Category Archives: vision and organization

Strength in Numbers 2014 – A Global Launch on Two Wheels

Mountain2Mountain has been lucky to be involved in a variety of arenas in the support of women and girls over the past 7 years since its inception.  2 years of partnerships and 5  years of working in Afghanistan have taught us much, and we have been lucky to be involved with a variety of projects that empower women and girls.   Going forward, our focus is built around our Strength in Numbers program.

The backbone of Strength in Numbers is the belief that one woman can make a difference but an army of women could change the world.  Using bikes, long a symbol of freedom of mobility, and a tool of the women’s suffrage movement in America in the early 1900′s, to unify the women we work with to pedal a revolution of change for women’s rights.

Photo credit Mariam Alimi (39)

Why the bike?  As you know, I became the first person to mountain bike in Afghanistan in 2009, a country that does not allow women to ride.  I have continued to do so for the past four years on every visit as a way of challenging gender barriers and opening conversations.  When I met the first women to bike in Afghanistan, members of the Afghan National cycling Team, I immediately moved forward with supporting the burgeoning cycling movement.

Around the world the bike is used a direct tool for social justice for women and girls – fighting gender violence, increasing access to education and healthcare, and providing overall freedom of mobility.  Not to mention two-wheeled joy.   The bike was an integral part of our own American women’s suffrage movement, as I illustrate in my recent TEDx talk, A Two Wheeled Revolution.

Now we need your support.  Mountain2Mountain has existed with no staff, no offices, and minimal funding for the previous five years.  I have traveled to Afghanistan 15 times with three more trips scheduled this year, several funded by myself.  I have worked full time for M2M since 2007, leveraging the sale of my house and bank loans against my car to support myself and my daughter Devon, in order to create M2M and the projects in the belief that I could create something beautiful and lasting that could have a ripple effect.  It has evolved, gotten a clearer vision, and become my own, but I cannot continue to do this alone.

2014 is set to be a major breakthrough year, we have a entirely new Board of Directors based in Colorado and a vibrant and international Advisory Council to help shepherd in a new era of Mountain2Mountain’s work.  We need your help to create a solid foundation that will allow us to do more good work in the years to come.   The first goal is to build an organizational budget that can support a small staff to work with me on the myriad of programs that support girls and women’s rights and opportunities.  We have developed the Strength in Numbers program, including its expansion beyond Afghanistan with our Global Launch in Rome next year.  We need everyone’s help to come together and make the world a better place for women and girls around the world!

The main programming support for 2014 and beyond is Strength in Numbers with three main programming arms.

1.    Afghanistan Women’s Cycling 2014 Support

  • Ongoing support of the women’s and the men’s national team with gear, equipment, and coaching.  Gear drives and sponsorship.  This is done directly with the Afghan Cycling Federation.
  • Finance a minibus for the women’s team to safely travel to and from training and to transport the bikes
  • Develop solutions for the overall lack of coaching, training, and racing opportunities in Afghanistan
  • Finance racing outside of Afghanistan – travel, lodging, race fees to allow the women to interact with their regional counterparts
  • Petition their involvement in 2016 Olympics in Brazil as observers
  • Focus on team development for future racing / possible exchange outside of Afghanistan to gain spot for 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
  • Expansion of the women’s cycling movement outside of Kabul spring 2014
    • New cycling team development and support of burgeoning cycling groups
      • First ever women’s mountain bike team in Afghanistan started in Bamiyan province
      • First women’s road bike team in Bamiyan province
        • Gear, bikes, clothing
        • Recognition by Afghan Cycling Federation and Afghan Olympic Committee
        • First ever women’s bike race in Afghanistan

 2.    Global Strength in Numbers Launch

  • Women’s Summit:  Launching in Rome in fall 2014 with women from other key countries where women’s rights issues are key to discuss SIN participation
  • Solidarity Ride 2014 in Rome with participation in the US, Afghanistan, Palestine, Pakistan, and India confirmed
  • Announce the spread of  Strength in Numbers into other countries with the goal of spearheading women’s rights activism and future projects.

