An Interview Series With Ascend’s Instructor Trainees

Shogufa Bayat is a vibrant 20-year-old from the capital of Afghanistan. When she speaks to you, you are automatically greeted with a strong sense of enthusiasm and positive energy.

Since 2018, Shogufa has been working as a Program Assistant at Ascend, a US-based nonprofit that helps empower women in Afghanistan through a mountaineering-based leadership training program. Before that, she was one of Ascend’s program participants. In the summer of 2019, Shogufa became an Instructor Trainee, making her one of four within the program of 25 girls. All Instructor Trainees at Ascend are responsible for helping lead the entire Ascend team through fitness and leadership training, including learning how to rock climb.

In November 2019, Ascend partnered with the AMGA to arrange the first-ever SPI course in Afghanistan. All trainees took the AMGA Single-Pitch Instructor (SPI) course with the hopes of becoming SPI certified this summer. However, due to the Corona Virus outbreak, their exam had to be delayed until travel can resume. Once the girls pass the SPI exam, they will become the first Afghans to hold that certification.

Having taken the SPI course, Shogufa must now focus on keeping her newly-obtained rock climbing skills alive; she’s able to do that by passing the skills she learned along to the girls at Ascend.

As part of a series of interviews, we delve into some of the rewards and challenges of being an Instructor Trainee from first-hand accounts of the Instructor Trainees themselves.

“We are the first mountaineering girls in Afghanistan,” Shogufa said.

Being the first inevitably poses some hurdles. Since most of the girls aren’t used to doing exercise, it takes longer for them to learn. “For some of them exercise is new, they can’t do it very well and they are learning. Day-by-day, we see how much they are learning.”

For Shogufa, another challenge involves learning how to teach an entire cohort of girls with varying learning styles. Nevertheless, learning how to do so is fun and exciting for her.

A typical day is jam-packed with activities. Even before Shogufa heads to the office to lead the girls in fitness training, she must undergo some training for herself. To kick off every morning, Shogufa attends English class, she then goes to school. Following her studies, she heads to the Ascend office to fulfill her responsibilities as a Program Assistant. After all of her morning responsibilities are complete, she fulfills an established schedule with the girls.

On a given day, Shogufa will be leading yoga, and on another, she will be organizing a team meeting. Every day at Ascend involves a mixture of fitness, civic participation, and team meetings. “Ascend isn’t just about making mountaineers. We give them a chance to become what they want to do. Maybe they can become a good teacher at yoga if they learn,” Shogufa said.

Having been with Ascend since 2016, Shogufa has seen a lot of improvements over time, especially when it comes to working with the families of the girls. “From 2016 up to now, I saw a lot of positive changes. In the past, it was hard to convince the family members of the girls to let them join Ascend,” Shogufa said. 

Now, it is much easier to convince families to let the girls join. Ascend has been around long enough to prove to many of the families we’ve worked with that we are making a positive impact on their daughters.

“We improved a lot of girls. We make a lot of role models. Because of that, the parents believe us. Every girl in our program feels very lucky to be a member of Ascend.” Shogufa said.

When asked what compelled Shogufa to continue working with Ascend as an Instructor Trainee, she responded that she loves the ability to utilize her skills and improve them. “I am a lucky girl. Before Ascend, I was going to school and then home. I didn’t have any dreams for the future. But, when I came to Ascend, we learned that everyone needs to have dreams for the future and make a plan for how to arrive for that.”

“My dream is to be a good mountaineer from Afghanistan,” Shogufa said. As for the other girls, Shogufa hopes that they can also use this program to improve themselves and become role models for other women.

According to Shogufa, a lot of the girls who come to Ascend have dreams, but it’s difficult for them to reach those dreams without an established plan. “I hope that they take the knowledge they’ve gained at Ascend and use that knowledge to help other women.”

Shogufa’s hope for the future is to continue to challenge the girls as they learn more skills through the program. “Right now, we have the best schedule of activities that is possible. We have top managers to help. But, I hope that the girls can begin to take on even harder challenges, beyond basic training.”

To learn more about Ascend follow us on IG @afghan_ascend or visit our website. To help us continue our work, please consider donating to our cause: can also help by joining Shogufa and the rest of the team for virtual yoga sessions. Sign up on our website.

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