Female Climbers in Afghanistan


The Ascend: Afghanistan climbing team
Photo via Instagram

A sport is helping women achieve new goals. Katy Blake and Colin Lowther tell about a group of women in Afghanistan who are learning to climb higher than ever before.

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Transcript


Voice 1 

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Katy Blake.

Voice 2 

And I’m Colin Lowther. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

Voice 1 

Zahra Nooristani is an 18-year-old woman. She is wearing a traditional, black headscarf to cover her hair. She is also wearing a blue coat and trousers. On the back of her coat there are large, white letters. The letters write the word ‘Afghanistan.’

Voice 2 

On this day, Nooristani is learning to rock climb. The city of Kabul is behind her, and far below. She hangs off the side of the tall mountain. She holds a long rope in her hands. Another rope is around her waist. Her feet press against the side of a large rock.

Voice 1 

A man stands at the top of the mountain’s edge. He shouts down at her. He is telling her how to lower herself down safely. Nooristani is worried. But slowly, she begins to move down the rock.

Voice 2 

Nooristani is one of 13 women learning to climb. They are Afghanistan’s first ever female rock climbing team. Today’s Spotlight is on their team, Ascend: Afghanistan.

Voice 1 

Nooristani’s climbing team is part of an organization called Ascend: Leadership Through Athletics. Marina LeGree started Ascend in 2014. Legree is an aid worker from the United States. But she lived and worked in Afghanistan for many years.

Voice 2 

In 2008, LeGree began working with an all-women’s basketball team in Afghanistan. Before this, she did not know that Afghanistan had any women’s sports teams. She enjoyed the experience. However, she also recognized a great need. Women wanted to play sports. But they did not have many resources, or coaches to teach them.

Voice 1 

In 2009, LeGree heard about a team of climbers that climbed Afghanistan’s highest mountain. Two of the climbers were Afghan men. They were the first Afghans to ever climb Mount Noshaq! This was a great achievement. LeGree decided she wanted to help Afghan women achieve the same honor.

Voice 2 

So, LeGree began Ascend. The goal was easy - to train a group of young, Afghan women to climb the highest mountains in Afghanistan. However, finding girls and young women to join the team was not as easy. Many young women were interested in the program. But their families were not.

Voice 1 

For many years, a political group called the Taliban ruled Afghanistan. Their laws restricted women in many ways. Women could not work, drive or go to school. And they could not leave their homes without permission from a male family member.

Voice 2 

The Taliban lost power in 2001. Today, women have more freedom and more rights. However, Afghan culture is slower to change. There is still conflict in Afghanistan with the Taliban. The Taliban still has influence. This conflict continues to restrict women’s rights in the country.

Voice 1 

So, when LeGree and her team began looking for climbers, they struggled. Many families supported their daughters’ desire to mountain climb. But they worried about their daughters’ safety. They worried about the Taliban.

Voice 2 

LeGree and the Ascend workers took time to build trust with many of the girls’ families. And by the autumn of 2014, they had gathered a team of 13 young women. Today, the climbers are between the ages of 16 and 22. And they are excited about climbing.

Voice 1 

Nargis Azaryun is one of the older team members. She is also Ascend’s program coordinator. She told National Public Radio why she loves climbing. She said,

Voice 3 

“Climbing feels amazing. It feels like you are just born and you have a chance to rule the world.”

Voice 2 

But learning to mountain climb is not easy. The women have to run, climb, lift heavy weights and train hard. All of this is made more difficult because of a lack of resources. The girls use old ropes and equipment. And they train in Kabul's Ghazi Stadium. This sports arena is well-known - but not for good reasons. The Taliban used to perform public killings in the stadium. In the past, many women died there because they broke the Taliban’s extreme laws.

Voice 1 

But even with all these difficulties, the young women come to train every day. They understand the importance of achieving such a major goal. They also come because Ascend provides the girls with more than just training.

Voice 2 

Every Ascend climber also takes classes in conflict resolution, leadership, and mental health. This may seem unusual, but mountain climbing requires much more than physical strength and technical skill. Climbers must work together during long and dangerous climbs. They must be able to solve problems in extreme situations. And they must be able to lead when it is their turn.

Voice 1 

Ascend wants to help these young women become leaders on and off the mountain. Rabia Nooristani is another climber from the Ascend team. She is the younger sister of Zahra, from the beginning of this program. She talked with National Public Radio about climbing and the progress they have made in the last year,

Voice 4 

“There is freedom there… The first time I climbed was really difficult. Someone had to pull me up the mountain by my hand.”

Voice 2 

Like Rabia, all the young women have learned a lot. One year ago, many of them had never climbed a mountain. But on August 6th, 2015, the women began their first major climbing trip. They had wanted to climb Afghanistan’s highest mountain. But there was fighting near the base of the mountain that made it unsafe. So instead, they climbed several mountains in northeast Afghanistan. These mountains were more than 5,000 meters tall. The women of Ascend climbed higher than any Afghan women ever had before!

Voice 1 

Ascend is also proud of the achievements the women have made away from the mountains. A few months before their climb, team members spoke at a school. They talked to a class of 16 and 17 year old girls. They told the girls about their goal - to climb higher than any other Afghan women. And they encouraged the students to work toward their dreams - even if they want to do something women do not normally do. Team member Soheila Hamidi said,

Voice 5 

“Can a woman become a law expert? Can a women become a parliament member? Can a woman become our president?”

Voice 2 

The women of Ascend have climbed higher than any Afghan woman before them. But now, they are also leading another generation of Afghan girls to achieve even more!

Voice 1 

The writer of this program was Robin Basselin. The producer was Michio Ozaki. The voices you heard were from the United States and the United Kingdom. All quotes were adapted for this program and voiced by Spotlight. You can listen to this program again, and read it, on the internet at www.radioenglish.net. This program is called, ‘Female Climbers in Afghanistan.’

Voice 2 

We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye.

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Question:

Have you ever gone mountain climbing? If you have, did you like it? If you have not, would you want to? Why or why not?

Comments


Severino Ramos da Silva's avatar
Severino Ramos da Silva
said on March 14, 2016

From: Severino Ramos da Silva (.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address))
To: spotlight
Subject: answer the question above
Date: Monday 14, March 2016
Brazil

Dear Katy Brake, Robin Besselin, Colin Lowther, and Michio Ozaki:

Once more, I want to thank you by more one excellent matter that you have shown for us.
No, I have not. Yes, I would want to climb a mountain because I think it very exciting to see a part of the World very high. Thank you very much.

Your regards,
Severino Ramos

Avatar Spotlight
CarlosMiguel
said on May 02, 2017

Dear friends of Spotlight, in my country Ecuador there are Los Andes mountains and many people like climbing them. Personally I would like to practice this sport but I never tried to do it.  The reason? Im too busy working, studying, and stressing, and I do not give myself time to release the stress. However I think now is the time to change and do the things I like.
Best regards

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Honneur
said on August 05, 2019

I never thought to climb a mountain. I remember Sir Hilary, the Everest conqueror, when questioned about why he climbed mountains, he answered because they are there. But, for me, this is no reason to climb any mountains. I think it is so stressful and I prefer to target other species of goals.

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Abbas
said on August 17, 2019

Dear
Thanks for your great program to teach English to all people scattered around the world. It would be so useful if you provide your program in two speed, normal and slow (90 words per min).
I appreciate you in advance for your cooperation.
Regards,
Abbas Akbari