Meet The Women Who Plan To Climb Afghanistan’s Highest Peak – And Then Go Even Higher

Here’s a story to raise your spirits: A group of young Afghan women are aiming to climb the country’s highest peak, Mount Noshaq. At over 24,000 feet, it’s a difficult climb even for experienced climbers, but they have set their sights even higher. Their goal is to develop a way to allow young women to grow into Afghanistan’s future leaders. In a society where women mostly cannot even step outside alone, these climbers are seeking to break gender norms.

The women are all part of Ascend, a non-profit organization based in the U.S. that has been working with a group of 13 Afghan women in intensive physical fitness and mountaineering skills since November 2014. They are also working with mentors and instructors in a classroom learning how to be leaders and role models, and also how to work together as a team. Part of their training has also involved developing confidence by telling their own stories storytelling and supporting each other, with the goal of helping other Afghans. 

Right now, they are training in the foothills and mountains surrounding Kabul, but in a few weeks they will be leaving for the ultimate quest: the country’s highest mountain. The exact timing of their mountaineering expedition remains a secret, due to safety concerns for these young women, but they will be gone for about a month, depending on conditions on the mountain. The first base camp will be at 14,000 feet, with additional camps higher up, until they reach the final base camp. From here, small teams will attempt to summit Mt. Noshaq.

Climbing To Send A Message Of Peace And Achievement

Here’s how Ascend describes its mission:

“Ascend was formed with the belief that, working together, young people can play a central role in the nation’s transition from war to peace. Our approach is to invest in the human potential of individuals, and give them a unique opportunity to inspire others to work together for a better future. At the end of this endeavor, these young women will climb one of the highest peaks in the Hindu Kush, sending a message of achievement and peace to their country and beyond.”

As someone who loves hiking and backpacking, I’ve summitted many peaks, mostly in the Sierra mountains of California. Although these young women are climbing higher than any of my achievements, I have climbed several peaks over 14,000 feet and can vouch for the tremendous feeling of accomplishment and strength that comes with making it to the top of a high mountain. This is simply a brilliant idea.

Once they return, the young athletes will begin service projects in their communities as a way to give back. Ascend seeks to create role models through sport; by investing in these young women, the organization hopes to help them spark positive change in their country.

The team consists of thirteen female athletes, between the ages of 15-22. They come from a variety of backgrounds, provinces and ethnicities. Several of the girls are college students, while most have had more limited educational opportunities.

Freshta

Photo Credit: Screenshot from Huffington Post online video

Freshta, who is in her fourth year of business management studies in Kabul, is the program coordinator, and she explains how important it is for women to develop self-confidence and leadership skills.

“Unfortunately, the majority of our women are not independent,” she tells Huffington Post. “They’re living in the dark.”

She speaks excitedly of her work with Ascend: “Going in mountains and coming down from mountains – whenever you can find the best way to come down or go up, that makes you independent,” and adds, “In Afghanistan, women are thinking they don’t have any value, but they have!” 

“[Mountaineering] helps you find your way,” adds 15-year-old Zahra.

“I think that I’ve become so strong,” she continues. “Especially in Afghanistan, men think that they’re the only ones who can do everything. We will prove that women are equal with men, even more powerful.”

Developing Strength Through Mountaineering

Becoming strong in a war-torn country like Afghanistan is a huge challenge, but the founders of Ascend see that leadership and cohesion will be necessary to bring people together after the fighting is over.

As Ascend explains:

“This is the heart of the training program. It is designed to build resiliency and coping tools, not for the climb itself, but for what life brings afterward in this challenging and fractured society. All of these young athletes have known war their entire lives. Their normal existence has been one of conflict and violence.”

Many of the Americans heading up the organization are mountaineers and outdoor enthusiasts themselves; passionate about how mountaineering and adventuring has empowered their lives, they are stepping up to donate equipment, provide logistical support and coordinate training.

As Marina LeGree, the founder of Ascend, says proudly, “Big change starts with small steps. Having the opportunity to help these girls achieve change in their lives is a real honor.”

We look forward to hearing all about the summit of Mt. Noshaq and beyond. 

 

51 comments

Jim V
Jim Ven1 years ago

thanks for sharing.

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Joon m.
Past Member 2 years ago

I was getting bore since morning but as soon as I got this link & reached at this blog, I turned into fresh and also joyful too.essays written for you

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Elizabeth Brawn
Elizabeth Brawn2 years ago

cool

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Marie W.
Marie W2 years ago

Not going to change much in their country.

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Will Rogers
Will Rogers2 years ago

Hear hear Joan, you said it better than me.

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Joan E.
Joan E2 years ago

I'm like Will -- the kind of person who doesn't see the point of climbing mountains or pushing one's self in other dangerous pursuits. Sports and physical challenges don't interest me in the least. But I can see it could be a life-changing esteem-builder and motivator for women who have been kept down by prejudice and authoritarianism. I just hope no one gets killed in the process, especially those with dependents who need them.

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Clare O'Beara
Clare O2 years ago

I can think of many things I would rather do than climb these mountains, but I do have more choices. I am sure the view will be worth it.

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Clare O'Beara
Clare O2 years ago

I hope the programmes and agencies can continue working with these brave ladies, because after vanishing for a month they are not likely to be marriageable and may be suspect among the patriarchal villagers. They will need jobs, homes and income.

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