In the skies above the war-weary Afghan capital, Kabul, military helicopters and surveillance balloons are a familiar sight; but now a group of young paragliders have also taken to the skies.
Zakia Mohammadi, who is a member of Afghanistan’s first paragliding team told media:
“This is the first time that I’m flying with a paraglider and I’m so excited. When I went up to the sky, I feel like a bird which had just been freed from a cage.”
During the rule of the militant Taliban in the 1990s, Afghan women were kept out of public life, but now women in the conservative Islamic country are increasingly entering fields such as education, sports and the wider workplace.
“I ask the girls and women to come and play any kind of sports they want to.” says Zakia.
“It is good for our future and sport is the symbol of peace. It shows that peace is coming to Afghanistan and we can help to bring peace to Afghanistan.”
Leeda Ozori, another member of the Afghan paragliding team said:
“When women see me they don’t believe that an Afghan woman can do this. The situation isn’t good, there is no security but I am brave. I can do it and I want to do it.”
Paragliding is an expensive pastime, especially in a city where the average wage is about 200 USD a month. Paragliding equipment costs around 5,000 USD with a training course costing an additional 500 USD.
Naweed Popal, the trainer of the Afghan Paragliding team sold his business and pooled the cash in order to start the group around three-years ago.
Speaking about the development Naweed said:
“I did my first time paragliding flight in Kabul and when I was landing, the children gathered and would think that I was a foreigner. They were discussing how to rob me and they were throwing stones at me but when I spoke with them they realized that I was an Afghan. Their behavior changed and then they welcomed me.”
Team members say they hope to spread their wings to other Afghan provinces soon, but for the moment, security worries restrict them to Kabul.
Life on the ground in Kabul has been going through various stages of evolution for both men and women, and this is another glimpse into how things are positively changing in particularly in the area of women’s freedom and opportunity.