Pennies for Peace - Q&A

What is Pennies for Peace?
Pennies for Peace is a fundraising program developed to teach children about the world beyond their experience and to show them they can make a positive impact on a global scale, one small act (or penny) at a time.

Based on the work of Greg Mortensen, described in the book Three Cups of Tea, One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace One School at a Time, Pennies for Peace raises funds to build and endow village schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Pennies collected by American children provide materials and skilled workers to assist village residents to build their own schools. Funds also support teachers’ salaries and books.

Why was the Pennies for Peace program developed?
When Greg Mortenson decided to build a school for the village of Korphe, he sent 500 letters to celebrities, and received only one check back. He became discouraged, and his mother, a principal, suggested talking to the children at her school. They raised $623.40 in pennies, his largest donation ever (at that time). The generosity of the children prompted adults to give, and Greg was able to raise $12,000 in a year, enough for the first school.

The philosophy behind Pennies for Peace is that our best hope for a peaceful and prosperous world lies in the education of all the world’s children. Pennies for Peace encourages children, who will be our future leaders, to participate in creating global peace through education. Through the program, children gain cross-cultural understanding and learn how to approach world problems with a “solution” orientation.

Where does the money raised for Pennies for Peace go?

Pennies for Peace is a program of the Central Asia Institute (CAI), the non-profit Greg Mortenson established to build secular schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The board of CAI decided to designate 100% of the money raised through Pennies for Peace to go into a restricted fund that is only spent overseas to support building and supplying schools.

How many schools has the Central Asia Institute built?
CAI has helped to build 78 schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan; it also supports 48 schools in refugee camps in the region. The organization has helped to improve the lives of over 33,000 children, in a part of the world where the literacy rate is as low as 20%.

Why is it called Pennies for Peace?
First of all, the penny, 1% of a dollar, is symbolic of the ‘1% of Gross Domestic Product’ goal set by the United Nations for wealthy countries to give in foreign aid to impoverished nations each year. A penny in the United States is virtually worthless, but in Pakistan and Afghanistan a penny buys a pencil and opens the door to literacy. By focusing on pennies it is possible for all students, including those of very limited means, to participate fully in the fundraising campaign, and to see that they can make a significant difference in the world.

As for peace: education is the key to global peace and cross-cultural understanding. The pennies collected provide educational opportunity to thousands of children living in small mountain villages in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Literacy, for both boys and girls, provides better economic opportunities in the future. By giving students more choices, the power of despot mullahs and other extremist leaders is neutralized. Since Greg Mortenson began his work to build schools in 1993, there has been a decrease in violence in the mountain villages he and his organization have helped.

What are CAI’s overhead costs?
Like nearly every non-profit organization, a percentage of the money raised for CAI pays for staff to handle the administrative and fundraising functions. The organization’s goal is to spend no more than 15% of their revenue on these costs (meaning that 85% would go directly into programs). Most years, they come close to that goal.

When Greg’s book was released in 2006, the CAI board made a strategic decision to pay the costs associated with a nation-wide book tour to promote the book and spread the word about the work of CAI. This decision caused their overhead costs to increase significantly for the duration of the tour; however, as their IRS reports show, this decision paid off. In the year before the book tour, they raised $2.8 million to build and support schools. Since then, their operating budget has more than quadrupled and CAI’s overhead costs have returned to normal levels. In 2008, 79% of all funds raised went directly toward building and supporting schools.

Regardless of CAI’s overhead costs, 100% of all monies ever raised for P4P have gone directly overseas to support school construction, teacher salaries, and school supplies.

Have any schools being supported through Pennies for Peace been bombed or destroyed?

In Three Cups of Tea, Greg notes that because CAI’s schools are built by community residents, the Taliban risks alienating people by bombing these schools. As of March 2009, NO schools supported or built through Pennies for Peace have been bombed or destroyed.

How many U.S. schools have participated in Pennies for Peace?
More than 4,000 American schools have raised funds for Pennies for Peace, 141 in Washington State (11 of those are in Snohomish County, not counting SSD schools).

Did you know? …

Greg Mortenson, founder of CAI, is not only receiving the Star of Pakistan, Pakistan’s highest civilian honor, he has also been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

The U.S. Department of Defense buys thousands of copies of Three Cups of Tea each year for the U.S. War College; they use the book for anti-insurgency training.

  • U.S. Navy Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, often references the book as he describes his efforts to build alliances with Middle Eastern leaders. In an interview about his work to develop a relationship with Pakistan's army chief, General Kayani, Mullen stated, “It is said in that part of the world, after one cup of tea, you are strangers. After two cups you are friends. And after three cups of tea, you become family. I’d like to believe I am working on at least my second cup of tea with him [Gen. Kayani].”
  • In an article dated 12/26/2008, the Wall Street Journal quoted Col. Christopher Kolenda, who commanded an Army brigade in Afghanistan: “Education is the long-term solution to fanaticism. As Greg points out so well, ignorance breeds hatred and violence.”

