(born 27 December 1957) is a mountain climber
, former United States Army
veteran, and humanitarian from Bozeman
. Mortenson is the co-founder (with Dr. Jean Hoerni
), and director of nonprofit Central Asia Institute
, founder of Pennies For Peace
, and protagonist of #1 New York Times bestseller Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission To Promote Peace...One School At A Time
, co-authored with David Oliver Relin.
From 1958 to 1973, Mortenson grew up on the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro
in northern Tanzania
. His father, Irvin "Dempsey" Mortenson, was the founder and development director of the Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Center
, Tanzania's first teaching hospital
. His mother, Dr. Jerene Mortenson, founded the International School Moshi
Mortenson attended Ramsey High School in Roseville, Minnesota from 1973 to 1975. He served in the U.S. Army in Germany from 1975 to 1977, and received the Commendation Medal. He attended Concordia College, Moorhead from 1977 to 1979, and later graduated from the University of South Dakota at Vermillion, South Dakota in 1983 with an Associate Degree in Nursing and a Bachelor's Degree in Chemistry.
Transition to humanitarianism
In July 1992, Mortenson's young sister, Christa Mortenson, died from a life-long struggle with severe epilepsy
on the morning she had planned to visit the cornfield in Dyersville
, where the baseball movie Field of Dreams
In 1993, to honor his deceased sister's memory, Mortenson went to climb K2, the world's second highest mountain, in the Karakoram range of northern Pakistan. After more than 70 days on the mountain, Mortenson and three other climbers completed a life-saving rescue of a fifth climber that took more than 75 hours. After the rescue, he began his descent of the mountain and became weak and exhausted. Two local Balti porters took Mortenson to the nearest city, but he took a wrong turn along the way and ended up in Korphe, a small village, where he recovered.
To pay the remote community back for their compassion, Mortenson said he would build a school for the village. After a frustrating time trying to raise money, Mortenson convinced Jean Hoerni, a Silicon Valley pioneer, to found the Central Asia Institute. A non-profit organization, CAI's mission is to promote education and literacy, especially for girls, in remote mountain regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Hoerni named Mortenson as CAI's first Executive Director.
In the process of building schools, Mortenson has survived an eight-day armed 1996 kidnapping in the tribal areas of Waziristan in Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province, escaped a 2003 firefight between Afghan opium warlords, endured a fatwā by an angry Islamic cleric for educating girls, and received hate mail and threats from fellow Americans for helping educate Muslim children.
Mortenson believes that education and literacy for girls globally is the most important investment all countries can make to create stability, bring socio-economic reform, decrease infant mortality, decrease the population explosion, and improve health, hygiene, and sanitation standards globally. Mortenson believes that 'fighting terrorism' only perpetuates a cycle of violence, and that there should be a global priority to 'promote peace' through education and literacy, with an emphasis on girls education. "You can drop bombs, hand out condoms, build roads or put in electricity, but unless the girls are educated, a society won't change", is an often quoted statement made by Mortenson. Because of community 'buy-in', which involves getting villages to donate free land, subsidized or free labor ('sweat equity'), free wood and resources, the schools have local support and have been able to avert retribution by the Taliban or other groups opposed to girls education.
Mortenson and David Oliver Relin are co-authors of the New York Times best selling book Three Cups of Tea. During the serialization of the book on BBC Radio 4 in 2008, the BBC reported that Greg Mortenson had set up over sixty schools and as a result over 25,000 children had been educated. Pennies for Peace is a program Mortenson launched to involve American school-children in fund-raising efforts for the schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The Pakistan government announced on its Independence day of August 14th, 2008, that Mortenson will receive Pakistan’s highest civilian award, Sitara-e-Pakistan (The Star of Pakistan), in a Islamabad civil ceremony on March 23rd, 2009.
According to Article 259(2) of Pakistan's Constitution, the President of Pakistan confers civil awards in recognition of gallantry, or distinction, and is rarely given to foreigners.
