Girls in Action! The Swat Project, Pakistan

The Swat Project 2022 (1)

Here is a brief report by Carlo Alberto Pinelli on the “Girls in Action!” course that was held in August.

“The course to teach a group of Swat girls the basics of outdoors activities (combining rock climbing, hiking, trekking, environmental protection, history and culture) came about thanks to an agreement between the Asian Desk of Mountain Wilderness International and the Swat Public School (SPS) and College in Mingora, one of the largest educational institutions in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region. The architect of the agreement was journalist Fazal Khaliq, also from Mingora, who managed to win the full support of the dean of the college, Prof. Munawar Shah.

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The twenty female trainees of the course were aged between 15 and 25. Six came from the Medical College campus. An active role was also played by five teachers of SPS, who acted as assistants and facilitators and were very helpful especially in the interaction with the parents of the trainees.  The agreement envisaged only female trainers, and the presence of three men, i.e. Carlo Alberto Pinelli, Fazal Khaliq and Prof. Irfan Ullah was accepted as they were external organisers.

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Mountain Wilderness was fortunate enough to be able to count on a small team of highly experienced female volunteer trainers, who worked with immense generosity throughout the course, arousing the enthusiasm of their trainees.  They were: Joan Summer, Canadian but living in Italy, expert in trekking and everything to do with this discipline; Giuliana Pagliari, Italian, national climbing instructor, who also gave orientation and map reading lessons; Patrizia Romagnolo, Italian, national mountaineering instructor, and Concep Mirò, Catalan, mountaineer from Mountain Wilderness Catalunya, who gave lessons in mountain conservation and environmental protection.

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Actually, the trainers immediately worked as a team, with great sinergy, each crossing the boundaries of their subject matter and complementing each other. Besides, lessons on the Buddhist art of Gandhara were given by Moizza Elahi, a Pakistani professor from Lahore, one of which took the trainees to one of the most interesting Buddhist monuments in Swat. Two introductory lessons were given by Carlo Alberto Pinelli, in charge of the Asian Desk of Mountain Wilderness International, and Afzel Sherazi, president of the Pakistani chapter of Mountain Wilderness.

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Most of the training took place just before the region was devastated by the floods (August 21-28). Actually, a final hike had been planned from Kalam (2,000 m a.s.l.) towards the northern slopes of Mount Mankial (5,700 m), on a real mountain trail of rare beauty, with an altitude difference of 600 m, but the devastating floods that swept away homes and hotels in Kalam, destroyed everything on their path and killed so many people, forced us to cancel it.

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The ceremony for the awarding of certificates was a great success. After the course had officially ended, in order to give the trainees a chance to experience a hike and a night in a tent, Mountain Wilderness and SPS organised a further informal hike, on a fairly demanding route up to an aerial ridge of the central Swat hills, with enormous overhanging boulders and traces of very ancient paintings.

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We do not rule out the possibility of holding an advanced course next year, to give the trainees a more solid grounding in the subjects.”

What is The Swat Project?

The above course took place within the framework of The Swat Project. This project started 2018 and envisages three stages: the first aims at training young local people as eco-friendly medium-mountain guides, organisers of hikes and small peak expeditions, and as nature rangers for Pakistani and foreign tourists. The second stage aims to collect information, pictures and drawings by hiking and climbing parties for the publication of a paper guidebook, explaining the hiking and mountaineering potential of the region, with a view to protecting the environment, conserving mountains, developing local economy and respecting local traditions and culture. Hiking and climbing parties consist of mountaineers from Europe and elsewhere, as well as locals who have been trained in the previous stage. The third stage envisages the establishment of a national park, which we hope will become a reality.

The first trainings were successfully held in August 2018. Since then, several environmentally friendly mountaineering courses were held. The first expeditions to explore hiking and mountaineering routes and trails were held in 2019. In 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we had to temporarily suspend activities, for everyone’s safety. In 2021 we resumed our project activities: hikers and mountaineers explored three routes. This year more routes were explored and more peaks were summited.

Video courtesy of Fazal Khaliq in YouTube.