Tag Archives: girls education

An Army of Women

Hilary Clinton wrote the book and thus coined the phrase, “It Takes a Village”.

In our case, I’d argue it takes an army.

Not a military one.  An army of women.  A battalion of passionate mothers, daughters, and sisters, that are willing to sacrifice time, money, and energy to be crusaders of gender equity and human rights.

The time of turning a blind eye, of ignoring the headlines, or saying, “but what can I do about it?” has passed.  The time for change is now.

No longer can we ignore the women raped around the world, the girls trafficked across borders for prostitution, or the unplanned babies born to both.   Women and girls traded as commodities and used like a disposable, empty, object.

No more can we dismiss genital mutilation, ironing breasts, or other torturous concepts that put the blame of rape and childhood pregnancy on the women, instead of punishing the men that perpetrate the crimes.  Mutilating women to stem sexual assault just adds insult to injury.

It is not acceptable that as women living in the West, enjoying the freedoms women before us fought for, that we do not rally, advocate, and work to ensure that women EVERYWHERE have these freedoms.

It is not enough to shout against the injustice done to women across the globe.

Action is the key.  As women, we must act.  As mothers, sisters, daughters, we must act.

We must build schools, train women, employ women, support women.  Provide education and healthcare to women.  Advocate against violence and mutilation practices.

Action, a forward momentum, an effort to make a change.  Little steps by the masses create large ripples that change lives.

John F. Kennedy stated, “One person can make a difference and EVERYONE must try.”  One woman on her own, can change several lives if she commits.   An army of committed women can change the world.

photo by Di Zinno

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Computer Labs Bring the World a Little Closer

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Yesterday I enjoyed the pleasure of delivering six laptops for a girls school in Kabul.  I also paid for a new generator and the salary for a computer teacher for one year.   Just under $3,000 set up a computer lab and funded it for one year.  In a country like Afghanistan where schools and teachers themselves are sorely lacking, should it be a priority to delve into computer labs and training?

The agreement to set up a computer lab at a girls secondary school was born out of the desire to help, and out of curiosity.  Would the computers, especially ones not hooked up to the internet, be of genuine use? $3,000 could pay yearly salaries for two teachers at the school.  There were questions to be answered debating the use of funds for computers over teachers or more traditional curriculumn.

Then I met the girls.

6 laptops were brought over from the States.   The box arrived safely in Kabul airport only to be delayed by the security guards checking our baggage via x-ray as we left the baggage claim.  Mind you, its already been screened at least four or five times since leaving Denver, have paid two tariffs for extra baggage and weight charges and they have the cheek to try to get me to pay a bribe for bringing in the laptops for the girls school.  A dialogue over the fact that these were intended to be DONATED not sold to a girls school, etc. etc. went back and forth for a while.   Luckily, I had duct taped that box up so good that when they keep shouting at me to open and I shouted back… “WITH WHAT?” as I clearly couldn’t open without a knife or scissors.  They finally shooed me out of there.

Next up was arranging for delivery.  My good friend, photographer, and Afghan advisor in this country, Travis Beard, took on the additional role of chauffeur and tied the box onto the back of his motorbike, so that the computers, both of us, and his video equipment all squeezed onto the Japanese dirt bike for the 30 minute drive to the school.

We arrived safely and gathered the seventh year girls in the room designated to be used as the computer lab.  We asked them how many had used computers before, twelve raised their hands, and we discovered that they had all shared one computer a couple of years back.  We asked what many of them wanted to do after school.  The answers ranged from: artists, teachers, journalists, tailors, doctors, and even one policewoman.  Amazing girls with lofty dreams.

How would the computers help them reach their goal?  The girls all reiterated that the main benefits of computers were how they made the world a smaller place.  Knowledge was more accessible, word and excel programming made their work more efficient, and internet broadened the world beyond Afghanistan.

All but the artists raised their hands when we asked if they felt computers would be necessary for their future work.

Then we turned it around, the girls got ask me questions.  One girl asked the all important question, “why us?”  “Why did you decide to help the girls of Afghanistan?”   Its a tougher answer than you’d think.  How do you put to words the deep seated anger and frustration one feels over the inequity and struggle women and girls suffer every day in Afghanistan?   How do you explain that you can’t NOT help if at all possible to make their worth come to light?  In the end, I simply said, “I have a daughter.  Devon is five years old and you deserve to have the same education and opportunities that she does.” That said it all.

The girls continued to ask questions shyly and eventually  we unpacked the laptops so the girls be part of the set up of the lab.  We said our goodbyes and one of the girls raised her hand to speak, “Thank you for the computers and for saying that we are as important as your daughter.”   These girls are amazing and I felt humbled by their gratitude.  They  are getting nothing less than what they deserve, the right to an education and the tools to make their lofty careers goals a reality.

