Tag Archives: Afghanistan

Cycling 101 – Training Day in Kabul

While I spent my first few days back in Afghanistan sorting out the bike delivery logistics from Kabul Airport Custom House, I took a day off to train with some of my favorite ladies, the women of the Afghan National Cycling Team.  Coach showed up with his usual assortment of steel bikes stacked on top of his Land Rover and to my surprise had lovingly packed three of the composite racing bikes I had brought last spring between layers of carpet.  This team needs a minibus something fierce!

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Several new riders showed up including a trio of sisters driven by their brother because Coach’s car was full.  As per usual when I now join, Coach handed off coaching duties to me, which I find comical as I am a mountain biker, not a roadie, nor a racer, but my previous life as a sports trainer and my general knowledge of cycling and coaching, coupled with the base level these girls are riding at, means I seem to have some knowledge to impart.  This ride?  The peloton.  How to ride in a pack and not knock each other over like a row of dominos.  How to ride wheel to wheel without running over the girl in front of you by mistake.

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And after some warm up laps, the girls started to get the hang of it and I learned a few new Dari phrases like;  ‘Nazdeek bosh’ – stay close together. ‘Dar buchoo’ – turn around.  And my favorite, shouted loudly and often, ‘Takar nako’, DON”T CRASH.

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Lesson One = Success.

Lesson Two = ‘How to Corner’ coming up next.

photos by Deni Bechard.  You can follow Deni on instagram at @denibechard

 

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Free the Bikes

In the end, it took a total of 18 hours over 2 days, visiting over 30 offices, gathering signatures, new forms, old forms, stamps, and drinking endless cups of green tea and make idle chitchat to get the myriad of paperwork completed for the Kabul Airport Custom House to release our 53 bikes donated by Liv/giant for the Afghan National Women’s Cycling Team.  #freethebikes became a running gag in my jet lagged state of navigating Afghan bureaucracy.  Seeing the final bike loaded onto the truck alongside Coach Sedique, head of the Afghan Cycling Federation and coach of the women’s team was worth every cup of tea.  Time to ride!

 

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Global Solidarity Ride – Strength in Numbers

On Women’s International Day, we are excited to announce our global ride in support of the Afghan National Women’s Cycling Team and the new teams starting across Afghanistan.  In a country where women have not been allowed to ride bikes, the first women to break these barriers are learning to ride, and racing outside of Afghanistan.

This year, men and women around the world will ride in solidarity with these amazing women, to show them that they are not breaking these barriers in a bubble, that the world sees them.  August 30th, we ask communities around the world to get on their bikes and ride.  Our partners, Liv/giant and Osprey Packs will lead the charge with their global network, and we will be setting up a page to collect your photos and your stories of support for the women in Afghanistan.

Mark your calendars now and plan to ride August 30th.  Road, mountain, downhill, or track – if its got two wheels we want you pedaling together in solidarity!   If you are interested in creating a community ride email us at info@mountain2mountain.org  In the meantime, stay tuned for details and rides in your area!  #solidarityride2014

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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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100 Bikes by Christmas – Pedal a Revolution for Afghan Women

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This holiday season, pedal a revolution by supporting Mountain 2 Mountain‘s work with the women who dare to ride as part of the Afghan Cycling Team. These women are the first women to ride bikes in Afghanistan, breaking one of the last taboos in the country for women, and pedaling a two-wheeled revolution for social justice.

You can help directly as we continue to support the cycling movement in Afghanistan with the Afghan Women’s National Team and the cycling federation in Kabul. This spring, we are starting the first women’s mountain bike team and road biking team in Bamiyan – a province in central Afghanistan, high in the Hindu Kush.

We need your help to pedal a revolution! From now until Christmas, we have set a goal of donating 100 bikes to the women’s cycling program and the teams we are fostering. We are also creating a slush fund for future regional racing and team development.

$100 = 1 bike

Couldn’t be simpler! Just go to: www.mountain2mountain.org/donation

Want to gift a bike as a present? Email us at info@mountain2mountain.organd we’ll arrange for a pdf certificate to be emailed to you to print and give to your friends and family for the holidays.

You can also donate any amount to go into a fund to support the ongoing costs of the national team and the expansion of women’s cycling movement, including; renting a minivan and driver to get the Kabul team safely to and from training grounds outside of Kabul, travel costs for regional racing, entry fees, supplemental food, team mechanic, coaching clinics, cycling equipment and clothing, and more!

Want to learn more? You can visit www.mountain2mountain.org or watch our founder’s TEDx talk about a Two Wheeled Revolution!

 

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A Lesson in Shifting – Training with Afghan Cycling Team

Photo credit Mariam Alimi (39)

The wind in your face.

Two wheels spinning underneath you.

An open road widening ahead, smooth, empty.

Riding a bike is like no other feeling… the very action symbolizes freedom of movement.

Today, I rode again with the Afghan National Women’s Cycling Team, as we continue to support these fabulous young women that dare to ride.  The girls meet weekly under the frenetic whistle blowing of Coach Seddiq to ride their bikes and learn to race.

I was back to check in with the girls, do a little training and coaching, and make plans for future support and racing.

Eleven girls came out to ride.  Only three had I met before, Mariam, Nazifa, and Massouma had all been part of the Afghan Cycles film project we are working on with filmmaker Sarah Menzies of Let Media.  Sadaf and Farzana were with their families and couldn’t make it.  I kissed them each three times on the cheek and gave each a squeeze.  Then I turned to face the rest of the girls assembled.  Four were with the American University, one more is studying German at the Goethe Institute.  Some had ridden bikes since they were young, growing up in Iran, before their families returned to Afghanistan when they were teenagers.

