Since the Taliban regained control and the US began its withdrawal from Afghanistan last month, young women who had embraced two decades of messaging about equality and liberation have faced an uncertain and dangerous future. For the young Afghan women who Shannon Galpin helped supply with cycling equipment and bikes, it has been a fraught period as they have been forced into hiding, destroyed or hidden their bikes, and tried to escape the country they once had hopes of changing.
These cyclists have been the subject of dozens of articles, and films in both English and French. Now, they are appealing to the thousands of people who were inspired by their story to help them as the Taliban take away the freedoms they enjoyed.
Cyclingnews caught up with two young women cyclists who are no longer in Afghanistan. For their safety and that of their families, we will be using pseudonyms here and not revealing their location. We asked them what they wanted to say to an audience that has watched the snowballing crisis in their home country.
Anna, who left Afghanistan earlier this summer, said "please, please don't stay silent, because it's not the life of one person or one woman, it's the lives of thousands of people there that need your assistance, especially the women. Please help us to live in a safe and better place because we don't have any better hope in Afghanistan."
Faith, who left in 2016, added "I ask all the people of the world not to leave our country alone and go to the aid of our country, and the human rights of the people. Why do Afghan women not have the right to choose the right to free life and education? Are the people of our country not human? How long should we be in darkness and feel the effect of oppressive and ignorant men? I hope that the international community of human rights will unite behind the United Nations and do something for the people and the government of Afghanistan and the women of Afghanistan."
Faith now lives in France. When she was young, she started cycling in Iran on her father's bicycle. She says she was inspired to ride by her mother, who wasn't allowed to take part in sports herself but always supported Faith's ambition. "Back in my mother's days, when there was little fluency, she couldn't go to school then, she couldn't do the sport she loved because of her family. Because she couldn't study and play sports, my mom and dad always supported me in all areas. It is thanks to my family and more to my mother that I am who I am."
After the family moved to Afghanistan and she learned there was a women's national team, she trained with her family at night for months before joining the other women for a ride. Soon, she realized that riding her bike was about more than her and her mother, it was a way of showing a commitment to a better future for Afghanistan.
"I wanted other girls who wanted to ride a bike or do any other sport they liked [to be able to do that]." Through cycling, she hoped to "build a culture where girls, like boys, can do cycling or any other sport." Now, "Cycling means freedom and power for me, it means that I am not a girl who just has to be a housewife, it means that I have freedom, I have a right to live like men in society."
That right isn't one that everyone agreed with even before the fall of the Afghan government. "Many of our people who did not think freely thought that a woman should just be at home and cook and have children, they did not have a positive view of us, and sometimes we were very annoyed by them and they said a lot of bad things to us." Bike clothing, in particular, was an issue because "cycling has its own type of clothing," she said, "but we couldn't dress that way because some people couldn't accept it." Now, she fears those people will be in power.
When Anna left Afghanistan earlier this summer, things were relatively normal in the capital city of Kabul. "We were going to training and most Fridays we were going on our long ride from Kabul to Bagram, but sometimes we heard something that made us wary to go far away from the city." Even as the Taliban began to seize more territory she wasn't that worried, "when the Taliban attacked some provinces, the capital was safe and people were coming from different provinces to Kabul to be safe and alive. I would have never thought the Taliban would take all the provinces, especially Kabul."
But they did, all while she was away working on a visa to allow her to continue her studies. Now, stuck far from home and worried about her family, she can't even turn to her bike for relief. "I came here just for some days, maybe weeks, so I didn't bring my bike and bike clothing but now I'm unable to bring them. I'm really worried that if the Taliban comes to my house for searching and sees my bike and all my achievements, I'm sure they'll destroy all of them, so I said to my family hide everything somewhere safe."
For Faith, sitting and watching from afar is difficult. "The girls and women I know in Afghanistan or from my family, the girls who used to go to school, who had their freedom. Now they all sit at home without any rights and it is very difficult for me that I see them in this state and there is nothing I can do."
Despite the fear that both girls now have for their friends and families, they're glad they started cycling. Faith says that when she started to do well in races, her family said "we believe in you, you can achieve whatever you want to." She went on to achieve a lot and has fond memories of her time with the Afghan Women's National Team, riding her favourite loops in Qargha and Paghman. "I had many good days with my national cycling team, and those days have become an unforgettable memory for me. And at that time, when we went out to train, I always said to the girls of the team: 'girls, enjoy these days and the free roads that we ride and walk,' and I always said, 'reign when you ride a bike, because we will not be together forever, and now that I think about those days, it's really painful for me that my country is once again under the influence of darkness, and as little as we had freedom, it has been taken now.'
Anna and Faith both still have hope for a better future, but perhaps not in their home country.
For more information or to make a donation, visit the Fundly fundraiser page Support evacuation and resettlement of Afghan cyclists.
To learn more about how you can help click on the link of resources that is being updated daily: Resources to Help Afghan Refugees
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