At the same time Mountain2Mountain has refocused its efforts in Afghanistan (a 2011 Thomson Reuters poll confirmed that Afghanistan is the most dangerous country in the world for anyone with two X chromosomes, worse than the Congo, Pakistan, India and Somalia), it has also expanded its vision. This fall, through a new program called Combat Apathy, Mountain2Mountain will push projects in Cambodia, Mexico and Denver; next year it hopes to move into Israel, New York and Los Angeles. The three-stage educational experiment will partner young Americans between the ages of 16 and 22 with those in international conflict zones through citizen journalism and volunteer social-work projects. In the first stage, participants will publish personal stories through Mountain2Mountain's website and social media, with the hope that they will connect through the geography-free Internet.

And then the participants in the two communities will meet to create a project of their choosing, what Galpin calls a "social impact program" dedicated to an issue such as human trafficking, community violence or drug use. Although the specifics of the first pilot program won't be released until fall, it will unite Denver and Mexico City on the topic of trafficking.

To launch Combat Apathy, Mountain2Mountain will ramp up its fundraising efforts; its board of directors voted to increase the annual budget to $500,000 and hire four more full-time staff members, all of whom will be based out of Denver's Greenhouse Project start-up space.

On trips to Afghanistan, Shannon Galpin has interviewed natives across several provinces.
travis beard
On trips to Afghanistan, Shannon Galpin has interviewed natives across several provinces.
On trips to Afghanistan, Shannon Galpin has interviewed natives across several provinces.
tony di zinno
On trips to Afghanistan, Shannon Galpin has interviewed natives across several provinces.

The board has determined that the only way Mountain2Mountain can attain its goals is to grow. But in order to make Combat Apathy work, the group will have to fight apathy here at home. "You don't get someone to give you $20,000 because you're the good guys," Reese says. "You get it through results — and through people like Shannon. We have to believe in her."

*****

In an average year, Galpin spends twelve weeks outside the United States. After a month in Afghanistan, she'll devote three months to fundraising here. While she is away, Devon stays with her father, who lives only a few miles across the highway. When she is home, she teaches Devon to care for her puppy — a twelve-week-old Saint Bernard who was originally named Phoenix, after the bird in the Harry Potter series, but is now called Bear — and attempts to explain the world's problems in first-grade language.

"Devon used to think, 'Mommy builds schools,' because I would show her photos of schools with outdoor classrooms where students are learning off of a piece of plywood," Galpin says. "Then in preschool, we printed out all of her favorite photos of me abroad, and I made a map of Afghanistan and helped her put the photos all around it on a tri-fold science-fair board. I brought it in to her preschool class, and they tried on burqas and hats and thought about if they had to wear them every day."

In her bedroom, Devon keeps two piggy banks on the dresser; in one, she collects money for herself, in the other, for the kids in her mom's photos.

From the front door to the living room of their home, a long white hallway is covered with a series of travel maps and a collection of color-coded Post-its that Galpin uses to structure her business plans. In the kitchen, seven-year-old Devon pens a novella in front of her own list of chores, which is tacked to the fridge. She soon presents Galpin with her masterpiece: The Book of Numbers, All the Way to Number 697, by Devon Galpin Clark.

Galpin has written her own book, which grew out of the project she started last summer, but Devon will not know the full story of what her mother is doing in Afghanistan until she is at least ten, Galpin says. Devon has come close to learning too much a few times, though. When Galpin was driving the school carpool one day (although she sold one car to fund Mountain2Mountain, she's since bought another used car that she's still paying off), one of the older kids asked her if she'd ever seen any bombs abroad; fortunately, Devon didn't hear the conversation. "He's only two years older than Devon," Galpin says. "It's hard to keep everything from her, but we have to for a while. She doesn't know I'm gone unless I tell her that I'm not in Breckenridge."

Galpin definitely has her critics, who call her "polarizing" and "hammer-headed." In launching her own nonprofit, Galpin bluntly abandoned the traditional route and fashioned her own model through trial and error. Some point to her unorthodox mothering schedule to rebuke her more brazen methods of diplomacy: If she really cares about women, why doesn't she spend more time with her daughter? But to question her concept of family, the strongest element in her story, is a mistake, Galpin says.

Family is everything, even if her finances are so tight that she regularly needs to choose between groceries and her cell-phone payment. Last year, during a trip to her local City Market to buy dinner, her bank account reached a low of $20, forcing her to decline Devon's request for gummy vitamins.

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1 comments
Gentry June
Gentry June

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