Monthly Archives: October 2008

Visions of Kabul

On Monday we leave for Kabul.  The first trip to Afghanistan and the first trip on behalf of Mountain to Mountain.

Our primary focus is to meet with the staff with AINA and the Afghan photojournalists that are represented by the AINA Photo Agency.  AINA’s focus is on empowering media and communication.  Through filmmaking, photography, radio, journalism, and design, AINA trains, produces, and empowers individuals and communities to speak out and make sustainable changes within Afghanistan.

Mountain to Mountain has created a photography exhibit, Views of Afghanistan, with the help of some of the world’s top war photographers.  This show will showcase several Afghan photographers alongside Western photojournalists with a long history of working inside Afghanistan.   Proceeds from the show will go to benefit AINA to create a sustainable and profitable agency that continues to empower, train, and provide outlets for Afghan photojournalism and media.

Our second tier focus is meetings with other NGO’s; Turquoise Mountain, Afghans for Tomorrow, Be Peace, and develop a better understanding of how local NGO’s are working in the current climate throughout Afghanistan.  Our focus with Mountain to Mountain has been with sustainable girls education in remote mountain communities and we’d like to see where we can continue this work in Afghanistan in years to come.

Our third tier is more cultural than non profit.  We are taking in a game of buzkashi (a cross of horse polo and rugby), meeting with a master kite maker, and also with a burqa maker.  We are meeting with artisans and architects with Turquoise Mountain.  All with the desire to illustrate stories of traditional Afghan sports and culture that is thriving in the post-Taliban era that we can pitch to different media outlets outside of Afghanistan, in the hope of shining a light on the people and stories that are often shelved in lieu of war and terrorism stories.

It all comes around to the focus of Mountain to Mountain’s outreach at home: storytelling.  Through traditional storytelling, photography, poetry, education, and multimedia, we want to break stereotypes and bring our projects to life, with the goal of garnering more support and donations for our projects.

Dari is the most common language in Kabul and I have been practicing my pronunciation with an ex-Peace Corps friend who worked in Afghanistan in the sixties.  It feels quite natural and I am enjoying the process much more than I have when I learned French and German.  So I am feeling confident in my pigeon-Dari and hope to practice more with our translator, Najibullah.  I am hoping to go to a few areas of the city where only women are allowed and will not be allowed in with my male translator.

After all the planning, its hard to believe we are going to be in the air while our own country is casting its vote for our new president.   I am anxious to see how the result is received in Afghanistan firsthand, fingers crossed that it is received positively.

Many thanks for all of the support and good wishes and please stay tuned for daily blogs from Kabul starting November 5th.


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Fundraising Boredom

Former Black Panther, Assata Shakur, sums up our philosophy towards fundraising at Mountain to Mountain, “We do not have the right, in the name of social justice, to bore people to death.”

How are you going to attract people to your organization, and thus, your cause, if the most they can be expected to do is write a check?  That check may help in the short term, but the donor is not aware of where that check is going, whose life is being affected, and won’t be someone we can count on to give again and again.   We want our supporters, donors, and volunteers to be excited about the work we and our partners are doing.  Excited to be part of the events, excited enough to open their wallet, excited enough to come to future events, and excited enough to tell their friends and family about it.

Mountain to Mountain aims to create cultural and athletic events that attract support and enthusiasm for the event itself.   Photography exhibits, book signings, speakers, trail running events, movie nights at the local theater, all revolving around the themes of our projects and partners.  People come to listen to a speaker or see award winning photography, and leave a little more educated about the individuals and communities we are striving to empower.   Last year’s, speaker and book signing event with Greg Mortenson, author of Three Cups of Tea, helped not only inspire donations, but allowed the audience to ask questions and further their understanding on the importance of girls education in rural Pakistan and Afghanistan.  Without that event, we wouldn’t have raised over $105,000 in donations in a little under seven months.  Sponsorship totaled around $30,000 for several events in the same time period.

The downside is the cost of putting on events, versus more traditional fundraising.  The goal has always been to have our events sponsored entirely versus donations.  In this way, donations can go directly to the project or the partner charity in their entirety.  Photography exhibits are extremely expensive, even when the images are donated by the artists.  Production of the show, opening night costs, and traveling the show to multiple venues is not cheap.

Despite the second tier of fundraising needed, that of sponsorship in addition to donations, the events do make fundraising and the outreach less dull.   A bored supporter is a quiet one.  Entertain, educate, and inspire and your supporters will become vocal proponents of your work and cause.

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It’s official.

Myself and photographer, Tony Di Zinno, are heading to Kabul in a little less than a month.  The trip is whirlwind two week trip of discovery to keep the momentum of Mountain to Mountain moving forward while discovering how individuals, communities, and NGO’s are working with the war torn region of Afghanistan…one of the countries that I want to focus on with Mountain to Mountain .

The biggest obstacle to any of this is money.  Ironic that I envisioned that the hard part would be getting the work done, the stories told, and empowering communities to create sustainable change from within….and yet really, its raising the money.   The stories are there, waiting to be told. The people have creative and direct solutions.  The communities are ready to work together.   Cold hard cash is the missing link.  The old adage, “you have to spend money to make money”, is never truer than in the non profit world.  A lesson best early discovered.

Yet, despite the lack of cash, immunizations are injected and swallowed, visas requested, ‘conservative’ clothes bought, translators booked (and vetted) and plane tickets purchased with a deep breath.

AINA is a key part of the decision to go to Kabul now, rather than waiting.  Founded in 2002 by Reza Deghati, AINA struggles for developing a civil society in Afghanistan by empowering media and communication.  Through filmmaking, photography, radio, journalism, and design, AINA trains, produces, and empowers individuals and communities to speak out and make sustainable changes within Afghanistan.

For decades, the people of Afghanistan have endured war and chaos. In 1996, the Taliban gained complete control and placed the Afghani people under Sharia Law.  Citizens were forbidden to participate in a free press, and it was considered a crime to take or even possess photographs. Truth and communication were suppressed.

After the Taliban were pushed out of power in 2002, AINA, Afghanistan’s Independent Media and Culture Center was established. This foundation was born out of the desire to develop photojournalism from within Afghanistan and to find outlets to allow the truth to be heard.

It is our desire with Mountain to Mountain to tie AINA into the Views of the Afghanistan photography exhibit next year by not only including images of local photojournalists, but having the travelling exhibit directly benefit AINA to move forward.

While in Kabul, we will also be meeting with Turquoise Mountain. Founded by author and ‘crazy Scotsman’, Rory Stewart (Places In Between, Prince of Marshes), Turquoise Mountain focuses on the preservation of Afghan culture, architecture, and heritage. Rory Stewart is an extremely knowledgeable source of Afghanistan culture and politics. His view of the current situation politically, militarily, and culturally has been touted in Time Magazine, National Geographic Adventure, New York Times, and others as a voice of reason and in depth understanding of this complicated region.

Other interviews and meetings are scheduled, feelers extended to all contact and friends with Afghan experience, and debates over whether to focus on Dari, Farsi, or Urdu in the upcoming weeks have gone back and forth with final word being – Dari.

Our plan is to leave in early November and our goal will be to blog daily so as to illuminate the country and its people, and share our stories and discoveries, as we lay the groundwork for Mountain to Mountain’s, and Afghanistan’s, next steps.


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