3.    US based Strength in Numbers Camp

  • One week mountain biking camps that target women who have survived gender violence or girls at risk to empower them to become leaders in the fight for women’s rights globally
  • Summer of 2014 with 1-2 camps in Colorado
  • 2015 they would be one of several global programs under Strength in Numbers and the only US based program of Mountain2Mountain
  • Women would be chosen out of this program to take part in cultural exchanges with women in the global programs to provide cross cultural connections through cycling while developing solutions and programs around the issues of women’s rights and gender violence.

Our biggest roadblock is financial.  We have the support and the development to achieve the global launch of Strength in Numbers, but we need everyone’s help to build the financial foundation to manage this program for the next 5-10 years if we want to see a true ripple of change occur and create a two wheeled revolution with women worldwide.

We have several major assets to help us reach our goals in the long term.  My memoir: Mountain to Mountain: An Adventurer’s Journey Through Afghanistan on Two Wheels  comes out with St. Martin’s press on October 1, 2014.  Afghan Cycles, the documentary film by Let Media is in production and will release in the fall or winter of 2014/2015 and as the film’s non profit partner, all outreach and marketing will direct people to get involved via our Strength in Numbers program.  Major national and international press are covering the team and our work with them in the spring and summer of 2014.  We have amazing partners in the cycling industry with PrimalWear, Skratch Labs, Osprey Packs, Shredly, Handlebar Mustache, Pedros, and Alchemy Bicycles giving their support in year one.  The pieces are in place, we simply need to build our foundational support to allow us to plan long term, not project by project, trip by trip.  The time has come to grow, building a strong and capable team that can lead Mountain2Mountain and our projects forward.

Our Strength IS in our numbers and its time to come together as a global community to support a global program uniting women and girls around the world to tackle gender violence and women’s rights.

You can donate today, or email me directly atinfo@mountain2mountain.org to get more information or discuss your support further.

All my appreciation and gratitude,

Shannon

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Looking Back Before Looking Forward – 5 years in Afghanistan

I recently returned from another trip to Afghanistan.  It was an amazing culmination of 5 years of work there – can you believe its already been 5 years, and 15 trips since the first visit in 2008?  Many of you have been with me since the beginning, with our first event in 2007, which was the equivalent of me dipping my big toe into the water before I dove in headfirst.  Others have joined the journey along the way, and I a grateful for every ounce of support you have given.  Some of you have volunteered, others have donated big and small amounts, many have shared links and tweeted and helped spread the word.  Before announcing the big updates and plans for 2014 and beyond, I thought it was time to take a moment to look back at our success, our failures, and our evolution!

The Streets of Afghanistan had its finale show at the Afghan Center at Kabul University – the Afghan Archives in November 2013.  We donated the entire exhibition to ACKU for their permanent collection, which means it will be used for years to come in unique ways for programming and around the Kabul campus.   The ACKU archive, founded by Nancy DuPree to preserve Afghanistan’s modern history, now has a copy of the Streets of Afghanistan book.  This was the very first project that I started in 2008 with meetings with Afghan photographers, it premiered in April 2011 at the Denver Art Museum, and traveled to Afghanistan as a series of street art installations in October 2012.  The book documents the exhibition’s pop up style exhibitions in Afghanistan with photography from Tony Di Zinno who documented the first visit in 2008, bringing the entire project full circle.

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This past visit, I also witnessed the final stages of the new school construction for Afghan National Association for the Deaf. It brought great joy to see the land we had secured three and a half years ago from President Karzai, and the wall that had been built around it thanks to Rafaat Ludin and IHFD, come to life with the first school building completed sponsored by ISAF.   The wall still has a debt owed on its construction, but without Rafaat Ludin’s willingness to build without funding, the land would have been lost.  This project has been our biggest overstretch and in many ways my biggest failure, despite my pride at seeing the school completed.  It was a lesson in staying true to my roots of activism and empowerment, and staying away from the sticks and bricks projects that many original Board members and donors wanted to see Mountain2Mountain which focused on building schools.  Students started classes and the hope is that ANAD can flourish and begin to expand its program despite the difficulties of sustainable funding that continue to limit its ability to expand sign language education throughout Afghanistan and bring language and communication to all Afghans.

