Since its founding in 2014, Ascend’s mission has been to empower girls through mountaineering-based leadership training and community service.
Ascend was founded in 2014 by Marina LeGree who, while living and working in Afghanistan, saw a unique opportunity to unlock the leadership skills of young women using the mountains surrounding their homes as a classroom. The program launched in 2015 and trained twenty Afghan girls. The pilot was a success and things took off fast, with over 200 girls participating in the program from 2015-2020. An award winning documentary film covering our pilot year can be seen here.
Ascend participants became leaders in their communities, instructors to the next program participants and, in one case, set a world record as the first Afghan woman to summit Mt. Noshaq, Afghanistan’s tallest mountain at 24,580' (7,492 m).
In 2021, Ascend built the first Women’s Sports Center in Kabul with the country’s first bouldering wall, managed and operated by women. The new center could accommodate triple the number of girls for daily activities. In August of 2021, the Taliban took control of the country and their reversal of women's rights forced an abrupt halt to the program.
In August 2021, Ascend responded to staff requests to evacuate their country, and shifted focus to help Afghan staff members, key at-risk participants and in some cases, where possible, their families. The next 14 months was non-stop activity, from securing seats on flights out of Afghanistan to arranging visas and homes to live in to providing ongoing support, language courses, and skills development. Our team worked around the clock and we could not have accomplished what we did without the help of our staff, board members, and volunteers as well as countless kind individuals that stepped up either to advocate for visas, donate and form support groups in the countries where the girls have ended up. It was truly heartwarming to see people come together and help strangers in time of need.
Ascend’s evacuation efforts resulted in the resettlement of 134 Afghans to Chile, the U.S., Canada, Ireland, Denmark, Germany, Poland, and Kazakhstan(see map below). You can read the full story of the evacuation and resettlement efforts here. A film by Patagonia follows some of the girls and can be seen here.
In 2023, Ascend resumed programming in Afghanistan, launched a new program in Pakistan, and invested in our Afghan alumnae worldwide through the Ascend Alumnae Association.
Marina LeGree founds Ascend and launches its first project, in Afghanistan
Ascend's resettlement program closed on Dec 31, 2022.
Our ongoing programs are Ascend Afghanistan, Ascend Pakistan, and the Ascend Alumnae Association. We have the deepest respect for our girls who made the difficult decision to leave their homes and start new lives in foreign countries, and profound gratitude for all who helped to welcome them.