REFLECTIONS ON ASCEND'S WORK
A conversation with Marina LeGree. Following a visit to Ascend Alumnae in Chile, Marina shared these reflections with Director of Operations, Kelly Pokharel.
Prior to founding Ascend, I worked in Afghanistan for many years, and despite tremendous effort by so many, it felt like progress would never stick if women didn't play a meaningful role in society. I wanted to encourage Afghan women to play an active role, which meant disrupting certain norms. My dream was to help build women’s confidence so they could see that they can be change makers.
For me, the way I experienced value and confidence as I grew up was through sports, and I knew that could apply to girls anywhere in the world. Through sport we can develop strength, teamwork, and perseverance; by physically doing hard things you come to understand your abilities; you can take those experiences and apply them in your daily life. I felt strongly that something needed to be created to encourage women and girls to claim that space, those values within themselves.
Also, mountaineering gets attention. It is such an elemental human achievement; it has become a way for girls to win respect from men, even very reluctant men.
Once Ascend was up and running, I made several trips every year to Afghanistan to check on the program and go out climbing with the team. These visits allowed me to see the transformation the program was having on the girls. When I would do intake interviews (and initially I did the interviews myself with every girl who wanted to be on the team) many girls could not formulate a coherent sentence because they were so shy; they couldn’t look me in the eye, their shoulders were hunched and their voices soft. They were not accustomed to being asked about their own thoughts and ambitions. When I’d go back 3 or 4 months later to check on the program, I’d see those same girls carrying 35-pound packs on the trail, laughing and joking with friends, helping and instructing each other, talking about dreams and plans for the future. Once they joined the team, they entered a safe space away from cultural expectations where they could grow and learn and explore and be themselves without fear.
Risk and escape
We always encourage girls to claim their place in society, to dream big dreams and go out and achieve them. When the Taliban took over, our girls saw their opportunity to achieve their dreams and goals get snuffed out. It was only logical they wanted to leave Afghanistan when the Taliban came to power. In this time of evacuation and resettlement I saw a lot of bravery and bold decisions and clear commitments on the part of girls. It was unimaginably hard to leave home with so much uncertainty; we couldn’t promise anything other than a way out. We told the girls "we can get you out of Afghanistan, but we don’t know where you will go, what language you will need to learn, how you will care for yourself, and you cannot take your family." It took the same strength and courage they had shown in the program, to make the decision to leave and resettle. Additionally, the girls put tremendous trust in Ascend and our partners who had stepped up to help. The girls knew Ascend's values, knew we believed girls should be free and that we would not abandon them, and believed (rightfully) the same would be true of our partners.
Through resettlement we have seen their resiliency in action. We have also seen, time and again, the magic of mountaineering. When the girls are able to go to the gym and climb or get out on the trails and hike, their inner spark is relit. They are reminded they are strong, capable and worthy; they reconnect with each other and with themselves. It refills their cups and gives them courage to tackle the challenges of life. Climbing mountains is powerful stuff.
When it became clear at Ascend that our model of teaching leadership through mountaineering could and should be replicated, Pakistan quickly rose to the top of our list. There is a real hunger amongst Pakistani girls and women to get into the climbing game and to just get out into nature to experience the learning it has to offer. Some incredible achievements have been made already (read up on Naila Kiani and Samina Baig, among others), and there's no turning back. What Ascend will bring is a holistic platform for girls to get started, and to begin with safety, leadership training, and community engagement. Now is actually the perfect time to engage. We’re at the confluence of girls and women climbing in growing numbers and some critical elements of support in place. While Pakistani society is showing real interest and improvement in gender equality, there is still deep resistance. We hope by cultivating the leadership, courage, and tenacity in girls through climbing, society will start to recognize their value and contributions in a new way.
Girls need pathways to strengthen themselves, and many girls find their best selves through the sport of climbing. I have seen how climbing can change lives; we're so excited to begin this new chapter with the girls and women of Pakistan.
This change cannot happen without your own courage and commitment to investing in Ascend, a program that has proven time and time again that girls are also strong and deserve to explore and experience life through climbing and mountaineering.