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We have created computer labs at girls schools, we have stocked boys schools with supplies and computers, we have created and supported kindergartens in rehab centers and prisons, and we have paid midwives and teachers annual salaries.  I have spent time speaking with women in prison, female members of Parliament, female ministers of government, teachers, students, artists, musicians, and activists, to gain a better understanding of Afghanistan and the potential of the women’s role in its future development.  We have tried to implement rural midwife training and failed to spread that valuable seed, due to political short-sightedness.  Lack of sustainable funding has prevented many long term approaches from succeeding, but it also allowed us to stay agile and evolve organically.

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As the years and my experience evolved, we found our roots and our unique role.  We have supported graffiti art projects which have created a ripple effect with artists like Shamsia who have created workshops for others to learn this style of art and voice.  Shamsia has been invited to several countries to take part in exhibitions, and this past month she and other local artists like Nabila formed a collective that created the first graffiti art festival.  Around Kabul you can see Banksy-esque stencil art, street art styled billboards, and occasional marks of the original graffiti art project by Combat Communications that started it all.

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We have seen our mission of educating and empowering women and girls evolve to focus beyond education and training,  with activism, arts, and sports to look at ways that connect communities, inspire girls, and build on the belief that women are equal.  Its a perfect fit for me as someone that has been able to travel solo through Afghanistan, as a woman, without security or convoys or restrictions, to connect with Afghans in various areas of Afghanistan, from Kabul to Kandahar, from Mazar i sharif to Maimana, from Khost to Sherbengan.  I believe that larger, staffed, and better funded organizations need to focus on building schools, medical facilities, and conduct trainings.  What makes us unique is our individual approach, our ability to do less, and our goal of inspiring voice and activism in unique ways that challenge gender barriers but that are sustainable, and locally led.

The past five years we have seen recognition of these efforts featured in the New York Times, NBC Nightly News, MSNBC, Dateline NBC, BBC World, Outside Magazine, and hundreds others across the United States, Italy, Brazil, Germany, France, and Spain media and press outlets.  The full list is on our website under newsroom.   The documentary film made about my motivations as the founder behind Mountain2Mountain, MoveShake, won an award at the Adventure Film Festival.  National Geographic recognized me as an Adventurer of the Year for my work in Afghanistan.  I have spoken at TEDx three times – each one about a different aspect of my vision of M2M’s core work:  The Perception of Victimhood and the Power of Voice, A Two Wheeled Revolution, and the most recent, Art as Activism in the Streets of Afghanistan on the TEDx stage in Italy in conjunction with an invitation to speak at the Italian Parliament.  We are making progress, and we are being heard.

FILM PROMO SHANNON

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October 3, 2009, I became the first person to mountain bike in Afghanistan in the Panjshir Valley.  Something I did for many reasons, but first and foremost because it is a country that didn’t allow Afghan women or girls to ride.  I rode to challenge that gender barrier and it led to amazing roadside conversations with random Afghan men about women’s rights, sports, and the work I was doing with Mountain2Mountain.  I rode with boys and men in various parts of the country every visit since that intial ride, but never did I find any women.  The power of the bike as a vehicle for social justice was something that became an unexpected symbol and theme of Mountain2Mountain.  We created a bike team, Team M2M, we created a series of community bike rides as fundraisers, dubbed The Panjshir Tour that launched the same day I attempted to ride across the Panjshir Valley in 2010.  If we couldn’t get girls on bikes, we could use the bike as a tool for fundraising.

