Tag Archives: women’s rights

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

IMG_9072 IMG_5280 Photo credit Mariam Alimi (39)

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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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Istalif set up

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.

Photo credit Mariam Alimi (37)

Others literally learned to ride a few months ago.

Photo credit Mariam Alimi (23)

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.

Photo credit Mariam Alimi (17)

Photo credit Mariam Alimi (20)

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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Mountain2Mountain Founder Shannon Galpin Featured in ‘American Dreamers’

The recently released American Dreamers book features an essay by our very own Shannon Galpin. What is American Dreamers? An initiative of Sharp Stuff, American Dreamers “is for those who believe in brighter futures. Gathering the optimists, mavericks, and mad inventors who believe we can create a better world, American Dreamers is a guidebook for optimism and an art book for inspiration.”

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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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Taking it to the Streets

September 27, 1996, the Taliban took Kabul.  The first thing they did was brutally execute President Najibullah and leave him hanging from a lamppost for all to see.

Exactly 14 years later, today, hundreds of Afghans marched in Kabul to protest the recent assassination of former President, Burhanuddin Rabbani, the leader of the High Peace Council, assassinated by the Taliban two weeks ago.    Chanting, “death to the Taliban”  “Death to Pakistan”, the protest remained peaceful.  Organized by Amerullah Saleh, the former spy chief, demonstrators carried pictures of other key Northern Alliance figures slain by the Taliban in recent months, including General Mohammad Daud Daud, the police commander of northern Afghanistan who was killed in June.

A written statement on the Voice of Jihad stated that revolutions are no substitute for jihad.  Guess the Taliban aren’t fans of social uprisings like those seen in the Arab Spring?  Can’t say I’m surprised, Afghans marching in the streets, standing up for their rights, using their voices to protest does not bode well for the Taliban.  Rather than scaring the populace with their country-wide attacks, roadside bombs, suicide bombs, and assassinations, they are emboldening it to stand up.

Speak with the majority of Afghan citizens about life under the Taliban and their willingness to return to that era and you are typically met with a resounding, “no thank you please”.  It was a time of darkness for men and women alike, where fear controlled the country.  Fear breeds in silence, the only way to combat this elusive foe is standing up publicly against it.   Voicing your opposition.  The very freedoms we too often in the West take for granted, the freedom of assembly and the freedom of speech, are those that can inspire change.

Nearly three dozen young women marched in the streets last July to <a href=”http://http://www.afghanistan-today.org/article/?id=138&#8243; target=”_hplink”>protest public harassment</a>.  Organized by <a href=”http://http://www.youngwomenforchange.org/&#8221; target=”_hplink”>Young Women for Change</a>, an emerging feminist group in Kabul, the women carried signs that stated, “Its my street, too”.   Becoming the second such time in recent years that women have organized publicly to voice their rights.

“By holding such marches and campaigns we want to draw the attention of the public, the government and the international community to this problem,” said Noor Jahan Akbar, the 19-year-old founder.

It is still unknown if protests like the one today may become more commonplace in Afghanistan, lesser known still, if they will remain peaceful or be railroaded by those wishing to create more chaos.  Could it signal an Arab Spring like movement, seen throughout the Middle East this year, or the start of another civil war?  Only time will tell.    But the right to assemble publicly, to demand equality, peace, and justice are rights worth taking to the street.

(originally published on Huffingtong Post September 27, 2011)

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Pedal Power Nation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This October, the Panjshir Tour rolls into several cities – grassroots, community bike rides that supportMountain2Mountain’s work with women and children in conflict zones. This is the second year of the Tour, based off my experiences mountain biking in Panjshir province of Afghanistan. Yup, Afghanistan.

Countries like Afghanistan don’t culturally allow women on bikes right now, and while our project focus is targeted towards women and girls, its not about getting them on bikes, Rather, its about using the bike as a vehicle for social justice and change for women’s rights. It’s a subtle difference, but a powerful one. Mountain2Mountain’swork is advocacy, education, training, and cultural outreach. We aren’t trying to rashly push on cultural boundaries unnecessarily over there, but we can use the bike back here as a tool to affect change in increments that are sustainable.

Thus the Panjshir Tour was born when I rode across the Panjshir Valley last October, and riders in eight communities rode with me in solidarity for women’s rights, using their sweat equity to help raise awareness and funds for our projects. Rides like the one in Saratoga Springs, New York which was spearheaded by 11-year-old Reese Arthur around her neighborhood with her fellow students, or the one in Washington DC that started at ended at previously designated women’s prisons during the suffrage movement. The deaf university, Gallaudet University in Washington DC hosted a campus ride knowing it would benefit our work with the Afghan National Association for the deaf as we work to build a school, and cruiser bikes hit the beach path in LA in an impromptu ride.

Countries like Afghanistan don’t culturally allow women on bikes right now, yet my experience riding across the Panjshir Valley, as a foreign woman, on a bike was met with friendly curiosity and often incredulity, but never animosity. The interactions created by their curiosity led to endless conversations and questions about my purpose there and my work in the area, and often concluded with requests to visit their village, or offers to join their family for dinner. The gracious tradition of Muslim hospitality to travelers firmly in place even in a country enduring nearly forty years of conflict.

It was my goal to challenge perceptions and invite conversation on both sides of the equation. Challenging the stereotypes of women and Americans in Afghanistan, while challenging parallel stereotypes of Afghans as a people and as a nation in the United States. Bridging cultures and communities on two wheels.

Women that I know that lived and worked in Afghanistan in the 60′s as part of the Peace Corps rode their bikes daily to and from work – a far cry from the security lockdowns and convoys required today. Women like Dervla Murphy pedaled solo across the entire region prior to the Soviet’s invasion. We all know the power of the pedal. Connecting communities, reducing our carbon footprint, improving our health, exploring new cultures, and in third world countries the list grows to social issues like increasing access to education and healthcare, and decreasing violence against women. Pedal power indeed.

It is this pedal power that sparked the Panjshir Tour in cities like Los Angeles, Denver, Minneapolis, Saratoga Springs, Santa Rosa, Portland, and Washington DC.

Actor and bike advocate Matthew Modine expressed his support of the Panjshir Tour as honorary co-chair of this year’s event stating, “The women and girls of Afghanistan deserve our attention and support. This is not a women’s issue or an Afghanistan issue. Its a human rights issue. I want to encourage everyone with a bike to use it as a vehicle for social change by coming out and riding with us and showing your support for gender equity and opportunity for women and girls all over the world”

By coming together with our bikes, we can fight for justice, we can battle for change, and we can do it one pedal stroke at a time.

Come join us this October, or start your own grassroots ride in your community. Get pedaling and get involved!

(originally published in Huffington Post - September 9, 2011)

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