Mortenson's home is in Montana. His ancestors migrated from the Lofoten Islands
, in Norway and homesteaded in the U.S. in the late 1800's. Mortenson's father, Dempsey, died from cancer in 1981. His mother, Jerene, is a retired elementary school principal, and manages the ice cream soda fountain at Lake Lodge, in Yellowstone National Park
, Wyoming. Mortenson has two surviving sisters, Sonja Rauen and Kari Theisen, and is married to Dr. Tara Bishop, a clinical psychologist, with whom he has two children. Tara Bishop is the daughter of the famed Dr. Barry Chapman Bishop, (1932–1994), a geographer
. Dr. Bishop was a National Geographic Society
editor, photographer of the historic 1963 American Mount Everest
expedition, and chairman of the NGS Research & Exploration Committee.
- 1975 US Army Commendation medal
- 1998 American Alpine Club David Brower Conservation Award
- 2002 Peacemaker Award from Montana Community Mediation Center
- 2003 Climbing Magazine "Golden Piton Award" for humanitarian effort
- 2003 Vincent Lombardi Champion Award for humanitarian service
- 2003 Peacemaker of the Year" Benedictine Monks, Santa Fe , NM
- 2003 Outdoor Person of the Year - Outdoor Magazine
- 2003 Salzburg Seminar fellow, sponsored by Microsoft
- 2004 Freedom Forum "Free Spirit Award" - National Press Club
- 2004 Jeanette Rankin Peace Award - Institute for Peace
- 2005 Men's Journal 'Anti-Terror' Award by Senator John McCain
- 2005 Red Cross “Humanitarian of The Year” Montana
- 2006 Golden Fleur-de-lis Award from Comune Firenze , Italy
- 2007 Medical Education Hall of Fame Award, Toledo , Ohio
- 2007 Rotary International - Paul Harris Award
- 2007 Mountain Institute - Award for Excellence in Mountain Communities
- 2007 The Dayton Literary Peace Prize
- 2008 Citizen Center for Diplomacy - National Award for Citizen Diplomacy
- 2008 Courage of Conscience Award
- 2008 Graven Award - Wartburg College, IA
- 2008 National Award for Citizen Diplomacy - Citizen Center for Diplomacy
- 2009 Academy of Achievement Award -
- 2009 Sitara-e-Pakistan (The Star Of Pakistan Award)
Honorary doctorate degrees
- Concordia College , Moorhead , MN 2007
- University of South Dakota, Vermillion, SD 2007
- Montana State University, MT 2008
- Villanova University, PA 2008
- University of San Francisco, CA 2008
- University of Washington – Bothell, WA 2008
- Lewis & Clark College, OR 2008
- Seattle University, WA 2008
Three Cups of Tea
- Kiriyama Prize Nonfiction Award
- Time Magazine Asia Book of The Year
- Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association - Nonfiction Award
- Montana Honor Book Award
- Borders Bookstore Original Voices Selection
- Banff Mountain Festival Book Award Finalist
- Dayton Literary Prize Nonfiction Award – runner up
- People Magazine – Critics Choice
- Publisher’s Weekly – Starred Review
- Akiner, Shirin; Tidemen, Sander (1998). Sustainable Development In Central Asia:. Curzon Press. ISBN 0-312-21931-8.
- Jones, Karen; Mortenson, Greg (2005). The Difference A Day Makes:. New World Library. ISBN 1-57731-475-1.
- Canfield, Jack; (2005). Chicken Soup For The Peace Loving Soul:. Deerfield Beach. ISBN 0-7573-0312-9.
- Mortenson, Greg; Relin, David Oliver (2006). Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace…One School at a Time. Penguin Group. ISBN 0-670-03482-7.
- Hanson, Kenneth; (2007). Himalayan Portfolios:. Charles Fields. ISBN 0-312-21931-8.
- Mortenson, Greg; Relin, David Oliver; signature by Amira Mortenson, forward by Jane Goddall (2009). Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Change The World…One School at a Time (Young Adult Book). Puffin. ISBN 0-142-41412-3.
- Mortenson, Greg; Roth, Susan - illustrator (2009). Listen To The Wind: A Village in Pakistan Builds a School, (Children's book). Dial Books. ISBN 0-802-729448.