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As you know, we found the women that dare to ride last year, and we are now pedaling a revolution with the Afghan National Women’s Bike Team.  Our initial step this year supported the first women cyclists focused on our spring gear drive and distribution, which brought over 7 racing bikes and over 450 pounds of cycling gear for the mens and the women’s cycling teams, and raised awareness internationally of these amazing women.     In a country that has historically not allowed women to ride bikes, we are witnessing the challenge, and the eventual elimination, of this gender barrier.  We are building ongoing support, training, and future coaching and we are now playing a role in spreading the women’s cycling movement beyond Kabul for years to come.   This spring we will be launching the first ever women’s mountain bike team and a companion road bike team in Bamiyan province.  We are supporting the spread of a two wheeled revolution for women with the creation of our Strength in Numbers program.  Believing that one woman can create change, we believe that our real strength is in our numbers and that we could create an army of women that could change the world, and we believe we can do it on two wheels.  We need your help  to continue our work in Afghanistan on behalf of the women that dare to ride – who are breaking long held taboos, and who see the bike as their right.

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I also stepped up as the producer for the production of the Afghan Cycles documentary film, with Let Media and an all female film crew to document the women who dare to ride and tell their inspiring stories.  The film is in production and set to premiere in the fall or winter of 2014/2015.  You can learn more about the production and watch the trailer at www.afghancycles.com  As the film’s non profit partner, all outreach will directed to supporting women who ride through our Strength in Numbers program.

IMG_5557There are several ways to get involved.  The biggest is helping us reach out goal of 100 Bikes by Christmas, which thanks to the support of articles with Matador Network and GOOD Magazine and their planned New Year’s outreach, we’ve extended into the New Year.  41 bikes were purchased as gifts which we will purchase and distribute this spring to women and girls.   $100 = 1 bike that we can donate to the women that are learning to ride in Afghanistan.  You can learn more on our Facebook Campaign or you can donate directly online here:  www.mountain2mountain.org/donation

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You can also purchase a copy of Streets of Afghanistan book for your friends and family – proceeds benefit Mountain2Mountain.

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We are still operating as a one-woman show, no office, no staff, and building our projects and our reputation one trip at a time. It takes a village to create a revolution – and I am grateful for every single donation that comes in, knowing that it is literally the difference between creating change and accepting the status quo.  Those of you that donate have affected the lives of women in Afghanistan in profound ways.  You should be proud, and I am continually humbled and grateful.  If you can make an end of year donation to help us keep our working moving forward, you can donate directly at www.mountain2mountain.org/donation!

Thank you for being with us through the ups and the downs – we can’t wait to pedal a revolution with all of you in the years ahead as we build our strength in numbers!

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Deaf School Finishes Construction and I Breathe Sigh of Relief

Today I witnessed something I feared may never happen, the construction of a school for the deaf in Kabul with ANAD.  Five years ago I first met ANAD, Parween was my incredible link to the fully deaf administration that had founded ANAD and was running a school in a remote area of Kabul under dire circumstances.

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I wrote a short blog about meeting ANAD and the situation for the deaf community in Afghanistan, The Deafening Silence, which I had hoped would inspire those that read it to get involved.

Three years ago I was taken to a run down, dungeon-like building in a remote district of Kabul. This school was run by the deaf, for the deaf children of Kabul.  One of only three small schools in Afghanistan. I was led upstairs to meet Ghaffar, a gentle man with thick glasses who is a modern day Afghan Helen Keller, deaf his entire life, and now slowly losing his sight as well.  He is the heart and soul of the burgeoning deaf community.  The only hearing person in the room besides me and my translator was Parween Azimi, a petite woman, with large brown eyes, in a lavender headscarf who serves as the only liason for ANAD with the hearing world. Parween answered my many questions, and throughout the day, she proved to be much more than a translator between the deaf and the hearing…she is their lifeline. Their only link to the world outside their concrete walls.

As we toured the classrooms, some indoors and some outside in the walled in courtyard, all devoid of any furniture save an occasional blackboard, children’s faces beamed when we walked in. Boys and girls of all ages were split into grades K-6, learning to sign, based on their communication level versus their age. Sitting on the floor with the students, they eagerly took turns teaching me to sign: “hello, how are you, thank you, you’re welcome”. I was given a sign for my name, shown how to ask “Can I take a picture?”, and how to ‘clap’ with the other students. They asked me questions about my life, my country, my daughter. I was given a much deeper taste of the frustration of not being able to communicate that went far beyond my usual limited language skills. Why had I not been exposed to sign language in my own country? How could I be this cut off from an entire segment of population? 