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Others literally learned to ride a few months ago.

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We unloaded the bikes and lined up, while Coach introduced me, and we split the group into the girls that were comfortable riding and those that were still learning.   I had planned some hill repeat drills on the smooth road that led up to the mountain, to build strength and stamina. We warmed up running long laps at an easy pace, and it was soon apparent that there was something more important than hill repeats.

We headed back to Coach and Najibullah, and sat the girls down for a lesson in shifting.  The irony was not lost on me,  a singlespeed rider that doesn’t use gears on my own bikes teaching Afghan girls to shift.

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Each bike is radically different in where the shifters are located, and which way they work, so I told the girls that each time they ride, they need to work their warm ups as shifting practice.  All the way up and all the way down… this is made more difficult than it should be thanks to the lack of bike maintenance.  I thought my bike maintenance skills are bad, comments from those that know me best, but I don’t have a derailleur.  Chains skipped, one locked in place, and the one I was riding starting making loud clicking noises.  No wonder the girls didn’t shift!

So lesson number two.  BIke maintenance.  I told Coach, if we were going to bring over more bikes they needed to be maintained every week. I would reach out to Pedro’s for oil, etc. but we would need to do some maintenance clinics next visit and perhaps develop a position designated team mechanic that could maintain the mens and women’s team bikes.

We discussed the next steps of supporting the teams, both the men’s and women’s, in terms of equipment, coaching, and funding.  Both teams need funding so that they can accept the invitations from other countries to come race, and even to transport the teams to safe training areas.  There is no racing in Afghanistan, but when offers come to race in Pakistan, India, and the upcoming Asia Games, they need to be able to accept so that their experience is built.  Step by step building a viable team that is interacting with their regional counterparts and gaining experience and showcasing Afghanistan’s progress.  Mountain2Mountain is beyond thrilled to support them and build support throughout Afghanistan for women’s cycling.

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Bamiyan Women’s Bike Team to Launch 2014.

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4 years ago exactly, I rode my mountain bike throughout Panjshir and on the hills that surround Kabul.  It was one part experiment and one part adventure.  In a country that doesn’t allow its women to ride bikes, I wanted to challenge the gender barrier as a foreign woman and test the reactions.  I also wanted to experience a country known mostly for  war, poverty, and oppression on two wheels, surrounded by the beauty of the Panjshir mountains and the kindness of the people I encountered, and share a different view of Afghanistan back home.

It wasn’t until three years later that I found women who rode.  I met Coach Seddiq in late 2012,  the head of the Afghan bicycing federation who was coaching not only the boys but also started a women’s team.  My heart soared and we immediately got to work to support with equipment, gear, and training.  NBC Nightly News covered the story and we collected an enormous amount of gear along with 5 carbon racing bikes from Liv/giant.

This spring, we delivered the gear, and introduced a film crew from Let Media to the team.  Filmmaker Sarah Menzies, came to make a film about the women’s national team, the first women to ride and race.  Afghan Cycles launches in 2014 and it couldn’t be more fitting as the next steps with women’s cycling launch.

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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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Preserving Afghanistan’s History – Afghan Archive

The Afghan archive is housed at Afghanistan Center at Kabul University, ACKU.  The center was opened in the spring of 2013.  It is the only archive of its kind in Afghanistan and serves to collect and preserve all documents and books related to Afghanistan’s modern history, at this moment numbered around 80,000 and growing.

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The bulk of the center’s archive was collected by Nancy and Louis Dupree who started collecting Afghan books and documents while living in Peshawar among Afghan refugees.  The eclectic colletion includes communist propaganda, UN reports, fliers printed by warlords, books, photography, and newspapers.  There are also a number of photography books from the 1960′s and 1970′s that show Afghanistan, and particularly Kabul in a completely different light than what most imagine it was.

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The fascinating part of the story is how Nancy got the collections from Peshawar to Kabul.  Starting in 2006, they began to smuggle around 60,000 documents back to Kabul in plastic bags hidden in trucks fearful that the collection could be destroyed if discovered. A team works to digitize all the documents in the archive for a free open sourced digital archive that anyone in the world with a computer can access.   The enormity of the task means that the team estimates it will take till 2017 to catch up.

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The archive not only preserves books and documents, it also had a separate room that houses a newspaper archive.  I visited with my friend, Jelena Bjelica, a Serbian journalist living in Kabul, who is now working with ACKU.   We were surrounded by piles of bound books of newspapers including Taliban newspapers under the name Shariat, and various mujahedeen newspapers, each faction had its own.  The library manager, Rahim Qaderdan, opened up a book of Shariat papers, noticeable for their lack of photographs.  The sense of history that surrounded me, palpable in the yellow pages stacked to the ceiling.

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The collection first went to the Kabul Library and now is housed in a modern architectural building, ACKU, on the Kabul University Campus.  The center hosts a variety of speakers and presentations in the auditorium.

I was there to deliver a copy of the Streets of Afghanistan book for the archive.  An incredible honor.  I watched the book go to the archivist’s desk to get its identification number and label.   It is now a part of the Afghan archive housed inside the Afghanistan Centre at Kabul University a part of Afghanistan’s modern history.

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The book is available for sale – proceeds benefit Mountain2Mountain – at www.streetsofafghanistanbook.com  by Hatherleigh Press.

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