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September 2023: Ascend News

Ascend Afghanistan is Back

“If we know more about ourselves, we can realize what we can do better and how we can help others.” - Fanos, Ascend Instructor, Kabul

For the past six months, Ascend has reinvested in our program in Afghanistan. We have reopened the Ascend office, updated our non-profit registration with the government, and received approval for our curriculum (which is strongly based in mental health and life skills). In the last quarter, we prepared eleven women as Ascend Trainers and subsequently hired them as employees. This September, these women, along with support staff, began delivering the Ascend program to 40 young women, ages 15-23, at the Ascend Center in Kabul.

The program session will last approximately 4 months with training topics rooted in Ascend’s five pillars: mental health, leadership, community service, physical health and nutrition, and environmental stewardship.

Each cohort begins with a four-week class on Life Skills, building a foundation for social & emotional intelligence, an awareness of mental health and psychosocial wellbeing, and personal skills including effective communication, interpersonal conflict resolution, and understanding stereotypes and prejudices.

In addition, each participant carries out a service project of her own design in the community, either in a team or individually, under the supervision of our instructors. Additional learning includes lectures and activities in public speaking, leadership, nutrition, mental health & exercise, and environmental systems. After each cohort graduates, Instructors have a 3-week break and go through additional training and professional development before the next cohort begins.

Ascend never gave up on finding a way to reach the women of Afghanistan and our persistence has paid off. Afghan women once again have a space to explore and care for their mental health, build life skills, and find a place in their community through service.

Please make a financial contribution to help keep our programs in Afghanistan and Pakistan running today and well into the future.


On the ground in Pakistan with Ascend

by Vibeke Sefland

In order to look forward you must look back.

Vibeke (Vibs) Sefland’s relationship with Ascend dates back to her time with us in Afghanistan, where she played a significant role as trainer and guide on Ascend’s historic Mount Noshaq expedition. In this daring project in 2018, our dream was to send Ascend women to the summit, on which no Afghan woman had ever stood. Towering above a war-weary Afghanistan at 24,580 feet (7,492 meters), it beckoned as a symbol of achievement and hope. On August 10, the Ascend team achieved a groundbreaking feat as team member Hanifa Yousoufi became the first Afghan woman to reach the top. It was Vibs who stood alongside her.

In 2023, her commitment to Ascend remains steadfast as she embarks

on a new chapter with Ascend Pakistan. This year she carries forward her dedication to the mission of investing in girls, helping them ignite their full potential.

Vibs is an accomplished mountain climber, guide and trainer who is sought after around the world for her insightful instruction, dedication and exuberant personality. She is sponsored by Norwegian outdoor clothing outfitter, Aclima. Aclima generously covered airfare for Vibs to volunteer her time with Ascend Pakistan this summer, and provided some outstanding Aclima gear for our girls.

And now, her story in her own words...

Greetings, all! I'm Vibeke Andrea Sefland, and I had the incredible privilege of guiding the Instructor Trainees at Ascend Pakistan over the summer. I'm excited to recount my time with them, filled with learning moments and first time experiences.

I vividly remember my first day with the Ascend girls. Their faces were lit up with excitement, and I couldn't help but share in their enthusiasm. The Ascend trainees were not new to adventure; they had already gone through Ascend’s comprehensive climbing program. However, my role was to take their physical abilities and mountaineering survival skills to new heights, equipping them with the essential tools and knowledge required to lead participants in the next phase of Ascend’s leadership program.

In my role as Master Trainer, I aim to expand the toolkit of the trainees (aka Our Backpack), by combining education and hands-on experience. I believe in empowering through education and experience.

Physical Strength and Survival Skills

To kick start the program, we dove straight into rigorous fitness sessions that focused on enhancing core strength. It was remarkable to witness the dedication and enthusiasm these young women brought to each session. They were determined to push their limits and excel with a better understanding of the importance of physical strength in mountain climbing.

Following our fitness sessions, we delved into the world of first aid. It is crucial that trainees are well-versed in this area, so we spent valuable time discussing first aid kits, various medical conditions, and how to effectively use the provided equipment. Additionally, they were introduced to the MABCDEH drill (Massive bleeding, Airways, Breathing, Circulation, Disability, Exposure/Exam, Hypothermia), a critical protocol they practiced in buddy pairs. This knowledge will be invaluable as they venture further into their role as guides and Ascend Instructors.

Following our classroom training we put our learned skills into action on a hike we called the “Rainbow Waterfall Hike”. As we set out, spirits were high and the trainers jumped into their roles: Nadeema volunteered as hike leader, Aiman was responsible for Leave No Trace ensuring we left minimal impact on the environment, and Aqeela took the role of sweeper, making sure no one was left behind.

