Winter Sports Week 2019: Building “powerful and confident” leaders and friendships to last a lifetime

This past month, Free to Run brought together 15 participants from our Western Afghanistan, Northern Afghanistan, and Kabul programs to our Central Highlands program to try out skiing, ice skating and other winter sports. For most, this was their very first time. “During my whole life, I have never experienced happiness like I have this week,” said Bahara, a participant from our Western Afghanistan program.

Over the course of seven days, all 15 participants experienced skiing and ice skating for the very first time. When asked to rank their experience on a scale of 1 to 10, the participants rated the Winter Inter-Regional Sports & Leadership Week at an average of 9.8.

Developing the Young Female Leaders of Tomorrow

Six of the participants learned how to ride a bicycle for the very first time, thanks to the leadership and support from other Free to Run members who already knew how to ride a bicycle. “I taught a girl how to ride a bicycle and it made me feel like a leader,” said Masuda from our Kabul program.

“I liked learning to ride a bicycle because I always walked to school and work and watched boys cycling past me. I’d look at them and wonder if it would be possible for me someday. Riding a bicycle around this week made me feel powerful, and that one day I can ride alongside them,” said Tamana from our Kabul program.

Survey responses revealed that 15 of the participants felt the week had taught them new leadership skills.

“I had no idea you could walk on a thin blade on ice. It makes me feel like anything is possible,” said Sharifa from our Northern Afghanistan program.

“Ice skating made me feel powerful and confident enough to someday build an ice skating rink back in my home province so I can teach other girls this amazing sport,” said Tamana.

In addition to sports, Free to Run organized team building and leadership exercises. Participants from different provinces were mixed up in these activities to encourage diversity and new friendships. On the last night, participants from all four provinces came together for a “Culture Night”, where they each shared a famous dish from their home province.


For 10 of the participants, it was their first time traveling outside of their home province.

“We never thought one day that we could travel alone to another province, but Free to Run made it possible for us,” said Sediqa from our Western Afghanistan program.

It was the first time all 15 of the participants had been to the Central Highlands. For 10 of them, it was their first time meeting someone from another province! Survey responses revealed that 15 of them felt they had made a new friendship on the trip, and that the trip had positively impacted their self esteem.

“I never thought one day I’d be in a room with girls from 4 different provinces all doing sports,” said Masuda.

In addition to the ice skating lessons, Free to Run worked with Bamyan Ski Club to offer ski lessons to the team. Over the course of three days, all team members learned how to ski down a slope and stop.

“I always saw skiing in movies, but never thought I’d be able to do it myself,” said Setara from our Kabul program.

Free to Run organizes three Inter-Regional Sports & Leadership Weeks a year for our 700 annual participants as a way for them to connect with other female athletes in our program, learn new leadership skills, and create a network of support across Afghanistan. This week was funded through our project with the U.S. Embassy in Kabul to increase access to sports for young women in Afghanistan.

Would you like to help us empower even more young women in our Inter-Regional Sports & Leadership Weeks? Every donation we receive, large or small, will help us to reach more women and girls in regions of conflict. Donations can be made easily and securely through Paypal, Crowdrise, or JustGiving.

Leah Anathan