Ascend: Leadership Through Athletics

Mission is to help youth develop the self-confidence and skills that will enable them to lead their communities toward a more secure, just and productive future.

Ascend is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization that fosters unity, teamwork, and leadership skills through exceptional athletic achievement. We work with young women and men in countries in conflict. Ascend was formed with the belief that, working together, young people can play a central role in the nation’s transition from war to peace. Ascend takes this proven methodology a step further by designing training programs that prepare teams for extraordinary athletic achievement. Our approach expands the impact of each program by harnessing the power of media to tell the story, spreading the news of our teams’ accomplishments and providing inspiration to others.

The program uses mountain climbing as a vehicle to cultivate unity and a sense of shared achievement among Afghan women of different ethnic, religious, and socioeconomic groups. Team members will be challenged to overcome stereotypes and biases and work together to achieve a difficult but tangible goal. The unique attributes of mountain climbing make it an ideal sport for developing strong teams; remote settings far from the distractions of everyday life allow us to create a secure “container” in which team members can bond with one another. The nature of mountaineering requires discipline and precision, and each member of the group relies on the others for her safety. This environment fosters a camaraderie rarely experienced in a culture where women have little opportunity to build relations with one other outside of the family structure, or beyond their own socio-economic or ethnic background. Training includes a blend of physical (fitness and technical) training along with formal instruction in conflict resolution, leadership, and psychology.

The program will inspire other Afghans with a story of unity and athletic achievement at a time of national crisis and widespread anxiety about the future. Such a straightforward, universally-understood achievement as reaching a mountain peak pushes the bounds of belief in what Afghan women are capable of doing and sets an example for young people in Afghanistan and beyond.

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