In the nearly six years since Shannon Galpin founded Mountain2Mountain, the Colorado-based nonprofit has created several projects in Afghanistan: Volunteers taught street art, worked with women's prisons, partnered on a school for the deaf. But in 2012, Combat Apathy, its new educational program, will expand the organization to a a host of additional countries while for the first time refocusing inward on sociopolitical issues within the United States.
On her right hand, Galpin wears a heavy silver ring engraved with the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow quote, "The lowest ebb is the turn of the tide." Last year, her nonprofit likely faced its lowest ebb: With funding difficulties ever-present and a board that adjusted poorly to the realities of what that means, the political activist and mother took her first real vacation from the organization since she founded it in 2006. Upon returning, the results were immediate -- and not just for her stomach ulcer.
After examining the internal dynamics and long-term plans of the group, Galpin restructured the board and prepared for the launch of Combat Apathy, the three-stage educational experiment that is one of its most ambitious projects to date and will become the core of all its future efforts.
"We want to be a conduit for change and voice while avoiding that western footprint," Galpin says. "The goal is to create a ripple on both sides of the equation and connect this community culture. We're going to create an army of citizen diplomats."
Combat Apathy seeks to make strategic international connections by bridging the gap between international and domestic conflict zones. With the program, Galpin's goal is to highlight the voices of women on several sides of the international community, from the roster's new locations (Cambodia, Mexico and the West Bank are possibilities) to at-risk American youth in the African-American, Hispanic and Native American communities.
The project, which centers on youth ages sixteen to 22, takes place across a number of stages, first of which is the launch of a citizen journalism program. In the latter, Mountain2Mountain will work with activists and volunteers as community journalists and publish their stories through the organization's website and social media. The goal is engagement and communication between authors and readers across the geography-free Internet.
"We want to teach them at a young age that it's everyone's responsibility to make change in the world," Galpin says. "You don't have to wait for your government to do this. By connecting several communities, we hope that the participants will be more likely to see and feel that from all angles."
Watch the speech Shannon presented at TEDx Mile High earlier this year:
Driven by violence against women in her family and a need to challenge the issue internationally, Galpin created Mountain2Mountain to specifically target Afghanistan, after aiding in Nepal and Pakistan. While overseeing hundreds of projects there, including work with schools and prisons intended in part to amplify the message that women's rights are human rights, she set a more unlikely benchmark: In 2009, she became the first woman to ride a mountain bike in Afghanistan.
Shortly thereafter, Galpin used the experience and her perspective to start an annual tradition inside the organization -- a group ride across Afghanistan's Panjshir Valley. But this year, Galpin and her board of directors are pushing for Mountain2Mountain to make its largest impact to date.
After its citizen journalism stage, the American youth involved in Combat Apathy will travel abroad to visit the communities Mountain2Mountain works with and develop a community project of their choosing. This stage is open-ended for a reason.
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"The entire goal is to highlight their voices, to allow them to target the issues inside their own communities and change it the best way they know how," Galpin says. "They are the experts, and we realize that. Mountain2Mountain is the facilitator. They are the leaders."
In the final stages, Galpin says, members of Combat Apathy will brainstorm a "social impact program" -- one that utilizes their voice and what they have learned from the experience to tackle a global issue without the western watermark of the United States. On the table are topics including human trafficking, community violence and drug use, which Mountain2Mountain will help participants develop into projects for their communities. At the same time, students in elementary and middle school will be involved with a start-up version of the project.
Although Combat Apathy remains in its initial stages, Galpin hopes to announce the full roster of schools and countries by the end of the spring. In the meantime, visit Mountain2Mountain's website for additional information and updates.
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