As we journeyed through the mountains of Pakistan, the hike presented us with both physical and motivational challenges. Dehydration and fatigue began to take their toll on some of the trainees, putting their newly acquired skills to the test. We ensured everyone had access to adequate hydration and emphasized the importance of staying well-hydrated during strenuous activities. Additionally, we addressed issues related to fatigue, offering guidance on managing energy levels and recognizing the signs of exhaustion. It was a valuable learning experience for the girls, as they discovered the practical application of the skills they had acquired in our training sessions. This was where the training truly came alive, and I had the privilege of helping them navigate these challenges.

Camping with Ascend: Rainy weather is learning weather!

After mastering the basics of mountaineering and wilderness survival, we faced nature's classroom: rainy weather while camping. Rainy weather in the mountains is one of nature's best classrooms, offering lessons that go beyond the textbooks. Trainees learned the importance of waterproofing gear to stay dry and warm. The rain provided a better understanding of weather patterns, how to read the wind, and identify potential avalanche paths. Rain also brought valuable lessons about sourcing fresh water, managing dishwater, and even navigating by the stars, helping us find our direction and, for some, the right place for prayer.

Stewards of Land

At Ascend, our adventures are not just about conquering peaks; they are also about exploring a deeper connection to the land and culture. During our camping trip we came across a stranded donkey serving as an opportunity to emphasize the importance of caring for both animals and people. The girls, together with local shepherds, collaborated to ensure the

donkey's safety. This experience deepened their understanding and fostered a stronger connection not only to the local culture but also to the land itself.

In Closing

I wholeheartedly believe that mountains have an unparalleled transformative power. They not only test one's physical limits but also nurture their growth. The grit that develops in the face of challenging hikes and unpredictable terrain is a lifelong asset. It teaches us that challenges are opportunities for growth, and the lessons learned in the mountains can be applied to overcome obstacles in any aspect of life. The ability to persevere, adapt, and find inner strength is a priceless gift that the mountains bestow upon those who dare to ascend them.


Ireland Alumnae Climb Carrauntoohil

The weekend of September 26, a group of 15 Ascend Alumnae set out to climb Ireland’s highest peak, Carrauntoohil. It was raining throughout the hike but it did not dampen the spirits of the girls. The group of alumnae in Ireland, who have lived in the country nearly two years, were excited to plan this adventure on their own. The group consisted of 14 alumnae from Dublin and Galway, and one who made the trip from Denmark to be reunited with her Ascend teammates. The group submitted and safely returned in one day. This project was co-funded by the Afghan Sports Trust and Ascend.

What is the Alumnae Association?

Ascend Alumnae Association (AAA) is the platform through which we cultivate a vibrant Ascend alumnae community and foster a spirit of connection and mutual support between former program participants worldwide. AAA supports small projects organized by local chapters, such as the hike in Ireland last month, and awards scholarships to alumnae for continued climbing education on a competitive basis.

Since its inception, engaging alumnae for feedback and networking has been part of Ascend’s approach, but in 2021 an active alumnae association took on new importance as most of our alumnae fled their homes and began to build lives in new countries. When Ascend’s Resettlement program ended in 2022, AAA became a way for those Afghans resettled across 7 different countries to remain connected through the activities they had loved doing at Ascend in Kabul. Joining the AAA marked a crucial step from a dependency relationship to one based on choice.

One of our outstanding alumnae works on a part-time basis to coordinate the group. AAA chapters have conducted trips & activities on their own, and they contribute an important perspective to Ascend’s ongoing program design.


Ascend Ambassador Naila Kiani On The Record

While in Pakistan last month, Ascend Founder and Executive Director Marina LeGree, had a chance to sit down with mountain climber and Ascend Ambassador, Naila Kiani to talk about her entry into mountaineering, how she hopes to inspire other women, and her hopes for Ascend Pakistan. Kiani is the only Pakistani woman to summit 6-8,000 meter peaks.


News & Upcoming Events

A Glacier Baby is Born

Zeba B., an Ascend Instructor Trainee in Pakistan, had the opportunity to collaborate on a media piece focusing on the grafting of glaciers in Pakistan in an effort to birth new glaciers as a means to address the impacts of climate change. You can read the full story here.

Ascend! Film Screening in Virginia

Join Ascend on Sunday, October 29th at 6:30 pm the Old Town Patagonia (Alexandria , VA) for a laid-back gathering to view the Patagonia film Ascend!. The event is free but space is limited, please register your attendance at our Eventbrite link here.


Ascend Store is Open - Get Your Swag Here!

Is your old Ascend sweatshirt faded, your Ascend t-shirt a size too small? Have no fear, we've got you covered (literally)! Welcome to the new Ascend apparel store where you can restock your closet with all the latest in Ascend fashion. Not only will you look amazing, but a small amount from every purchase goes back to Ascend's programming. Check out our online store here!

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