For two years, worked to secure land for ANAD from President Karzai and had a inauguration ceremony at the site.   Soon after we were able to ensure that ANAD wouldn’t lose this land, common in Afghanistan as often its a matter of ‘he who builds first, owns’.  An amazing Afghan man living in Colorado, Rafaat Ludin, offered to build the security wall, knowing we didn’t have the money to build it, but realizing that ANAD wouldn’t be able to keep the land without it.

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The wall was built, a well was dug, and Global Exchange donated hundreds of fruit trees to grow in the courtyard.  At the time, this slice of land was only accessible by a bone jarring drive, which hasn’t changed much in the three years since we secured the land.  What HAS changed is the immense change to the landscape around this desolate piece of land.  What was literally a wasteland, a vast dusty, empty landscape, with our 5 acre piece of land enclosed by a security wall standing alone, is now an explosion of construction.

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This weekend, the students start moving in to the school, built by ISAF.  There is still much to be done, but it does my heart good to see that we were able to facilitate a permanent home for the deaf community and that we can continue to connect those that want to help to ANAD and help them build their capacity, teacher training, and reach their long term educational and outreach goals for the deaf of Afghanistan.  It has been such a pleasure to work in their service in some small way.   We are still raising funds to pay for the wall, something that exceeds Mountain2Mountain’s small annual budget.  Parween hugged me today on the drive to the school, “Shannon without the land, we wouldn’t have a home, without the wall, we would have lost the land.”  The road is long and our goal is to continue to connect them to those that can help them continue forward and build a deaf community for all of Afghanistan.

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Mountain2Mountain Founder Shannon Galpin Featured in ‘American Dreamers’

The recently released American Dreamers book features an essay by our very own Shannon Galpin. What is American Dreamers? An initiative of Sharp Stuff, American Dreamers “is for those who believe in brighter futures. Gathering the optimists, mavericks, and mad inventors who believe we can create a better world, American Dreamers is a guidebook for optimism and an art book for inspiration.”

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Black Friday for Change

Each year I’m flummoxed by the kickoff to our holiday season.  Let’s bring family and friends together to give thanks for what we have on Thursday, and then trample our fellow man at 5am at a local Walmart to purchase cheap electronics on Friday?  How does that celebrate the holiday season?

“good will towards men”

“peace on earth”

Are these just words we write on our holiday cards out of tradition and the brainwashing of decades of Christmas carols?  We spend an insane amount of time and money on decorations and presents and general fa-la-la-la’ing – but  these days its only surface deep.

We should be living the holiday spirit every day – wishing our global neighbors and our literal neighbors ‘peace on earth’.  We should be treating those around us with smiles, and good cheer, and homemade sugar cookies ALL YEAR ROUND.  Not just when we bust out the artificial holiday wreath and tack it to our front door.

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MoveShake Premieres at Adventure Film Festival

This Saturday, the short documentary film, MoveShake, premiered Shannon Galpin: A MoveShake Story on the big screen of Adventure Film Festival in Boulder. A story of determination of a life dedicated to raising the voices of women and girls in conflict zones like Afghanistan, and as her role as a mother of a seven-year-old daughter.
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Strength in Numbers

Next spring, after four years working in Afghanistan, Mountain2Mountain will launch it first domestic program, ‘Strength in Numbers’, in the United States, targeting young women at-risk, female military veterans, and violence survivors. Utilizing the bike as a vehicle for social justice, beyond traditional bike donations, instead considering mountain biking as a seed for cultural exchange and self-determination abroad and at home.

‘Strength in Numbers’ is an evolution from our ongoing work with women and girls in Afghanistan and our founder, Shannon Galpin’s, own personal experience as a victim of violence, and her continued push on gender and cultural barriers by becoming the first woman to mountain bike there, a country where women are not allowed to ride bikes.   The first program will launch in spring 2013.

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Land Grabs, Reuters News, and Rock Music – Kabul Update

This visit to Kabul has been short and sweet, if not full of its usual challenges.

Following the spate of recent attacks that have marked an significant increase in violence over the past months since I was last here (Intercontinental Hotel, US Embassy, Rabbani’s assassination) I arrived on the 2nd day of national mourning to quiet and often barricaded streets.   Add in some cross border rocket attacks by Pakistan into Afghanistan and the shift in talk to ISI and Haqqani’s as the real threat behind terrorism, and you can say tensions are more than a little stretch.  Consequently, two public street marches within a few days in the central Shar e nau district, with chants of “death to Pakistan” “death to the Taliban” show that the Afghans are not going to continue to take attacks quietly.

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Pedal Power Nation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This October, the Panjshir Tour rolls into several cities – grassroots, community bike rides that supportMountain2Mountain’s work with women and children in conflict zones. This is the second year of the Tour, based off my experiences mountain biking in Panjshir province of Afghanistan. Yup, Afghanistan.

Countries like Afghanistan don’t culturally allow women on bikes right now, and while our project focus is targeted towards women and girls, its not about getting them on bikes, Rather, its about using the bike as a vehicle for social justice and change for women’s rights. It’s a subtle difference, but a powerful one. Mountain2Mountain’swork is advocacy, education, training, and cultural outreach. We aren’t trying to rashly push on cultural boundaries unnecessarily over there, but we can use the bike back here as a tool to affect change in increments that are sustainable.

Thus the Panjshir Tour was born when I rode across the Panjshir Valley last October, and riders in eight communities rode with me in solidarity for women’s rights, using their sweat equity to help raise awareness and funds for our projects. Rides like the one in Saratoga Springs, New York which was spearheaded by 11-year-old Reese Arthur around her neighborhood with her fellow students, or the one in Washington DC that started at ended at previously designated women’s prisons during the suffrage movement. The deaf university, Gallaudet University in Washington DC hosted a campus ride knowing it would benefit our work with the Afghan National Association for the deaf as we work to build a school, and cruiser bikes hit the beach path in LA in an impromptu ride.

Countries like Afghanistan don’t culturally allow women on bikes right now, yet my experience riding across the Panjshir Valley, as a foreign woman, on a bike was met with friendly curiosity and often incredulity, but never animosity. The interactions created by their curiosity led to endless conversations and questions about my purpose there and my work in the area, and often concluded with requests to visit their village, or offers to join their family for dinner. The gracious tradition of Muslim hospitality to travelers firmly in place even in a country enduring nearly forty years of conflict.

It was my goal to challenge perceptions and invite conversation on both sides of the equation. Challenging the stereotypes of women and Americans in Afghanistan, while challenging parallel stereotypes of Afghans as a people and as a nation in the United States. Bridging cultures and communities on two wheels.

Women that I know that lived and worked in Afghanistan in the 60′s as part of the Peace Corps rode their bikes daily to and from work – a far cry from the security lockdowns and convoys required today. Women like Dervla Murphy pedaled solo across the entire region prior to the Soviet’s invasion. We all know the power of the pedal. Connecting communities, reducing our carbon footprint, improving our health, exploring new cultures, and in third world countries the list grows to social issues like increasing access to education and healthcare, and decreasing violence against women. Pedal power indeed.

It is this pedal power that sparked the Panjshir Tour in cities like Los Angeles, Denver, Minneapolis, Saratoga Springs, Santa Rosa, Portland, and Washington DC.

Actor and bike advocate Matthew Modine expressed his support of the Panjshir Tour as honorary co-chair of this year’s event stating, “The women and girls of Afghanistan deserve our attention and support. This is not a women’s issue or an Afghanistan issue. Its a human rights issue. I want to encourage everyone with a bike to use it as a vehicle for social change by coming out and riding with us and showing your support for gender equity and opportunity for women and girls all over the world”

By coming together with our bikes, we can fight for justice, we can battle for change, and we can do it one pedal stroke at a time.

Come join us this October, or start your own grassroots ride in your community. Get pedaling and get involved!

(originally published in Huffington Post - September 9, 2011)

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Jewelry in a War Zone? Collaboration for the Women of the World

Talisman. def: an object held to act as a charm, avert evil and bring good fortune

My talisman is a silver ring that I’ve had for several years. It’s now scratched and has a small dent but I wear it every day because of the words inscribed upon the silver.

Words have power. We use them to express feeling and invoke emotion. Words can rally the masses, rage against injustice and soothe a broken heart. Time and time again, we return to familiar passages, quotes and phrases to remind us of how others described what we have felt.

I am a lover of the power of words. I surround myself with quotes from Churchill, poetry from Hafiz and the words of great orators, philosophers and writers to inspire and push me forward.

Several years ago my family gave me the silver ring that has become my talisman – a piece from San Francisco designer, Jeanine Payer. The inscription by Longfellow reads, “the lowest ebb is at the turn of the tide.”

They gave it to me to remind me to be strong, follow my heart and believe that the tide would one day turn. I had recently cashed in all of my meager personal funds to launch a nonprofit called Mountain2Mountain, an organization dedicated to empowering the women and children of Afghanistan. I had a two-year-old daughter and I was taking a huge personal risk. Nevertheless, I decided to set the best possible example for my daughter by investing in the belief that I could build a sustainable organization that could benefit women and girls for generations to come. I’ve never looked back.

There is an unusual strength that comes from wearing the words that inspire us. The power of words in a tangible form, present on our bodies, is like a whisper in your ear, “be strong, be brave, don’t give up”.

Jewelry is not the first thing anyone would normally reach for when selecting an appropriate wardrobe to take to a warzone. But it has been for me. I’ve worn that ring on every trip to Afghanistan. Jeanine didn’t know it at the time, but she was with me through multiple trips, under burqas in Kandahar, sleeping in village homes, and inside women’s prisons. She rode a buzkashi horse, fished in the Panjshir river, and was there when I became the first woman to mountainbike in Afghanistan. She has survived suicide bombs and gun attacks. Her ring and those words have protected and inspired me through it all.

The ring has been a constant reminder that the turn of the tide is always coming, wave after wave, day after day. Today the ring is criss-crossed with scatches and has a small dent, but even that reminds me of everything I have accomplished, with Mountain2Mountain, and as a mother.

It’s always with me, not like a lucky pair of socks, but as a powerful amulet bestowing courage and hope even in the darkest of times. Its words inspire my next steps, linking my future actions to the words I wear.

A few years ago, on my birthday, my parents gave me a pair of Jeanine’s earrings. “I dwell in possibility,” they say. While I don’t wear them as often, I smile every time I slide them on. Every time I wear them, I dwell in possibility. They remind me that everything and anything is possible if I am willing to forge ahead.

A few months ago I reached out to Jeannie to share the story of my ring and thank her for all it’s meant to me. I asked if she understood the power of her designs and the inscriptions. She sent me a link from People magazine that talked about the power of words and talismans. She is keenly aware that aware that words can spark change and inspire courage.

In honor of the 100th Anniversary of International Women’s Day, Jeannie has agreed to collaborate with me on three pieces of jewelry to benefit Mountain2Mountain’s work to create gender equity and girls’ education in Afghanistan. She has designed five beautiful pieces that are powerful representations of the courage of women all around the world. Her designs are inscribed with these words:

“Courage, strength, and hope possess my soul…I will stand firmly and without fear.” – Goethe

“When its dark, you can see the stars” – Persian proverb

…and, in honor of the power of my own talisman, she has reintroduced the Longellow quote from the ring she designed several years ago. The one I wear:

“The lowest ebb is at the turn of the tide”

It is my sincere hope that our collaboration, the power of these words, and the proceeds that go to help us empower more women and girls in Afghanistan will help lead to a turning of the tide in women’s rights all around the world.

Take a look. Wear the words. Stand firm, and dwell in the possible.

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