Being inspired to act can take many forms. For some it’s taking a weekend to volunteer. For others it’s writing a letter. For Shannon Galpin, it meant leaving her career, selling her house, launching a nonprofit and committing her life to advancing education and opportunity for women and girls. Focusing on the war-torn country of Afghanistan, Galpin and her organization, Mountain2Mountain, have touched the lives of hundreds of men, women and children.
As if launching a nonprofit wasn’t enough, in 2009 Galpin became the first woman to ride a mountain bike in Afghanistan. Impressive, to say the least.
The current state of global affairs is daunting, particularly when it comes to woman’s issues. And that’s exactly why Galpin is an inspiring individual. A couple of weeks ago, she sent out a link to the trailer for Waking Lions, a documentary project about her work. The email came at a fitting time, on a day when I needed to be reminded that there are people all over the world doing whatever they can to have a positive impact.
Here is a woman that’s ensuring positive change one person at a time, and in doing so, is having a global impact.
But Galpin doesn’t just do her work in Afghanistan; she’s equally committed to getting her own community to engage on the issues she cares about. To activate individuals around the US and support the efforts in Afghanistan, this October Mountain2Mountain is organizing the Panjshir Tour, in honor of Galpin’s initial ride across the Panjshir Valley in 2009 and ”using bikes as a vehicle for social change and justice to support a country where women don’t have the right to ride a bike.” We love this idea.
To call Galpin an inspiration is an understatement. But ultimately, what’s the most inspiring is that she’s a woman that made a simple decision to make a change and stuck with it. We caught up with her to learn a little bit more about Mountain2Mountain, Afghanistan and what keeps her going.
What was the impetus for starting Mountain2Mountain?
My daughter, Devon, was the initial impetus for creating Mountain2Mountain as a way of saying, I have to do what I can to make the world a place where her counterparts around the world are valued as much as she is valued in the United States. I want her to have a mother that fought for the rights of other women and girls. My own history as a rape survivor sowed the seeds, but it wasn’t until I heard the news that my only sister was raped at college when Devon was just 1 year old that I said, “ENOUGH”. Then I made the leap to literally leave my job and my home to try to ‘be the change I wished to see in the world’. Corny as that may sound. Despite the financial risk and fear, it was the best decision I ever made.
Women-focused organizations seem to have a strong momentum these days. Is this because there are more of them or there is just a stronger level awareness of women’s issues?
I think there is a real push to acknowledge the power women and girls have in creating change in their communities worldwide, in conjunction with the increasing awareness of how de-valued girls are throughout much of the developing world. It’s hard to turn away when women are raped as weapons of war, and people are there to report on it, or when little girls have acid thrown in their faces just for walking to school to get an education. Books like Half the Sky have illustrated beautifully how powerful educating and training women is and that while they are oppressed and victimized, they can also be the solutions. I think more and more men and women are stepping up to the table, seeing this juxtaposition and are getting involved – by starting foundations, supporting them, advocating for women’s rights. My biggest hope is that gender equity is no longer a women’s right issue. It’s a human rights issue.
As a woman living and working Afghanistan, what is one of the most difficult aspects of daily life? What is one of the most empowering?
Security is the biggest issue. It permeates every aspect of your day. Can I walk to get breakfast, or am I on lockdown? Can I take my meetings, or will they be cancelled due to the constantly updated security reports that close down embassy, NGO and government offices? Can I drive to a rural province, or do I have to hitch a ride in a helicopter with the Afghan National Army? It’s incredibly frustrating, not just for me, but for everyone living and working there. yet there are those moments when you meet a woman that is just breaking all the rules and you want to scream, “hell yea!”
Women like Dr. Roshanak Wardak, an OB/GYN from the turbulent Wardak province who refused to wear the burqa during the Taliban’s control, and post-Taliban became a member of parliament. Her motto? “Politics is lying,” and she is a beacon for more women to stand up and take a role in politics. Others, much younger, like Massouda, a 8th grade student that wants to become a police officer – despite the risks to her and her family’s safety – because she wants to enforce the laws that the constitution ensures, particularly those pertaining to women’s rights. Breathtakingly courageous.
What are 3 blogs/news outlets that we all should be reading?
I’m hooked on Foreign Policy’s AfPak channel for in-depth writing on the region and wish for the day when I can watch Al Jazeera English in the US, not just on the web. I’m a huge fan of Bike Snob NYC, I want him as an honorary chair of our Panjshir Tour in NYC this October! I also an am avid follower of Nick Kristoff of the New York Times - he always nails the right tone and finds the one person that represents the entire problem, humanizing the issue and combating the apathy of today’s modern day media.
What inspires you on a daily basis?
My daughter, Devon is my daily inspiration to do better, and do more every day. My other inspiration is in the contentment I can find on a perfect climb up singletrack, balancing postures in yoga, or in the one smooth tele turn. It all plays into making me stronger and more balanced and brings a little bit of daily sanity into my chaotic world and reminds me of how lucky I am to have this freedom to ‘play’ outdoors.