Central Asia Institute’s History
In 1993, after a failed attempt to climb the world’s second highest mountain, K2, Greg Mortenson became enchanted with the local peoples, many of whom risked their lives every year serving as porter for mountaineers just like him.
One day, in the impoverished village of Korphe, located high in the Karakorum mountain range of Pakistan, Mortenson witnessed some of the local children scratching their school lessons in the dirt. Appalled that children would have to endure such conditions and enamored with the kindness of the Balti people, Mortenson resolved to build a school.
It would be many years before he could make good on his promise, but make good he did thanks to the support of wealthy benefactor and fellow climber, Dr. Jean Hoerni. Inspired by Mortenson’s passion and drive, Hoerni agreed to underwrite a bridge and school for the village.
In 1995, with the completion of the Korphe projects, Mortenson found himself at a crossroads – either return to the states and once again take up his career as a nurse, or continue on this path and bring education to other isolated Central Asian communities.
Having seen firsthand the desperate need and overwhelming desire for education, Mortenson could not in good conscience abandon this work. Luckily, Jean Hoerni shared his sentiment.
In 1996 Hoerni and Mortenson established Central Asia Institute (CAI) and appointed Mortenson as its director. Sadly, Hoerni wouldn’t survive to see the organization grow into an international, humanitarian force. Hoerni died in 1997 from myelofibrosis, a rare form of bone cancer, but Mortenson would dedicate the next two decades of his life to the charity.
Several years after CAI’s founding, Mortenson would co-author Three Cups of Tea, an account of his experiences in Pakistan. The book, a New York Times best-seller, and its sequel Stones into Schools, catapulted CAI into the global spotlight, giving the charity a powerful platform to advocate for peace through education.
Though Mortenson and Hoerni had no way of knowing when they first created the organization, CAI would change the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. Over two decades, CAI’s programs and projects have expanded into other far-flung regions of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Tajikistan, many of them too dangerous or isolated for other organizations to reach.
CAI has been successful in these areas because it maintains that the best method for sustainable, widespread change is to initiate projects requested by the community – ask communities what they need, don’t tell them. This philosophy has proven effective time and time again. To date, the organization has initiated over 400 projects, and hundreds of new requests for help cross our desks every day. We look forward to tackling these future projects, because we truly believe the surest path to peace it through education. With education we can change the world, one child at a time.