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An Email From the Central Asia Institute on 'Pennies for Peace'

I'd like to report on one aspect of the Pennies for Peace program, run by the Central Asia Institute, that I didn't cover in my blog post yesterday in which I summarized the institute's defense of how it has handled donations. A news report by "60 Minutes" and an online article by journalist Jon Krakauer has questioned how the institute has used its funds and the truth of stories about the life of the institute's executive director, Greg Mortenson, that he has published in his nonfiction books.

In an article in this week's issue of Education Week, I wrote about those allegations, and I included information from Anne Beyersdorfer, a spokeswoman for the institute, who said that the Pennies for Peace program restricts the use of all its donations for education programs in Central Asia.

I didn't include this point, however, in yesterday's blog post. I just received an email from Beyersdorfer, and she stressed the importance of telling supporters that their donations to Pennies for Peace were specifically allocated to building and supporting schools abroad.

Here are her own words:

Just wanted to clarify after reading your blog that CAI has made it clear that supporters have the opportunity to restrict their donations for use on educational programs in Central Asia; and that the Pennies for Peace program is a restricted program and every penny goes (and has always gone) to help children and their families in educational opportunities with schools, supplies, teacher salaries, and scholarships.

She referred readers to this link.

And I sent her the following reply:

I also think that the kind of information educators are looking for is more specifics about how Pennies for Peace money was spent, which isn't laid out in any of your publications or financial statements from what I can see. For example, could you provide a list of schools and how much each of them received from Pennies for Peace over the last few years and how much money is left in the Pennies for Peace fund?

I also asked for a copy of the organization's 2010 990 tax return.

Yesterday Mortenson posted a letter to supporters on the institute's web site indicating that his role with the organization will change. He pointed supporters to a special spring issue of "Journey of Hope," which he noted "contains answers to numerous questions raised in light of recent media criticism." (That's the publication I blogged about yesterday.)

"In the near future, as well as in the long-term, we will continue to work hard, and make the necessary changes to ensure that Central Asia Institute and Pennies for Peace thrive as my role is redefined," he said.

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