Ascend’s inaugural project takes place during 2014/2015. A team of Afghan women between the ages of sixteen and twenty-two is completing an intensive training program that combines physical and mental elements, practicing leadership and teamwork together while acquiring advanced mountaineering skills. When they are ready, they will climb one of Afghanistan’s highest peaks.

The program uses mountain climbing as a vehicle to cultivate unity and a sense of shared achievement among Afghan women of different ethnic, religious, and socioeconomic groups. Team members are challenged to overcome stereotypes and biases and work together to achieve a difficult but tangible goal. The unique attributes of mountain climbing make it an ideal sport for developing strong teams; remote settings far from the distractions of everyday life allow us to create a secure “container” in which team members can bond with one another. The nature of mountaineering requires discipline and precision, and each member of the group relies on the others for her safety. This environment fosters a camaraderie rarely experienced in a culture where women have little opportunity to build relations with one other outside of the family structure, or beyond their own socio-economic or ethnic background.

Training includes a blend of physical (fitness and technical) work along with formal instruction in conflict resolution, leadership, and psychology.

The program will inspire other Afghans with a story of unity and athletic achievement at a time of national crisis and widespread anxiety about the future. Such a straightforward, universally-understood achievement as reaching a mountain peak pushes the bounds of belief in what Afghan women are capable of doing and sets an example for young people in Afghanistan and beyond.

"This is something very new in Afghanistan and most people don’t have any idea that a girl can go and climb a mountain."