Who is Greg Mortenson?

Greg is a former mountain climber. In 1993 he attempted to climb K2, the world’s 2nd highest mountain, located in the Himalayas. Weak and ill after his failed attempt, he became separated from his party and was taken in by the villagers of Korphe. They nursed him back to health, giving him the best of their scant supplies of food.

Greg learned more about how the people lived in the village, that they did not have enough to eat, that one in three children died before the age of one. He learned that the children who survived had no school and met on an open piece of land where a teacher came to them three days a week. He vowed to build them a school to express his gratitude for their care, not realizing it would become his life’s work.

Now through his efforts, 78 schools have been built in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and he has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Why are all Snohomish schools collaborating on this one fundraising effort? Couldn’t they be more effective working on individual projects?
Our Snohomish school community has a long tradition of generosity. Food drives, holiday baskets, fundraising for the Snohomish Education Foundation, and scholarships and extra opportunities for students are just a few of the many ways parents, staff and students contribute. These programs will continue at individual schools at other times of the year.

Pennies for Peace offers an opportunity for a unique learning experience. Designed for children, the program teaches them the power they have as individuals to make a difference in the world. As they learn about conditions in Pakistan and Afghanistan, they can also learn the rewards of sharing and working together to bring hope and opportunities to the children who live there.

Our children will see how their contributions, penny by penny, can amount to something significant. The goal for this fundraiser is $50,000, enough to build a school and endow it for 3-5 years. $50,000 is a very large number. Building a school in another country is a very large goal. And yet, if every student contributes just 527 pennies, we will be able to accomplish this goal.

Sharing this fundraiser also strengthens our sense of being one community, beyond our individual school walls.

We have a lot of need in our country, and right here in our community. Why are we raising funds for another part of the world?
Yes, we do have needs in our community, and our schools have a good track record of generous giving to many causes right here at home. Pennies for Peace offers a unique opportunity to do something big that creates significant, generations-long change for others. In our economy, our funds will not go as far. A school here costs millions of dollars, and yet we can build a school in Pakistan or Afghanistan for $12,000. This is a great chance for our students to learn the power they have as individuals to make a difference in our world.

How are Snohomish schools working together on this?
This is a truly collaborative, community effort. Student leadership classes, ASB’s, and student councils are taking the lead for planning the fundraising activities in each school. Parent organizations are handling the bookkeeping. “Watch DOG” Dads are picking up the pennies and taking them to the bank. District teachers are working on lesson plans and enrichment activities. The Snohomish Education Foundation is providing a class set of books of the appropriate reading levels for each school. And - best of all - every child will be able to fully participate by giving just one penny.

Will Pennies for Peace detract from important learning students need?
Not at all. The Pennies for Peace program provides a toolkit of materials to assist with the program, including videos, maps, photos, and fact sheets. In addition, a core team of Snohomish educators have prepared writing prompts, math and reading lessons. The book, Three Cups of Tea, One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace One School at a Time, has been adapted for different reading levels. The Snohomish Education Foundation has provided each school with a class set of the appropriate reading levels.

How does Pennies for Peace benefit Snohomish students?
In addition to the lessons in reading, writing, math and social studies, Pennies for Peace teaches children the rewards of sharing and working together to help others. Children don’t always feel they have power to make a difference in the world. The experience of being part of an effort to build a school and seeing that goal be accomplished is a lesson that cannot be taught in a textbook.

Snohomish students are very fortunate. Through the capital facilities bonds approved in 2004 and 2008, Snohomish schools are being built, renovated, expanded, and furnished with up-to-date technology to support student learning. As our children and young adults learn about the children from across the world who yearn for even the smallest educational opportunities, they learn valuable lessons about the importance of education they may take for granted.

What kind of school will be built?
We do not know yet exactly where our school will be built. The school in Korphe, the first school Greg Mortenson built in Pakistan, is 1,970 square feet with 4 classrooms and a library, plus a teacher’s room and a toilet. A school this size will serve approximately 95 students.

Do girls have access to an education through these schools?

Absolutely. The mission of the sponsoring organization, Central Asia Institute (CAI) focuses on community-based education, especially for girls.

Greg Mortenson likes to quote an African proverb: “Educate a boy, and you educate an individual; educate a girl and you educate a community.” A fifth grade education for girls improves the basic health for that girl and her family. She will also spread the value of education within her community. Literacy, for both boys and girls, provides better economic opportunities in the future and neutralizes the power of despot mullahs and other extremist leaders.

How can I find out more?
See Pennies for Peace and Central Asia Institute (CAI), see