Central Asia Institute’s story begins in 1993 in the small farming village of Korphe in northeastern Pakistan, situated at the foot of the Karakoram mountain range along the banks of the Braldu River. Against all odds, the seed planted in that harsh, unforgiving terrain germinated and grew, weathering good seasons and bad, to eventually become who we are today: an organization that brings education to thousands of children and adults in remote, mountainous regions of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan.
In the early 1990s, American mountaineer Greg Mortenson spent time in the village of Korphe while climbing in northern Pakistan. He fell in love with the people. The kindness and hospitality he received from the villagers despite their extreme poverty touched him deeply. To return their kindness, he pledged to build a school in Korphe. Fellow mountaineer Dr. Jean Hoerni agreed to finance the project.
Mortenson and Hoerni were convinced that education was needed not just in Korphe but in poor, isolated villages throughout the region. They believed education was the most effective tool for addressing poverty, building peace, and fighting oppression. They understood the transformative power of education, especially for girls and women, to change lives for the better. In 1996, Mortenson returned to Bozeman, Montana, another mountain community, where he and Hoerni established Central Asia Institute.
The school in Korphe was the start of a journey that neither Mortenson nor Hoerni could have imagined 25 years ago. Once the children of Korphe graduated from the school that Mortenson and Hoerni built, the students had few options to continue their education. Only a handful of secondary schools existed, and those were miles away. CAI stepped up and, with the help of local partners and community leaders, built more schools.
Our scholarship program was launched years later when those secondary graduates needed assistance with college tuition and fees. Along the way we broadened our focus to include early childhood education. Each year a growing number of young children are receiving the benefits of a child development program during their most formative years.
In conjunction with expanding our program offerings, we also extended our geographic reach. From a valley in Pakistan, we took our mission and programs into conflict-ridden, oppressive Afghanistan and, years later, across the river into Tajikistan. Always the focus has been on bringing education to the children and adults who most need our help. Over the years, we’ve witnessed the astonishing impact of educating girls and women. Although we educate all children, we focus primarily on females because an educated girl, more than her male counterpart, has a ripple effect in her family, community, and country.
Not every secondary graduate is a candidate for college, yet young women want and need a way to earn a living. We have responded with a livelihoods program that equips women with a vocational skill that allows them to earn income. In possession of a marketable skill, the women are no longer relegated to a predetermined life of caretaking and household chores. The ability to earn money empowers women to make decisions for themselves and their families, and to provide financial support.
Over the course of CAI’s long history, the essence of our work hasn’t changed. The seed that sprouted and took root decades ago in that hard and inhospitable ground of the Karakoram range has grown into a healthy and thriving forest. But our journey has not been without challenges. In 2011 we weathered a storm that led to a change in leadership and improved oversight and accountability. During that time the work never stopped, and as a result, we emerged stronger, more focused, and more convinced than ever that education is the world’s most powerful tool for change.
Thanks to the dedicated support of our generous donors, we’ve grown from educating the children of one isolated village in Pakistan to serving tens of thousands of children and adults with a variety of programs, offerings, and resources in remote, often difficult-to-reach communities spread across three countries in one of the most conflict-ridden regions of the globe. We see the need and respond by building a school, providing supplies, training teachers, awarding scholarships, and sponsoring livelihoods training.
You are the link between us identifying a need and being able to respond. Without your gifts, we wouldn’t have a story. Your support means thousands of lives have been changed in ways both simple and profound. Thank you for believing in the power of education and for helping to make the dream of education come true. Together we’re changing the world, one girl at a time. And with your help, the work will continue for years to come.
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