Helping Hands: Breckenridge woman works for women’s rights in Afghanistan
June 22, 2011
Breckenridge resident Shannon Galpin has a silver jeweled barrette, a gift from a 22-year woman jailed for moral crimes in Kandahar, Afghanistan. The third wife of a 60-year-old man who had beaten his two previous wives to death, she pulled her long sleeves back during Galpin’s visit to reveal “layers upon layers of scars.”
“He used her as a knife sharpener,” Galpin said.
Galpin is the founder of Mountain2Mountain, a nonprofit dedicated to creating change for women in regions of conflict. Founded in 2006, Galpin travels to Afghanistan – ranked the worst place in the world to be a woman – several times a year. The barrette now goes with her whenever she travels; a piece of the jailed woman free to roam.
“By equal measure, it’s incredibly heartbreaking and frustrating and discouraging and, at the same time, you’re inspired by the courage of these women at every turn,” she said.
In a former life, Galpin worked overseas as an athletic trainer. Pregnant with her daughter in her late 20s, she received the news her 19-year-old sister had been raped.
“When I was 17, I was raped,” she said. Galpin decided she’d had enough.
So she leveraged everything: She sold her home, quit her job and used all of her finances to start the organization.
“I decided that women’s rights should be human rights, and that if I could do anything to be part of that change in perception, and also part of helping women’s rights in conflict zones where they’re the most depressed and overlooked, then I didn’t have an option,” she said. “I had to be involved.”
Mountain2Mountain has been Galpin’s full-time “passion and work” for the past few years. Since its creation, the organization has funded construction of two schools and the salaries of teachers and rural midwives; provided ongoing support to the women – and their children – in prison through literacy programs and legal assistance; and started a street art project with the Kabul youth, among other things. There are also several supporting programs, like putting computer labs in girls’ schools to give them a better shot at university. Currently, Galpin is working on building a school for the deaf. So far, she has 5 acres of land donated from President Karzai and a security wall built. She is still looking for funding for construction.
“They’re community driven, and show sustainable change is possible,” Galpin said of the organization’s endeavors. “All of our projects center around the idea of giving a voice to women, the children, youth through education, training and art.”
To raise money for the school and other projects, Galpin reached out to top war photographers and burgeoning Afghan photographers to donate different pieces for a photography exhibit. The show opened recently at the Denver Art Museum and is making its way to the Breckenridge Riverwalk Center July 1 before continuing on nationally and ending on the streets of Kabul.
Galpin also held a fundraiser at the Riverwalk back in 2007; the event raised more than $100,000, which went to the construction of the two schools.
For this event, said she really wanted people to understand the impact of the photos, so she blew them all up to 7-to 10-feet tall. Because Afghanistan is so misunderstood and polarized in the media, she said, she knew the key would be to “illustrate our common humanity through that visceral pool of photography.”
“You’re staring into an Afghan woman’s eyes,” she said. “The people are so incredibly beautiful, yet there’s so much heartbreak in their faces and so much heartbreak in their lives after 40 years of war and oppression.”
The Breckenridge event will also feature a showing of a short documentary about Galpin’s work in the war-torn country, titled “Walking Lions.” The film includes footage of her mountain biking in the Panjshir Valley; she was the first woman to do so. The jailed woman’s barrette was with her, she said.
The biggest change in perception Galpin hopes for is for people to understand that women’s rights are human rights, and that everyone shares a common humanity.
“It doesn’t mean it’s a woman’s issue,” she said. “We need men standing up for women as much as we need to be standing up for women. Otherwise it will always be a sideline issue.”
The Streets of Afghanistan exhibit and fundraiser is set for 6:30 p.m. July 1 at the Riverwalk Center in Breckenridge. There will also be a documentary showing and presentation. Food is being donated by Harvest Catering.
Tickets are $35, and available through the Riverwalk Center.