Tag Archives: empowerment

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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Bridging the Gap: Why Afghan Women’s Rights Are Our Rights

“Remember that being a woman is different in Afghanistan.”

I was getting yet another opinion on my decision to travel to Afghanistan. The statement was made out of love, wanting to remind me that I should be aware of my surroundings and behavior, that just because I was a strong, independent woman, I should remember to respect local culture. But it was also coming from someone that had never traveled to Afghanistan.

In the day and age of the internet and television we can know a lot about the rest of world, without ever leaving our homes, and that gives us the illusion of being informed. Like many of my peers, I too had a certain view of what “women in Afghanistan” meant. Visions of burqas and limited rights came to mind. But I also knew that on the other side of the world, we often only hear one side of the story. We are limited by what mass media feeds us. So I made an effort to go into Afghanistan with an open mind an open heart.

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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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Kabul Youth Movement

Afghanistan is known mostly for its stereotypes:  war, terrorism, burqas, Taliban, oppression, opium, and poverty.

That’s not to say these stereotypes don’t hold water.  All of the above are prevalent and part of the daily life in most Afghans today.  The media shows us these images over and over and reinforce our perception that Afghanistan will never change.  It has only gotten worse in the thirty five years of conflict, and what hope is there to expect anything to change?   The mindset solidifies and the mainstream turns it back on what is perceived as a lost cause.

When we allow our stereotypes and narrowminded opinions to dictate how we perceive a region like Afghanistan, no real changes can ever occur.  Afghanistan is not a country that has always lived in the dark ages.  It was plunged into it by a series of conflicts and war that devastated families, infrastructure, and economy.  Studies show that terrorism blossoms out of extreme poverty and its understandable to see how the cycle takes root.  Terrorism and oppression feed off of poverty.  Lack of education breeds ignorance.  Eventually its hard to remember that things were ever different.

Yet it was.

Afghanistan used to have tourists, and travelers explore its remote corners in the sixties and early seventies. The Hippie Trail went right through it.  Irish traveler, Dervla Murphy rode her bike through Afghanistan in the sixties, completely solo and unsupported. Many journeyed from the West to travel cheaply through Herat, Kabul, Bamiyan, and Mazar i Sharif, home to incredible architecture, culture, and the experienced the best of Muslim hospitality.  Thirty five years later, the Russians, the Taliban, and the ongoing offensive by international forces have made the country off limits to most except for military and aid workers.

It is interesting to note that in many cases, the elders are actually more liberally minded towards women’s rights and development than the youth.  The elders remember what life was like prior to the Russians and the Taliban.  In contrast, many of today’s youth have known nothing but war, poverty, and oppression.  They have grown up in a country where women are inferior, where boys get an education, but girls stay at home.  Where girls were publicly stoned to death for walking alone, for holding hands with a boy, or for any number of so-called honor crimes.

Today, this is a country full of Westerners working outside of the military and larger NGO’s, working, exploring, and having adventures. They have tapped into the youth that want more than their country currently offers.  This is a country where Skateistan launched a skateboarding initiative to introduce the sport to the youth. Where two hundred girls now play soccer, in public, at the Kabul Stadium where just a decade ago they would have been stoned to death in the same location for daring to play. Where a French aid worker, is trying to launch a yak train adventure business to take travelers into the remotest of remote, the Wakkan. Where an Aussie photojournalist and his two friends started the first motorcycle club. Where the most popular television show is Afghan Star, an Afghan “American Idol” style reality show.  Where two Afghan mountaineers made a first ascent on Afghanistan’s highest peak. Where Afghanistan’s first Afghan rock band, Kabul Dreams is breaking away from traditional music.  All of these made possible by the support of individuals and organizations that realize that there is more to aid development that only schools and infrastructure.

This is a real country, with real people, with a real youth movement. Just because there is daily violence and a ongoing war doesn’t mean that real life doesn’t continue, that normalcy should be encouraged, and that we can’t interact with Afghans in ways that don’t involve guns.  In fact, considering the 35 + years of conflict, its all the more reason to galvanize the youth out of their apathy and support those youth movements that are burgeoning.

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Silence in Afghanistan

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Third visit with the Afghanistan National Deaf Association (ANAD) and the school they are running in Kabul.  Not much has changed.  This project may be the most difficult to accomplish – but potentially the most rewarding.

We have been working to acquire land, twice having it fall through or be deemed unacceptable.  The deaf have very few advocates in Afghanistan.  10,000 deaf are estimated, and there are three small schools operating that service close to 1,000.  All three working privately, with donors and partnering with NGO’s to keep running without any governmental support.

This lack of support is frustrating for all concerned, but depressingly highlighted during a visit with representatives of ANAD with current Afghan President, Hamid Karzai a month ago.  The representatives of ANAD are deaf, and as such attended the meeting with a signing translator and a Dari interpreter.  The purpose was to get permission on a parcel of government owned land in Kabul on which to build a school for the deaf.  At an early stage in the meeting, Karzai asked his aide, what are those people doing with their hands?   When it was explained that they were deaf, and that this is how they communicate, he started crying (he is quite emotionally at times like these) and expressing his surprise and shame that he didn’t know there were deaf in Afghanistan.  Shocking and yet, not surprising.

So a parcel of land was offered at a greatly reduced cost for the deaf school.  Paperwork was drawn up, but until money exchanges hands, or the land is built upon, there is the worry that this could be given away to someone else at the drop of a hat.

When I went back to visit ANAD and discuss next steps, the blueprints and paperwork was proudly shown and we piled into a minivan to make the long, bumpy, and dusty ride out to an area of Kabul I’d never seen.  The area is vast and empty, a proverbial desert in the middle of a bustling city.  The land is a large parcel, and would allow for the school, teacher training building, and a small guesthouse.  The main road is on the city’s master plan to be fully paved which would shorten the commute greatly.   We walked the land and discussed possibilities, but the main issue being the land cost.  We are fundraising here to raise money for the school and staff, but the land cost is a hefty curveball.

Despite the continued hard work to secure land, this is a project that is desperately needed.  As Karzai, himself, illustrated, Afghanistan is unaware of its own deaf community.  In fact, I’d venture to say, that there isn’t a deaf community.  Not really.  Not like we see in other countries.  The deaf here are living in silence, with its own government unaware of its very existence.  There is little advocacy for this population, and virtually none outside Kabul and Jalalabad.  The steps forward are more difficult that building schools for girls, women at risk, or teacher training programs.  More difficult even than working in the women’s prisons.  This group cannot communicate without the aid of translators, and there are a handful in the country.  More schools can’t be built until more teachers are found and trained.  The three small schools that are taking students, are working towards communication, not a complete education.  There are gaping holes that need to be filled, and it will take an enormous amount of support, funding, and partnering with the deaf communities outside of Afghanistan to mentor them into developing a viable and thriving community within its borders.   A focus on communication, literacy, and vocation skills are needed immediately while a more comprehensive curriculum can be developed over time and with qualified teachers.

Until then, these children will continue to live in silence.

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