Afghanistan's First Female Climbing Instructors

The battle for gender equality in Afghanistan continues and in many parts of the country, girls are forced out of education due to discriminatory attitudes. A lack of access to education has resulted in almost 80% of Afghan women aged 15-29 being unemployed. But Ascend is fighting back by training the country's first ever internationally qualified climbing instructors - providing a new opportunity to Afghan girls. Sean Taft-Morales, a Single Pitch Instructor (SPI) provider from the US, flew to Afghanistan and spent a week volunteering his time to train five Ascend participants. In 2020, they'll take the certification exam to earn the SPI certificate from the American Mountain Guides Association. We asked two of the Ascend girls about the experience ...

- What are your names? How old are you and how long have you part of the Ascend program?  Rubaba: I am 25 years old and I have been coming to Ascend for two years. Shegufa: I'm 20 years old and I have been with Ascend from 2016 - until now. - What is the SPI course and what does it involve?

Rubaba: We did rock climbing skills for five days in Panjshir with Sean and Kaisa as our teachers. We learned about knots, buddy rescue, how to find good placements for anchors, top site belaying, new rope skills managing, and site awareness. Alot of new knowledge, but it was a first step of being a good instructor. The course is not just about passing the exam, but how to become a good instructor. Sean and Kaisa were our role models and we saw how they worked as good climbing instructors. Shegufa: We learned to be more careful with the gear. We learnt new skills and awareness about managing different crags. The course contained a lot of new things, even though I had different teachers before, but this made my knowledge more complete. We learned that we have to practice regularly to not forget how to be good instructors. 


- What will the SPI training enable you to do? Shegufa: International volunteers always come to teach us, but now we have the knowledge of teaching in our own country. It's very important for us that we get the opportunity in Afghanistan for us to be good climbers, good instructors and good leaders instead of relying on international volunteers.


Rubaba: It's amazing that one man came for free to teach us! Climbing is very important in my life. This time it was a big opportunity for us to learn more, rather than just having someone else do it for us. Now we can do it for ourselves. - What was the most difficult part of the training?

Shegufa: Everything was translated from English so it took a lot of time and concentration. When the was lot to take in, then maybe I forgot something. But with more training I was able to remember.



- Is there any other female climbing instructor in Afghanistan?

Shegufa: No, because many families do not accept it, but in the future there might be more. Because people don't know about climbing. There's no information about climbing and mountaineering. If we had better security we could do more public talks to give information. Hopefully, we can do this in the future so more people can get information about what we are doing and how it benefits everyone. - What do you hope the training will enable you to do in the future?

Rubaba: I want to spend time on developing myself and I hope we can be successful instructors. It's not only about passing the exam, but having the knowledge and being able to pass it on to others. - Describe the moment when you finished the SPI course?

Shegufa: I was very happy when I got this opportunity. I felt so happy. But I know it is not the end, it is the beginning and time to make a plan for the future. This was the first step of keeping this knowledge alive and not to forget. We now have a greater responsibility, for other people that we now are able to teach! - Are there any funny stories you’d like to share about the training? 

Rubaba: I got some feedback from the others that I was too quiet and the team members would be bored of walking with me. So I just decided to laugh a lot at anything. Then the team members also started to laugh, and now everybody says I am the funny person who always makes the group happy.



- Do you have a message for your sponsor? What would you say to people that are interested in sponsoring a girl at Ascend but aren’t quite sure what to expect and aren’t sure as to why it is so important?


Rubaba: The contribution that the sponsors are making is so important! There is a lot of NGOs out there, but this is the only one of its kind, and we really need their support. The more I learn, the more girls I can teach! I will not relax before we have at least 10 other good leaders that can pass on the knowledge that we are now starting to get.  To sponsor a girl, please visit https://www.ascendathletics.org/sponsor-a-girl

© 2019 by Ascend,

a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization based in the United States.

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