By Faisal Naziry, Ascend Afghanistan Operations Director
There is always a way to the top
In meeting the challenges of our mountain climbing project in Afghanistan, teamwork, patience, and progress give us hope. People are fascinated with our project when they hear about women doing mountain climbing in Afghanistan – something totally new. The first questions I often encounter from my friends, journalists and others is, “Why mountain climbing?” and, “Why are women the target group?”
I was asking the same question when we came up with this idea in late 2011. But as soon as the work began, I recognized how important this was for Afghanistan and specifically for a generation of women deprived of almost everything in society. From my perspective, this project is unique and important because it shows the natural beauty of our nation’s mountains – the source of many of its valuable resources – from a very different perspective. It also provides a new opportunity for young Afghan women who are interested in outdoor sports, while building their capacity through developing their physical, technical and intellectual abilities. More importantly, it shows the unrealized power of women through climbing the highest mountain in the country and raising the voice of empowerment from 7,492 meters (24,580 feet) above sea level.
Mountaineering is not only a sport. It is also fun for our climbers. When we take the team for training hikes on different mountains around Kabul, the objective is not simply building up a tolerance for strenuous physical activity, low pressure or lack of oxygen at high altitudes. It’s also showing our trainees that doing such activities together as a group can and should be enjoyable. For instance, they appreciate taking trips outside of the city, listening to music as they hike, having meals together while they take in breathtaking panoramas from the heights. These are the sorts of experiences most Afghan women can barely imagine from behind the literal and figurative walls that confine them.
Likewise, there are plenty of barriers that stand in the way of the project. In such a conservative society, it is difficult to find open-minded and committed girls from different ethnic groups to join and stay with the program. They must negotiate family and social restrictions, overcome economic deprivation and risk the threat of violence that women live under even when war isn’t raging outside the door. Often these young women will eagerly join our climbers, but after some months stop coming to our training sessions because of these difficulties.
Regardless of the challenges, we are fully confident that we can maintain our core group of committed team members and find reasonable solutions to their problems. We encourage them to understand their potential as members of their society and, most critically, as role models for other Afghan women. The summit that we seek is not simply a point on the GPS, but an ambitious future for the capable women of Afghanistan, because we, the ASCEND team, believe that our strength, unity and teamwork will yield results far beyond the slopes of Mt. Noshaq.