risked his life on behalf of some of the world's most voiceless people.
I've visited some of Greg's schools in
I also believe that Greg was profoundly right about some big things.
He was right about the need for American outreach in the Muslim world. He was right that building schools tends to promote stability more than dropping bombs. He was right about the transformative power of education, especially girls' education. He was right about the need to listen to local people — yes, over cup after cup after cup of tea — rather than just issue instructions.
I worry that scandals like this — or like the disputes about microfinance in
After my wife and I wrote "Half the Sky," we decided not to start our own foundation or aid organization but simply to use our book and Web site to point readers to other aid groups — partly because giving away money effectively is such difficult and uncertain work.
The furor over Greg's work breaks my heart. And the greatest loss will be felt not by those of us whose hero is discredited, nor even by Greg himself, but by countless children in
As we sift the truth of these allegations, let's not allow this uproar to obscure that larger message of the possibility of change. Greg's books may or may not have been fictionalized, but there's nothing imaginary about the way some of his American donors and Afghan villagers were able to put aside their differences and prejudices and cooperate to build schools — and a better world.
Donations can be sent to the
"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs