Tag Archives: activism

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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Gear Drive, Bikes, Women, and Afghanistan

Thanks to the talents of Sarah Menzies of Let Media, we had a filmmaker on hand for our most recent trip to Afghanistan.  She generously gave her time and skills to edit a behind the scenes peek at the gear drive to support the men’s and women’s cycling teams of Afghanistan, while she was in Kabul to start production on Afghan Cycles, a film about the women’s national cycling team.  We are so excited to share this with the Mountain2Mountain community who helped make this happen, and hope you’ll share it with your community and networks to help us rally more support for these incredible cyclists as we rally for a second round of gear donation this fall, and are raising money to rent a minibus and driver so that the women’s team has safer transportation to and from training rides on the outskirts of Kabul.  We hope you’ll be inspired by the women that dare to ride and be part of our next steps with the teams this fall.

We need your help to get the second round of bikes and gear over to Afghanistan this fall in support of the women’s national team.  Please donate today and help us rally the funding we need to continue to support the women that are changing the face of women in sport!

In addition – a huge thanks to the film crew that was part of this journey; Sarah Menzies, Whitney Conner Clapper, Claudia Lopez who along with myself as producer, make up the crew for the upcoming film, Afghan Cycles, about the Afghan National Women’s Cycling Team – the women that DARE TO RIDE!   You can follow the progress and behind the scenes photos and blogs on Facebook and stay tuned for details as the film is in production with plans for a spring 2014 premiere!

Read more about our spring gear drive and support for the women’s national cycling team here!

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Streets of Afghanistan Exhibitions a Success

“Vision without action is merely a dream. Action without vision just passes the time. Vision with action can change the world.”  – Joel A. Barker

Against the odds, Mountain2Mountain completed 5 public exhibitions and 2 photo stagings at historic sites over the past two weeks in Afghanistan.

The first was a staging at Kabul’s historic Darulamon Palace.

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A Space for Art Emerges in Kabul

Afghanistan is not the place you think of for emerging artists and activist culture.  Yet few countries in the world are more ripe for an artistic scene.  Just sit for a few hours over coffee at The Venue, a coffeeshop turned artist refuge, surrounded by  the work of artists like Shamsia and Kabir, and you can literally feel the pulse of an artistic heartbeat.  Just in side the entrance is the artist statement spray painted on the steel doors.  Our table had members of the Afghan metal band, District Unknown, visiting Swiss artists, graffiti artist, Shamsia, and an inspiring ex-pat that is supporting the vision of creating more space for Afghan voice.

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Street Art Amazes at Kabul’s Babur Gardens and the Kabul Zoo

Over 1,000 Afghans came through to Babur Gardens on the second day of Eid celebrations – making for enormous crowds at our first Kabul exhibition. The majority of the crowds were men and boys, but families did arrive and several groups of women joined the throngs. It was a lively event with many Afghans taking their photos in front of the images with cellphone cameras.

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Streets of Afghanistan Photography Exhibit Heads Back to Afghanistan

In the upcoming weeks we are headed with a team to finally bring the Streets of Afghanistan exhibit to Afghanistan, for a groundbreaking exhibition of 40 life-size photographic images that capture the beauty and the soul of this region.

In 2008 we launched the Streets of Afghanistan project, facilitating a collaboration of Afghan and Western photographers to document Afghan life through the rarely seen Afghan lens. The resulting photographs immerse the viewer in the landscapes and faces of Afghanistan, transporting them directly into the culture and mindset of the country’s people. After touring the US, we’re very excited that the exhibit will come full circle and finally be shown in several public exhibits in Kabul, allowing the general Afghan public to interact with art in a way that they rarely have the opportunity to do.

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