END OF THE YEAR SUPPORT FOR ASCEND
We may call it “end-of-year” but this year our focus is all about new beginnings. With the end of the year rapidly approaching, Ascend is hopeful for an outpouring of support from donors. We are excited to start programming in Pakistan for the first time, and we're getting creative about continuing to offer the program in Afghanistan. We want you to be a part of building this new foundation with us. Stay tuned in the coming week as we share how your support will change lives - or click below and make your donation today!
ASCEND'S WEBSITE MAKEOVER
Several months back, marketing and technology company Digipac (www.thedigipac.com) approached Ascend, after learning what we do, to offer marketing and design services at little to no cost to Ascend. Finding we had common values and goals, Ascend signed up for Digipac’s services for social media assistance and an overhaul of our website. We are excited to share the results of those efforts at Ascend’s new website (still at www.ascendathletics.org). Feel free to reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org directly if you'd like to learn more about Digipac's services. As with most new rollouts, there are bound to be a few bugs or mistakes. If you find them, please report them HERE. Thank you, DigiPac team!
WELCOME NEW STAFF
Ascend is excited to welcome and introduce our two newest staff. Salwa Akhtar has been contracted as Ascend’s Project Director for Pakistan. Her main focus is on registering Ascend in Pakistan, building partnerships and garnering support, and is the boots on the ground in Pakistan when it comes to the physical set up of the program. Manizha Azizi, herself an Ascend Alumna, has been hired as Ascend’s Alumnae Association Coordinator. Manizha is charged with breathing life into the Alumnae Association (AA) and working with current alumnae to provide relevant and necessary programming to the Ascend girls who have been resettled around the world. With Ascend’s resettlement efforts coming to a close, the AA will be a critical link for alumnae involvement and support in the years to come.
ALUMNAE ASSOCIATION UPDATES
Alumnae in Chile
This October, Executive Director Marina LeGree visited Santiago, Chile, to visit with Ascend Alumnae, staff and family who had been resettled in the country. She and Ascend Alumna Zahra Karimi were invited as presenters at a seminar hosted by the Pontificia Universidad Catolica titled, “From Afghanistan to Chile: Experience of Public-Private Collaboration and Challenges for the Integration of Women and their Families in the Country”.
During her brief stay Marina was able to share with Alumnae the end of resettlement efforts and the start to the Alumnae Association. Overall, those resettled in Chile are doing well thanks to their own hard work and the dedication of our Chilean partners Sebastian Villarreal, Leonardo Maldonado, and Susana Casas de Miguel. Through their efforts, the Chilean support network has grown to include more then 40 volunteers, and institutional support from universities and private corporations.
We are especially delighted to have a new partnership with the Club Aleman Andino de Santiago (DAV), Chile's oldest mountaineering club. Recently the DAV Club invited one alumna, Sakina, to speak about Ascend. They generously extended 6-month memberships to our alumnae, and Marina, Sebastian and Susana joined the team for an overnight hike to Parque Nacional Yerba Loca where they walked to a frozen waterfall and camped under the stars at 10,000'. Trips such as this are exactly what the Alumnae Association is designed to support.
IN THE NEWS
Women Leaders of Tomorrow Interview with Ascend Alumna
October 11 is International Day of the Girl Child. On that day, Women Leaders of Tomorrow and the students at L.A. Matheson in Surrey, British Columbia interviewed Ascend Alumna and staffer, Manizha Azizi on their Chai & Chat presentation. You can watch her inspiring interview by clicking the button below. Manizha's talk begins around the 22:00 timestamp.
Irish Radio Interview
On the one-year anniversary of their arrival in Ireland, three Ascend Alumnae (Sadaf, Shogufa, and Shakeeba) gave an interview to RTE Radio 1 about their past year. Friends of Ascend Ireland leader Andrea Martin lends her perspective too. Click the button below to hear the interview.
EUROPEAN DEVELOPMENT COMMITTEE
To better engage our European supporters, Ascend is launching a European-based Development Committee. Details are forthcoming; let us know if you're interested in getting involved HERE!