Two schoolhouses—one never used and falling apart, the other full of children and thriving—built in the Afghanistan countryside by Greg Mortenson's scandal-embroiled charity show the complexities of bringing aid to this desolate, war-torn region. "But what I saw of the school-building program was difficult to fit neatly into either the heroic narrative offered by Mr. Mortenson, or the depiction of greed by his accusers," writes Edward Wong in the New York Times. Rather, "what the two schools, especially the empty one, may reflect most plainly is the complexity of any development work in a country like Afghanistan."
There, as in much of the developing world, culture and language can change from one valley to the next, and whether the local populace buys into a project is crucial for success," Wong writes. The empty boarding school high in the mountains along the Pakistan border, the centerpiece of Mortenson's second book, Stones Into Schools, was built at the request of a village elder years earlier. But a 2008 program to teach children in that region in their yurts suddenly eliminated the need for a school, so it was never finished. “If it was the only game in town, they’d send their kids down there,” says an American anthropologist. “But by the time the school had been finished, there was an alternative.”