Were you born as a refugee? Have you ever been forced to leave your country because of war? Have you ever been deprived of access to basic education because of your nationality?
That’s what I’ve been through! I was born as an Afghan refugee in Iran during the Soviet invasion to Afghanistan. My parents left everything behind and started with nothing but a suitcase in a different country. I’ve been judged and faced bias because of my accent, gender and because I was too vocal in my hometown. I’ve felt scared and nervous while traveling abroad, standing in anticipation with my passport in hand.
During the summer of 2014, I left the job I had to seek a new dream! While I lived off of my savings in the Big Apple, I was nervous, sad, and lost in the world. Any sort of negative energy you can think of was spinning around in my head.
Without a full time job, I thought of using my native language to earn income. I ended up finding a language school and began teaching Farsi. I taught as many classes as I could because I needed the money to survive, but that wasn’t my main passion. In my heart, I always wanted to do something for women in my hometown of Herat, a city I desperately missed.
This is my 6th year of living abroad without seeing my family! When was the last time you’ve seen your family members?! (I hope sooner than I have.)
Struggling with paying the bills, seeing the beautiful face of my parents and siblings on the computer screen, I was determined. “I AM NOT GONNA GIVE UP!” It reminded me of this famous poem of Sa’adi who said:
نابرده رنج گنج میسر نمیشود. (naboorde ranj ganj moyasar nemishavad)
In other words, no pain, no gain.
I had my notebook with me sitting at coffee shops writing ideas of what future should look like to me.
I always had the passion about technology and enabling women back home to take advantage of that. I wanted them to have something that no one can take from them: digital knowledge!
This year is the second anniversary of Code to Inspire, the social impact organization that I founded where we opened the first coding school for girls in Afghanistan on November 2015. I can’t believe that it has been 2 years that I’ve been working on Code to Inspire full time and have dedicated my whole life to it. Starting any thing from scratch in another country is a challenge. Finding the right document, while you are still living as an immigrant, is very challenging.
When the idea of Code To Inspire first came to my mind, I talked to as many as people you can imagine. But why would someone trust that this idea would become a reality?! Many people I spoke to were afraid to invest in CTI or give their time to help.
We started with 50 girls and now we have about 130 girls who are coming to our school every day in Herat, Afghanistan to learn coding.
One of the projects that our girls coded is a game developed with Unity which is based on a true story. It’s called: Fight Against Opium.
Helmand is the largest province in southern Afghanistan with an area of 58,584 kilometers and a population of 879,500. This game was modeled after a real mission where soldiers had to clear Helmand of opium and other drugs. In this game, the soldiers also face many obstacles while clearing out the drugs, like tall corn plants and the enemies who protect the drugs. Soldiers encourage farmers to plant saffron instead of opium to improve Afghanistan’s economy.
I believe it doesn’t matter where you are from or what you have. It’s only important to know who you want to be. My “Afghan Dream” stays close with me wherever I am.
Change is possible! No matter who you are!
Fereshteh Forough is the Founder and President of Code to Inspire, the first coding school for girls in Afghanistan. Fereshteh was born as an Afghan refugee in Iran. One year after the fall of Taliban, She moved to Herat, Afghanistan with her family where she received her bachelor’s degree in computer science from Herat University and later a Master’s degree from Technical University of Berlin in Germany.
She taught as a professor in the Computer Science Faculty of Herat University for three years. Fereshteh was a 2013 TED Talks speaker and a 2015 Clinton Global Initiative.
Her passion is to empower young women from Afghanistan by improving their technical literacy. Her goal with Code To Inspire is educating Afghan women with in-demand programming skills, empower them to add unique value to their communities, and inspire them to strive for financial and social independence.