Forget everything you know, leave your assumptions about teenagers at the door to the climbing wall classroom. You won’t see dissent towards teachers. You won't see disinterest or boredom or complaining. What you will see is dancing. You will see wild, ecstatic encouragement. The refugee girls celebrating International Women’s Day with Cotopaxi at The Front Climbing Club clap and call to their friend as, with great excitement, she reaches the top of the climbing wall.
What better way to celebrate International Women’s Day than with community and adventure? The education team at the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Salt Lake City collaborated with Cotopaxi to invite refugee girls from around the community to go wall climbing at The Front. Over snacks and selfies, the students chatted and grabbed the ropes hanging from the ceiling in anticipation.
First came inspiration, though.
“Have you ever been told that you couldn’t do something because you’re a girl?” They were asked by Annie Agle, the director of brand & impact with Cotopaxi. They thought for a second. A few of them nodded in agreement. “Junko Tabei felt the same way.”
No matter where we come from, gender roles can have a severe influence on how we see the narrative of our lives. To encourage them, each girl received a copy of the recently published book by Rebel Girls, “Junko Tabei Masters the Mountains.” Focusing on the life of the mountaineer, Junko Tabei, the book followed the journey of the first woman to reach the summit of Mount Everest.
The girls gathered in small groups with members from our education team, Hannah Oblock, refugee youth & education coordinator, and Camranh Le, college & career readiness specialist, and read from the book. Students helped others follow along and determinedly sounded out unfamiliar words.
“Many opportunities that we take for granted are actually privileges,” Camranh reflected. “Such as being able to go to a climbing gym, so I thought it was meaningful to remove those barriers for the girls.”
Hiking through paragraphs about mountaineering is one thing, another entirely is taking the first step up a climbing wall. Harnessed in and relying on their own strength and the belayer tethered to them, they each took turns testing their bravery. Even the youngest, although wearing a long dress, wanted to climb.
“I’m not sure you can climb in that,” everybody told her. Continuing the theme of breaking expectations, she showed them that she was wearing leggings.
“I’m ready,” she said. “Let’s go.” That’s right, feminine does not mean incapable. Her sister helped her gather her dress in a long swan tail as she put on her safety gear and then rushed to join the others.
Cotopaxi additionally provided a presentation with Lilliana Libecki, the precocious humanitarian spearheading the nonprofit, The Joyineering Fund, for the refugee girls. Her talk covered her work bringing necessities and education to remote areas of the world. Lilliana's journey and the journey of every other young woman in the audience sparked hope for their futures.
We’re thrilled to watch young refugees in our community explore together and find support in each other. Help us ensure we can continue our work with refugee youth and their families by helping us respond to COVID-19 in Salt Lake City. Learn how you can help>