Tag Archives: Mountain2Mountain

Afghan Dreamers – A Book Project Needs Your Help to Launch

Afghan Eyes,

    Musician and filmmaker, Ariana Delwari

                                                                                                                                            photo credit:  Jawad Jalali/ Afghan Eyes

Afghanistan is probably best known in the West for its poverty, oppression, terrorism, and ongoing conflict.  It’s not untrue, but its not all that it is.  Against this backdrop, are the dreamers and visionaries.   Artists, musicians, innovators, activists, media moguls, and politicians.  Just like any other country – the dreamers and the free thinkers are often those whose stories are quieter than the stories of violence and anger that shout more loudly.  That doesn’t make them less powerful.

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Gear Drive for National Cycling Teams of Afghanistan

Its time for a good old fashioned gear drive.  Cycling gear that is.

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After mountain biking in Afghanistan for the past three years, usually the only bikes I see are simple Pakistani made commuters bikes, ridden around the country on dirt roads and highways by men and boys of all ages.   This is a country that does not allow women to ride bikes, something I have challenged by continuing to mountain bike throughout different areas of the country and starting conversations.  Thus the bike has been a continuing thread throughout the story of Mountain2Mountain, leading up to our newest program launching this summer, Strength in Numbers, which uses the mountain bike as a vehicle for social change with women that have survived gender violence here in the US. Continue reading

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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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Streets of Afghanistan By the Numbers

What does it take top produce a handful of full-scale public photo exhibitions in Afghanistan? We broke it down by numbers.

Bags checked all the way to Kabul: 32

Number of bags that made it safely to Kabul: 32

Hours spent waiting in Dubai airport: 22

Hours spent sleeping on Dubai airport floor: 3.5

Porters that it took to transport bags from airport to bus: 5

Photo exhibits produced: 4

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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’ Exhibit in Istalif

Yesterday we premiered the Streets of Afghanistan exhibition in the village of Istalif, a remote village in the Shomali Plain north of Kabul. Four years ago, I envisioned a collaborative photography exhibition between Afghan photographers and Western photographers that had deep affection for this country. Instead of a gallery show, I imagined surrounding the viewer in the image to bring the art off the wall, and into the viewers world.  I wanted to see people’s reaction as they interacted with lifesize images and hoped that it would change American perspectives of Afghanistan – that if we saw it as a country with a beautiful spirit and culture that we would be more invested in it from a humanitarian perspective.

Yesterday I saw that vision come full circle as we brought the exhibition TO Afghanistan, among Afghans themselves to surround them with the beauty and spirit of their country and communities.  28 photographs lines the market streets outside of the mosque on the first day of Eid in the village of Istalif and the reaction was nothing short of amazing.

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Sneak Peek at Kabul’s Darlumon Palace

29 life-size photographs made it all the way from Colorado through Kabul airport for a series of public art exhibitions in Afghanistan.  Other than getting our roll of duct tape confiscated in Dubai security – everything arrived intact.

Today, was the sneak peek at Kabul’s historic Darulaman Palace. Stay tuned for what comes next!

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Strength in Numbers Builds in Strength

As I ended my talk at the IMBAx event last Friday at the IMBA World Summit, I concluded with:

I believe our strength is in our numbers.

I believe we can empower voice and strength with young women labeled victims, because as I know firsthand, a victim is only a victim if she believes it.

I believe a mountain bike can be the vehicle to create a ripple of change in our communities.

I KNOW that one woman can make a difference.  I know that once voice matters.  But I also know that our strength IS in our numbers and together, we CAN pedal a revolution that can change the world!

As we lay the foundation for the development of our domestic program, Strength in Numbers, one thing has emerged – our desire to partner with companies that lead with soul, and ethics, and passion. Companies led by founders that believe that the bottom line is only part of the goal, but that what we do in our communities to create change, is what we should be striving for.

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Hand in Hand in Afghanistan

The news broke that President Obama had accepted General McChrystal’s offer of resignation an hour before I was scheduled to do a live interview on CNN about Mountain2Mountain and our work to create education and opportunity for the women and children of Afghanistan .  We watched the news all morning, waiting to hear if the interview would be bumped and engaged in a discussion about how NGOs relate to the US military presence in Afghanistan.  We wondered about how the change in leadership will affect us and talked about the important relationship between the military and aid organizations.

While we do not work with the military directly, President Obama’s decisions about military leadership and strategies in Afghanistan do have a direct impact on us.  We follow the news closely, knowing that our relationship with the military is a symbiotic one; the success of one mission is tied to progress toward the other. Our work with women and children in Afghanistan would be almost impossible without the presence of international security forces.

