Farid Noori IOOW

"We want to create opportunities for young people."

By: Farid Noori  September 01, 2020

Farid Noori is the founder and director of Mountain Bike Afghanistan, the nonprofit that is empowering Afghan youth with the joy of riding and competing on mountain bikes, as well as connecting people across borders for their shared love of cycling.

I was born in Afghanistan in 1994, and that was right when the Taliban were coming in. My family and I moved to Pakistan to escape the regime. My dad is a doctor and managed to find work in Pakistan, and we attended refugee school. The life of a refugee comes with a lot of struggles, but we managed to go to school, and I picked up English while I was in Pakistan. Right after the fall of the Taliban regime in 2003, my family decided to move back to Afghanistan. Things were getting better in Afghanistan, and there was hope for peace, and there was a new democratic government. When we went back, everything was ruined. My high school had no standing structure and it was pretty grim everywhere around, but it was also an exciting time because there was reconstruction at a fast pace.

During my time as a refugee in Pakistan, I searched for scholarship opportunities that could bring me to the United States. In 2011, I came to the US as part of a high school exchange program for my junior year and the program placed me in Maine. That experience, although it was only for six months, was very eye opening for me because I was experiencing a lot of things for the first time. My biggest realization during that time was that in Afghanistan, as young people, we do not have a lot of opportunities to grow outside of the classroom. Also, the struggle with war from a psychological point of view is very present in every aspect of life in Afghanistan, given it’s been struggling with war for almost half a century now. My time in the US prompted my interest in potential social innovations that could bring more opportunities to people and contribute to peace building, especially at home.

I finished high school in New Mexico and I saw a mountain bike race in Taos by pure chance. I immediately fell in love with biking. I wondered why mountain biking wasn’t in Afghanistan, where we have huge mountains. Afghanistan is not a sand desert; it is 80% mountainous and they are beautiful. They have so much potential, but this narrative has never been portrayed because the media talks about war all the time and it consistently shows desert where the Taliban operates. I want to change this narrative.

From that first mountain bike experience in New Mexico, I thought, “wow, I could ride bikes in Afghanistan, and take pictures and videos and then show that to the world”. I went to Middlebury College in Vermont and although I knew I was going to study economics, my second goal was to do as much cycling as I could. After making some friends with the Middlebury Cycling Club during my second year, I got my hands on a mountain bike and started doing collegiate races and did really well. After one race, I immediately caught the racing bug. From then on, I was riding every day. I challenged myself to become an Olympic hopeful given the opportunities I had in the US, where roads are safe and there is minimal concern for safety. I finished college in February of 2019 and I have been racing in Colorado and in some USA Cycling races ever since.

I haven’t been home since 2015, so I haven’t yet been back to Afghanistan with a bike. But I have connected with a local group in central Afghanistan set up a nonprofit to start the first ever cross country mountain bike race in Afghanistan. We started the Hundu Kush mountain bike challenge in 2018. The first year I was blown away to see 50 riders show up to the start line, and 20 of those were girls. There were huge crowds watching from the hilltops – beginning at the start area and continuing through the finish area. We were even contacted by the office of the president who is keen on young people doing this kind of work, to highlight that and turn it into a snowball effect to get more young people to do initiatives like this. There is a lot of excitement and support around mountain biking in Afghanistan and the number of people who want to cycle is consistently growing, but available equipment is very poor. We were approached by a couple of clubs this year who were looking for more gear and equipment support so that they could go and participate in a lot of races, but that is not the only goal for us.

The fundamental question for me is, how do I develop a program that doesn’t simply give away free bikes, but actually builds an infrastructure? This summer as a prototype program, we are testing a program where trail work days will result in you earning a bike. For these kids in Afghanistan, you find sponsors in the US for $1,000, and what you do is you take this $1,000, you buy a bike, and you take it to Afghanistan and the kid builds one kilometer of trail and in exchange, he gets the bike. So it is one donation, two outcomes. You are supporting someone overseas with a bike, you are helping someone else get on a bike, but that same someone is off creating a kilometer of trail.

First of all, our goal is to grow the sport of mountain biking in Afghanistan and through this, showcase Afghanistan's incredible outdoors to the world and also to Afghans themselves. The goal is to shed some positive light in and on Afghanistan and to help young Afghans realize that their country has significant potential and they should not run away from it. We want to create opportunities for young people. The continuous growth of these kinds of initiatives contribute to peacebuilding. By getting kids on bikes, by having them build these trail networks and their community owning these trail networks and the adventure tourism that comes with it, you're creating a model community. Add in promotion and advertising, and now more foreigners come and experience Afghanistan in ways they haven't before and its appeal grows.

On a very personal level, I would not have survived all these years away from home, in the United States, with the kind of discouraging news you are constantly hearing from Afghanistan without cycling. The thing that has helped me stay focused, grounded, happy and able to find beauty again in the world has been my time on the bike. Biking brings me peace and has impacted me personally so much, which is why I want to bring it to other people.

To learn more and/or support the mission, visit MTBafghanistan.org!

About the Contributor

Farid Noori is an Olympic hopeful in mountain biking for Afghanistan, and an MBA candidate at the Walton MBA in University of Arkansas. He is the founder and director of Mountain Bike Afghanistan, the nonprofit that is empowering Afghan youth with the joy of riding and competing on mountain bikes, as well as connecting people across borders for their shared love of cycling.