Greg Mortenson was born in St. Cloud, Minnesota on December 27, 1957. Before he was a year old, his missionary parents, Irvin "Dempsey" and Jerene, moved to Tanzania, Africa, where they built the country's first teaching hospital. Mortenson lived in Africa until 1975, when he enlisted in the U.S. Army and was stationed in Germany. It was in Germany that Mortenson took an interest in medicine, a subject he later pursued at the University of South Dakota. In 1983, he earned a bachelor's degree in nursing and chemistry.
After college, Mortenson developed a love of climbing and moved to California. He worked as a nurse in between his climbing expeditions, earning enough money to pay for his expenses. But in 1993, Mortenson put his climbing interests away after he almost lost his life attempting to climb K2, the second tallest mountain peak in the world. From this point onward, Mortenson changed the direction of his life, dedicating all his efforts to help improve the lives of the people living in poverty in isolated Pakistani and Afghan villages that existed alongside the treacherous Asian mountain peaks.
In the ensuing years, Mortenson worked to eradicate illiteracy, especially among the girls in the Muslim villages in Pakistan and Afghanistan. He has also helped to establish small businesses to promote self-sufficiency among the women. He has opened training schools for medics as well as for mountain guides.
For his efforts, in 2008, Mortenson received Pakistan's highest civilian award, the Star of Pakistan. In 2009, Mortenson was named by U.S. News & World Report as one of America's Top Twenty Leaders. And in the same year, the National Education Association honored him with the Human & Civil Rights Award. He has been nominated, in two consecutive years—2008 and 2009—for the Nobel Peace Prize.
David Oliver Relin, who has spent many years living in Vietnam and Pakistan as an investigative reporter for...
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