Dreams for Afghanistan
November 10, 2009
On Saturday, The Shop Yoga Studio in Park City provided an enlightening glimpse into a country that makes daily headlines in the news and yet is virtually unknown to most Americans: Afghanistan.
Against a backdrop of handmade kites and images taken by photojournalist Tony Di Zinno, Shannon Galpin talked to Parkites about Mountain to Mountain, the nonprofit she founded to promote education and empower women in Afghanistan, and shared stories from her travels.
The event was an opportunity for Galpin to introduce her mission to connect mountain communities in the U.S. with each other and with remote Afghan villages. Proceeds from photo sales will go toward funding a proposed sister school for Park City in the Afghan community of Dashti Rewat.
Galpin is not a representative from a corporate fundraising machine or an international foundation. She’s a one-woman operation – a sports trainer from Breckinridge, Colo., who has made it her life’s work to help others.
Galpin founded Mountain to Mountain in 2006 and became its full-time executive director, treasurer, volunteer coordinator, etc. The nonprofit has raised funds for projects in Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Nepal. In its third cycle of fundraising, Galpin wants to focus solely on Afghanistan.
In May 2009, Galpin spread her message to the masses in an interview on "Dateline NBC." Parkite Kim Deimling happened to be watching and went straight to the Mountain to Mountain website to see how she could help.
Recommended Stories For You
"I was so amazed and inspired by what one woman was doing and how she was making a difference," says Deimling. She asked Galpin to come speak in Park City and arranged a fundraiser at The Shop.
Galpin was originally inspired by Greg Mortenson’s work in remote villages of Pakistan and Afghanistan, and the passion he conveyed in his book, "Three Cups of Tea." She formulated a plan to mobilize the Breckinridge community to raise money to build one school through Mortenson’s organization.
However, it didn’t take long – about three days – for her vision to expand to include other mountain communities and address more aspects of education and development. "I’m an all-or-nothing person," she says.
She traveled to Afghanistan for the first time in November 2008 and visited women’s rehab centers, women’s prisons and schools for the deaf.
Despite witnessing plumes of smoke from two suicide bombings, Galpin says she didn’t have second thoughts about her choice.
If anything, immersing herself in the culture strengthened her desire to help. "It was an immediate connection," she says. "There’s this heartbreaking beauty in this desolate, war-torn background."
Experiencing Afghanistan firsthand helped Galpin narrow Mountain to Mountain’s focus to literacy programs, computer/science labs, school building, teacher training and schools for the deaf.
"Education is the entry point to create a catalyst in these societies," she says. Providing access to education will open the door for empowerment for women and equal rights, she explains.
Galpin has traveled to Afghanistan twice since that first visit and continues to recognize beauty amidst tragedy. She has walked in the markets, traveled by motorbike from town to town, and ridden a mountain bike along city streets. Although she has found herself in threatening situations, she says the people of Afghanistan are receptive to and grateful for help from foreigners.
Oppression of women in Afghanistan varies by region, but the common thread is that women do not have the same rights as men.
In many areas, females are denied opportunities to go to school and work. Women have great opportunity if they gain access and resources, says Galpin. "They have the ability to change their communities in ways men can’t."
Galpin stresses that the mission is not to go in and "save" the people of Afghanistan, but rather to empower them to change. "It’s not about making them like us, it’s about leveling the playing field," she says. "They deserve to have the basic opportunities that our children have."
Mountain to Mountain’s current proposed projects include building computer labs at girls’ schools, supporting the Afghanistan National Association of the Deaf, and instituting literacy and educational programs in women’s prisons.
Even when people understand Galpin’s personal motivation, it’s difficult for some to comprehend why they should donate money to build a school that might get bombed or destroyed in a war zone. Many have balked at the idea of supporting a country where U.S. troops are being killed.
However, the current situation in Afghanistan provides more reason to promote development and education, says Galpin. The areas where the Taliban remains in control are in the greatest need.
Galpin says she believes the U.S. has committed its troops and it should remain in the country to provide security. "If that area is allowed to implode, it will cost the U.S. more money," she says.
Mountain to Mountain’s projects entail locals building the schools, stimulating their own economies and promoting a sense of ownership and desire to protect the buildings. The proposed projects are not in areas controlled by the Taliban, she notes.
Why mountain communities?
"I love the idea of connecting mountain communities," Galpin says. She recognizes the commonalities among places like Breckinridge and Park City and hopes to create hubs across U.S. to provide a network of support.
Short-term goals for the nonprofit include fundraising and outreach in these communities. "If you wanna save the world, you gotta have the cash," she says.
Galpin and the photography exhibit will travel to Bismarck, N.D., Los Angeles, New York City, Denver and Minneapolis during the coming months.
Each community will be matched with a project that can be completed and furthered over a period of several years. She hopes to work with local schools in each area and, as an avid mountain-biker, wants to create Mountain to Mountain racing teams to raise awareness.
The eventual dream for Galpin – besides saving the world, that is – is to be able to expand to mountain communities in other parts of the world where there are similar needs to be addressed.
For more information about Mountain to Mountain, visit http://www.mountain2mountain.com . Park City locals who are interested in volunteering, fundraising or community outreach are asked to contact Kim Deimling at 640-4999 or email@example.com .