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Bangladeshi Mountaineer Climbs Mountains for Girls

Wasfia Nazreen has always been attracted to the mountains. Growing up as a little girl in Chittagong, the hills of Bangladesh were never far from her. A self-proclaimed tomboy, Wasfia longed to play outside, to bring those distant hills into her purview. But in her society, there were many restrictions and a lot of emphasis was focused on a girl-child to make her the most suitable bride: “A “good” girl doesn’t play outside with the boys; there was only one objective – be the ideal girl suitable for a good husband!”

When Wasfia was thirteen, her parents divorced. Both remarried and started new families. Wasfia was sent to live with her aunt in Dhaka. Life in Dhaka was harder financially. In her new school, Wasfia began playing sports, excelling in handball and volleyball. In order to pay her school fees, Wasfia started tutoring at night to earn money for her high school tuition. Wasfia’s dream was to obtain higher studies in the West in order to be independent and stand on her own feet. She knew living the “American dream” could be one way out. Despite numerous obstacles, Wasfia received a full academic scholarship to attend Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia. It was there that she studied art and psychology and developed a passion for social work.

As a student, Wasfia was involved in several anti-war movements, volunteering with various NGOs and international peace activist organizations, most notably, the Tibetan Freedom Movement. Her passion for peace and human rights development led Wasfia to Dharamsala, the exiled capital of Tibet, where her love for the mountains deepened.

“I was working with Tibetans who walked across the Himalayas to India or Nepal barefoot. The Tibetans and Sherpa peoples have a natural tendency to adapt to high altitude. Not many of them claim to be a “mountaineer” or “climber” despite their innate knowledge and skills of living in such harsh environments or reaching a summit.It’s a lifestyle there. Some people in other parts of the world go to the pub for a drink on the weekends. Tibetans go to the hills for a walk.” Like the Tibetans, Wasfia found peaceand healing in the mountains. For her, the journey was never about conquering the mountain, but about surrendering to it.

In 2011, on the 40th anniversary of Bangladesh’s independence, Wasfia set out to climb the seven highest mountains on each continent, which by default, made her the first Bangladeshi ever to do so. This quest was her attempt to highlight the strides of Bangladesh as a country and the resiliency and strength of the nation’s women. She has already reached the summit of six continents and after the completion of the seventh she will be amongst the thirty-seven women in the world to have accomplished such a feat.

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