Farid Noori was teaching online from the United States to high school students in Kabul, Afghanistan, when a bomb attack started.
“At that very moment,” Noori said, “I had an online, remote class on Afghanistan’s environment with some of the school’s students. One of my students got injured. As days went by, the death toll climbed to 100, mostly schoolgirls, making this one of the deadliest attacks in Kabul’s history.”
At least 90 students were killed and 275 others were injured May 8 at Sayed Ul Shuhada high school, mostly girls and mostly Hazara, an ethnic minority often the target of Islamic fighters. Boys have class in the morning, and girls in the afternoon. The attack occurred around 4 p.m. as the girls were leaving school.
For Noori, who came to the U.S. for school, the attack was profound because it was an attempt to stymie advanced education.
Educated, competed in Vermont
Noori moved from Afghanistan on a high school scholarship in 2011 and graduated from Middlebury College in Vermont with a degree in economics. He discovered mountain biking while in high school and raced for Middlebury. Currently, he is a master’s candidate in business administration at the Sam M. Walton College of Business in Arkansas.
“It was an attack on education and Afghanistan’s future generation, particularly Afghan girls, attempting to stop them from going to school,” he said.
After the attack, there was national and international condemnation and heightened concern about the future for Afghan girls. Attempts were made to memorialize the victims, and the country came together in support and sympathy.
But the attack soon slipped from collective memory, a familiar pattern after repeated incidents of terrorism, he said. But society cannot afford to forget about this tragedy, he added.
“It was an attack on our brightest. And if, as ordinary citizens, we show that such barbaric acts of terrorism cannot be tolerated, that in response to such cruelties, we will double, triple our collective efforts to invest in the education of our children, then we will be sending a strong message to the terrorists behind this attack that our will and dedication to the future of our children is stronger than theirs,” he said.
More than violence
Noori said he wants Americans to know there’s more to Afghanistan than violence. To draw attention to Afghanistan, the education of its youth and its natural beauty, he rode 186 kilometers and 21 times up Appalachian Gap in Vermont on July 27.
“It felt like [it was] a right of passage doing this ride because, you know, the challenge. I had a lot of time to think about them and that was the most incredible feeling, and it motivated me to push harder,” Noori said.
It took 11 hours, 3 minutes to finish, raising nearly $9,000 of his $25,000 goal, crowdfunding under the title “Start Some Good, Education Will Prevail.”
“An incredible day, the last four hours of which was in pouring cold rain," Noori said. "But the amazing show of support from strangers and friends, and some who joined the ride, made the day go faster and easier.”
“It was a show of solidarity that meant a lot,” he said, thinking about those girls.
Symbol of overcoming challenges
Noori uses Naw Shakh, the tallest mountain in Afghanistan and the 52nd-tallest mountain in the world, which has been largely inaccessible to climbers because of Afghanistan’s political turmoil, as a symbol of overcoming challenges. He said it could become a tourism destination.
Noori has also encouraged biking in Afghanistan to empower Afghan youth “with the joy of riding and competing on mountain bikes." He said the sport connects people across borders who share a love of cycling, and he founded an organization — Mountain Bike Afghanistan — to foster that interest.
“We use the bike as a tool to bring joy and hope into the lives of Afghan youth and promote gender equality,” he said. “We believe the bike is the most effective tool for the emancipation of Afghan women and normalizing their freedom of movement in Afghan society. We organize events and provide equipment to get more Afghan women on bikes.”
In 2018, Noori and his team in Afghanistan launched the annual Hindu Kush Mountain Bike Challenge in response to the growing popularity of mountain biking among Afghan youth.
They kickstarted Afghanistan's first official cross-country mountain bike race and kindled a culture of racing and community gathering. Hindu Kush is 805 kilometers of mountain range that stretches through Afghanistan into northern Pakistan and Tajikistan and is part of the Himalaya range of the world’s biggest, most challenging mountains, including the tallest, Mount Everest.
“Everyone concerned with peace and stability in Afghanistan has a responsibility to do more to show ongoing support to victims of such tragedies” as the attack on Sayed Ul Shuhada, Noori concluded.