Monthly Archives: October 2010

Progress in Afghanistan? The Youth Movement in Kabul.

As the US enters its ten-year of active engagement in Afghanistan, a polarizing debate intensifies regarding our continued involvement.  Rather than enter the weary fray of should we/shouldn’t we, I offer up a different window into the future of a country plagued by nearly 40 years of conflict and destruction.  The youth.

Young adults living in Afghanistan today, grew up under the oppressive regime of the Taliban.  Their brutally oppressed formative years that banned music, sport, art, and education have collided with the past ten spent crawling out from under the dark blanket that covered the entire country.  A decade later, they are living their lives every day under great strain, never knowing if their country will one day be at peace again, but determined to find their own voice in amongst the rubble that surrounds them.   The capital city of Kabul is home to a select few that have chosen to shake off the apathy and find their voice, and in doing so, are sowing the seeds of tomorrow’s generation.

1. Kabul Dreams.  The first Afghan rock band, played in public last fall for the first time, and since then, have become a force in the Kabul youth scene.  They are the first to publically part ways with the steadfast tradition of cultural music, and are creating quite a fanclub in the process.  Not unlike the changes rock music made in our country when it emerged, it’s controversial and powerful.  The next Elvis?  Probably not.  But seeing them perform is incredible, if not just for their music, but for the audience’s reaction when they cut loose.

2. Kabul Girls Soccer Club.   In the same stadium that was famous for beheading women and using their heads as footballs, its an inspiring sight to see girls playing football.  Ghazni stadium is home to a growing group of girls that play and compete in tournaments outside of Afghanistan, assuming visas are granted and uniforms can be rounded up.  Highlighted in the book, Kabul Girls Soccer Club by Awista Ayub, eight original girls started playing in 2004.  Today, close to 200 hundred play in the Afghanistan Football Federation – challenging perceptions of women and sport.

4.  Sabrina Sagheb.  Afghanistan’s youngest female parliamentary candidate ran an outspoken campaign in last month’s election.  Female candidates are always at risk, but 25-year-old Sabrina didn’t let the risk quiet her voice. “If elected I will face up to the old men with guns that destroyed our country.  Now it is our turn to fight with them.”  Votes are still being counted and she’s a longshot, but her willingness to stand up, speak up, and be heard will inspire more women to take up the fight for years to come.

4.  Afghan Star.   Afghanistan’s Tolo TV had its first big hit in the reality television series, Afghan Star based off our own, American Idol.  A documentary by the same name came out in 2008 and won acclaim at Sundance Film Festival.  It showcased the men and women that auditioned from around the country to compete, often at great risk.  The country as a whole responded with fervor, and voting for idol stars crossed ethnic lines that government elections have so far failed to do.

6.  Skateistan.  A NGO launched in 2007 by three Austrailians that teaches boys and girls, young and old to skateboard.  Kabul has very little in terms of smooth roads or sidewalks, so they raised the funds for a skatepark which opened at Ghazni stadium.  Kids spent a few hours in a safe environment, off the streets, learning to nail an ollie, or take on the halfpipe.  Can’t be long before they’re picking up the slang and riding the rails.  Any future for an Afghan X-Games?

This is a real country, with real people, with a real youth movement. Just because there is daily violence, and an ongoing war, doesn’t mean that real life doesn’t continue, that normalcy shouldn’t be encouraged, and that we can’t focus projects that embolden, strengthen, and inspire the future generation to stay in Afghanistan and give voice to its future.

In fact, considering the generations of conflict, it’s all the more reason to galvanize the youth out of their apathy and support those youth movements that are burgeoning.  It can do more for stability than we can possibly know.

Panjshir Tour – Afghanistan and Beyond

October 2009 – the first female rode a mountain bike in Panjshir Valley, Afghanistan.   One year later I returned to be the first to attempt to ride the entire Panjshir Valley, from the gates of Panjshir that mark the entrance to the province, straight through to the imposing 14,000 foot Anjuman Pass.   I wanted to break stereotypes of what Afghanistan really is beyond the ongoing conflict.   We videoed to show the incredible beauty of Afghanistan and the reaction of those we met along the way – Panjshiris that were surprised, excited, and gracious.  Click here to see the video!

2 days, 132km, and 14 hours of steady uphill riding passed through breathtaking mountains surrounding a land where time has stood still.   Security issues in the form of neighboring provincial gun runners, made it impossible to push on for the third and final day of climbing up to the top of the pass.  But that was hardly the point.  Along the way, boys and men raced me on their bikes as we shared the road with cars, motorcycles, sheep, and the occasional camel.  Old men with large turbans stopped in every village to smile, wave, and shout greetings and often offers of tea at their home.  Road construction workers took my bike for a spin after I had walked it across a dodgy looking bridge.  All of this in a country known as a dangerous war zone where women are not allowed to ride bikes anymore.  Every face I encountered was one of smiles, encouragement, and curiosity.

This Sunday, a mere 6 days later, 8 communities in the United States will be riding their bikes in support of Mountain2Mountain’s projects in Afghanistan.  Dubbed the Panjshir Tour, each ride raises money through the power of the pedal to support projects with the deaf community, rural midwife training, and girls education.

SO!  Get your bike lubed up and join us THIS Sunday, October 3rd – be part of this inaugural series of grassroots rides and help us grow it for next year!

Rides are on in California, Colorado, Washington DC, Oregon, and New York!  We need your help, we need your muscles, and we need your sweat equity to change the lives of women and girls and the future of Afghanistan for generations to come!

Want to learn more and find out where you can ride and how to register?  Click here!!

photo credit:  Travis Beard