And we believe that our work, and the work of other NGOs in Afghanistan is a direct deterrent to the insurgency.  If a family starts to thrive, the village begins to thrive, and that ripples through an entire tribal area and province.  Healthy communities are more likely to stand up to threats from the Taliban than those that are teetering on the edge of survival.  Today, many are easily manipulated, bullied and coerced into supporting the insurgency.  But if we work to provide healthcare, plant crops, repair roads, educate children, and create jobs, local communities will have something valuable to protect from the Taliban.

As a non-profit aid organization, we work independently of the military and the government.  Our goal is to implement programs and projects that are focused on education, training, and job creation in Afghanistan.  We believe that women and girls are world’s most underutilized resource and can be significant agents of change in conflict regions across the globe. But our task is not easy in a country entering its fourth decade of conflict with one of the worst records on the planet for women’s rights and gender equity.

It is incredibly difficult to operate safely inside Afghanistan.  If the array of countries providing security, training Afghan soldiers and fighting the Taliban insurgency weren’t there, our ability to educate women and girls, train rural midwives, build schools or even travel the country would be severely impaired.  Many aid organizations rely on the military to travel safely through Taliban-controlled areas by helicopter or convoy.

But the safety of aid workers isn’t the only issue.  In many cases, the international forces work directly with the locals to develop leadership from within communities and provide mentorship.  One example is at a prison in Maimana in the northern Jawzjan province.  Here the Norwegian military has a presence and their local Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) helped with the women’s prison we are working with today.

In many prisons we’ve visited, women are jailed with their young. The treatment cannot be described as humane.  There are not enough clothes or food, and all too often the female prisoners are raped by the prison guards paid to watch over them.  Remarkably, the Norwegian PRT came in and worked with the prison commander to address these and other concerns.  They built a separate prison building for the women with a small courtyard and separate, clean sleeping facilities.  They flew the prison commander and his staff to Norway to visit the open-air prisons and to the United States to learn how other prisons are run and how prisoners could be treated humanely despite being jailed.

This work paved the way for our visit.  We were received warmly by the Afghan commander and given full access to talk with the women, take photos.  Eventually, we were able to set up a kindergarten for the children and a vocational training program for the women.   Contrast that with prisons that haven’t had that sort of mentorship the PRT provided. Access is denied, commanders are cagey, and we are often not allowed to speak privately with the women.

The relationship is reciprocated as aid organizations help rebuild and create sustainable, functioning communities on the heels of the military.  In an article written for Joint Force Quarterly, a military publication, Admiral Mike Mullen said that US efforts in Afghanistan to send a positive message about US military action and development efforts hurt US credibility when they do not coincide with what the populace sees on the ground.  He went on to say that the gap between promised and actual improvements harms the credibility of the US message.

Aid organizations work to ensure that communities in Afghanistan can see the value of the internationals forces.  They help change perceptions based on decades of conflict.  Instead of occupier it is possible to become a collaborator, community builder and vital service provider.  We can go from enemy to ally.  If communities in the areas worst hit by the ravages of war and poverty are given support through health care, education, agricultural development, and reconstruction of roads, bridges and buildings, the Afghan people see a partner with a willingness to help them claw their way back and build healthy, thriving communities.

Large development agencies can repair roads, build clinics, and make sweeping structural changes.  Small, grassroots organizations like Mountain2Mountain are limited by funding, but tend to operate in a more person-to-person, village-to-village approach.  We focus on bringing training to local women to deliver babies, building girls schools, training teachers and creating women’s co-ops that allow widowed women an opportunity at survival in a male-dominated culture.

A change in military leadership always presents a few unknowns, but with General Petraeus at the helm it is bound to be a relatively smooth transition.  He has overseen the Afghanistan blueprint and is intimately familiar with the region.  In Iraq, Gen. Petraeus implemented rules of engagement that reduced civilian casualties, which increased local support. At the same time, these new rules of engagement gave more latitude to local commanders than the current rules in Afghanistan.  This allows for faster decision-making on the ground.  It is widely viewed that the General’s experience in Iraq will be invaluable in addressing the current strategy in Afghanistan.

As an article in the Vancouver Sun stated last weekend, women will be the first casualties of any surrender in Afghanistan.  I agree.  Our work depends on the international forces not surrendering, not turning their backs on the women and children of Afghanistan.  This has happened once already.  We must persevere from all sides and work together to make the sustainable, lasting, generational changes that ensure a stable future for both Afghanistan and our own country.

Published on HuffingtonPost June 25, 2010

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