Ironically it is the same case in a much different school.  A co-ed school in the remote mountains of Panjshir.  A village several hours down the valley that has a school from 1st-12th year.   Very unusual in a village this remote.  I spoke at length with the principal and one of the founding teachers of the school about what the school needs and he discussed the need for stationary (paper and pens) at their school is the biggest need.  Surprisingly, it’s the reason many children do not attend school.  Their families are simply too poor to afford the 20 cents for a notebook.   The school houses 600 students on average.

Amazingly, the other need is computers.  I was surprised, and asked why they felt computers would be a necessary component of their school.  IM explained that it connects them to the rest of the world and allows their remote village to provide better education for their children.  They already have a teacher qualified in computer sciences so its simply a matter of machines.

As a great friend and mentor has told me numerous times, “Go over there and listen.  Have cups of tea and listen.”  Well, I’m listening and I am getting the message.

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Changing Seasons in Afghanistan

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As leaves start to turn a pale shade of yellow, children across our nation return to school, and thoughts turn towards crisp autumn days, we find ourselves preparing for another trip to Afghanistan at a time where they are experiencing a different change of season.  The election season has come and gone, but votes are still be counted, accusations of corruption fly from all sides, and a nation struggles to retain the hope that the season ahead is brighter than that left behind.

Today Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah are in a dead heat, pardon the phrase.  A run-off appears likely.  I spoke today on WDAY radio in North Dakota and the host, Christopher Gabriel asked me the question, “What will the election result mean for Mountain to Mountain?”  In the best case, very little will change and small changes will continue to move things forward in terms of education, development, and opportunity.  In the worst, the public loses hope and confidence in its government and those that would exploit that apathy step in to fill the gap with violence and oppression.

Mountain to Mountain believes that regardless of the electoral outcome – our way ahead is firmly set in place.  As we revisit Afghanistan this autumn it is only fitting that we implement our first independent projects at the same change of season that first brought us to this country.   This trip sees us setting up a computer lab at a girls secondary school.   We plan to interview the teachers and students and revisit them yearly to watch their progress and track the relevance of computer training for their education and career paths.

This trip is also focused on taking the next step with several larger projects we are fundraising for.   The first is with the deaf school in Kabul.   Securing land, discussing the teacher training program, and school requirements.  The second is to visit several communities in the mountains to discuss potential sites for schools in the region.  We look forward to meeting with community elders and discovering how we can best work together to bring education to the children in these villages.

At the same time – our own organization is changing as we say goodbye to the first half of the year’s efforts to get balls rolling, set structure, and discover how to work together effectively as a Board.  As autumn comes, we find ourselves starting to see some of the fruits of our labor ready to harvest.  Our 2nd Annual Race for the Mountain trail running event raised over $3,000 towards a computer lab.  Team M2M launched in July and its handful of initial members have raised over $3,000 in just two short months.   The Dreams of Kabul photography exhibit launches its opening night fundraising in September as its first stop on a traveling tour of galleries.  Communities across the nation are developing their own fundraising initiatives and events to help us build schools, educate girls, and empower young women to find their way in the world.

As we move forward into the next season we hope that we can continue to build upon the events we’ve set in motion in the season’s past to create opportunity in the seasons yet to come!

photo by Di Zinno

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True Bravery

 

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During my recent trip to Afghanistan, a group of girls were attacked walking to school in the southern province of Kandahar.  This is a province is currently one of the most unsafe provinces in Afghanistan and is in danger of slipping entirely under the rule of the Taliban. Last November, 11 girls and 4 teachers were attacked with acid by three men on motorcycles. One injured so badly that she was sent out of the country for her burn treatment.  

Months before the attack there had been posters placed around local mosques stating, “Don’t Let Your Daughters Go to School.”  

A couple weeks ago the New York Times reported that nearly all the girls had returned to school, as had most of all the other female students.

THIS is bravery.  This shows the value of education above all else.  Girls willing to endure physical assault or even death in order to go to school.  Families willing to accept their daughter’s and the entire family’s danger, in the belief of education.  

I had heard of alternative forms of education cropping up in areas where the Taliban was cracking down.  The most common being various forms of home schooling for small groups of girls.  Creative to be sure, but unfortunate that this is the only option – education in secret. 

These girls are standing up to the Taliban, and others that would continue to repress women’s rights, and proving their strength every day they make the walk to school in their school uniform.  If only we could all be as brave.

Watch the story here.

photo by Di Zinno

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