Project Good for Girls is a not-for-profit organization that supports girls in countries around the world to gain the education, skills and self-esteem they need to become independent, empowered adults able to realize their full potential and be forces for change in their communities.
Code to Inspire is the first computer coding school for girls in Afghanistan. We started our partnership with them in 2020, right in the middle of the global COVID-19 outbreak, by raising much needed emergency funds to help provide internet access to girls who had to continue their work at home when the coding school was forced to close. We also contributed professional tablets to kick off a new advanced graphic design programme at the school. The school re-opened and 75 girls were able to graduate this year in coding and graphic design – several of the girls were already earning an income building websites and apps for companies.
Things changed drastically over the last few weeks.
In light of recent events we are launching this urgent fundraising appeal to help the girls of Code to Inspire, who have overnight seen their living situations deteriorate rapidly. We have a generous donor who will match up to $2500 in funds by midnight 27 Sept (EST), so every dollar you donate will become two.Donate here.
Monday Sept 19th was the first day back at school in Afghanistan under the Taliban. But only for boys. Fereshteh Forough, the founder of Code to Inspire has received many urgent messages for help from the girls and their families as the humanitarian crisis continues to grow more dire, especially for girls and women. In her own words:
“These past weeks as much as I was worried and concerned about the future of our girls with our coding school, I received heartbreaking messages from our students whom either themselves as the main breadwinner of the family or someone from their family lost their jobs and have no income at all which led to food insecurity, not being able to pay rent, medical needs, commute and etc.
Here are a few of the messages I received:
“I don’t have a father and our situation at home is very bad.”
” My father is disabled and my mom and I were the breadwinners. We both lost jobs. Any help can save us.”
“My mother was a government human rights lawyer. The Taliban took my father as hostage to force my mother to resign which it happened. My father is hidden and we don’t have any source of income since my mother lost her job.”
“I don’t have a father. I was the only breadwinner. My mother is sick and we have to pay for her medical bills which we don’t have any money for.”
There are currently 80 students asking for cash assistance to support their families. With an average family of six, cash assistance of $200 per family can help cover food, rent and medical expenses.
Every bit counts if you can spare it. Thank you for your help.
Code to Inspire is the first computer coding school for girls in Afghanistan. We started our partnership with them in 2020, right in the middle of the global COVID-19 outbreak, by raising much needed emergency funds to help provide internet access to girls who had to continue their work at home when the coding school was forced to close. We also contributed professional tablets to kick off a new advanced graphic design programme at the school.
Molly Keisman, our intrepid Good for Girls’ volunteer, spoke with Fereshteh Forough, founder of Code to Inspire to tell us all about its groundbreaking work.
M: Tell me about Code to Inspire
F: We opened in November of 2015. We wanted to offer a safe and secure educational environment for women in Afghanistan between 18-25 years old, where they would get technical skills that could be translated into job opportunities. We offer our classes free of charge because a lot of the girls come from a challenging financial background, and it’s important for us to include all girls who are interested, even those from families that are poor. When they graduate, students can either find a job within the local community and get hired there, or we can outsource projects to them so they can get paid and work remotely. They can also become entrepreneurs and create their own start-ups and then hire more women. These are the major aspects of the work we do with Code to Inspire.
M: How many girls have been to the school, and what kind of classes can they take?
F: Since 2015, we’ve educated more than 250 girls in our coding and graphic design classes. Right now, we only have one location, which is in Herat, a city in the west of Afghanistan. The school is like an after-school program although the school is open from 7:00am to 6:00pm. Our coding classes are mainly web development, mobile application development, game design and recently we added blockchain technology to our curriculum, and also a graphic design class. The classes are taught in person. We have five mentors who teach different classes, in Farsi, but the presentations and questions are in English. The majority of mentors are my former computer science students. I was teaching in the university and I’d reach out to ones who had graduated who had a couple years of programming work. We have both female and male mentors. We have four coding mentors and one graphic design mentor, and our graphic design mentor is actually an alumna of our graphic design class. So we are excited to see if, in the future, we can hire more alumni as mentors.
M: Which part of your work with Code to Inspire has made you the proudest?
F: Certainly the idea of providing equal opportunities and resources as well as pushing for gender equality in a country where 78% of women are still unemployed—it’s a big issue. And only 37% of women are literate, so just the fact that I was able to provide such impactful resources for young women to help them monetize their talents is very rewarding for me, and that is what kept us going with Code to Inspire.
M: Where did your personal interest in coding begin?
F: That’s an interesting question because when I was in high school, I actually was studying literature and was very interested in literature, philosophy, and anthropology. When I went to Afghanistan in 2002 and got into university, when I took the university exams, the system picked computer science for me. I didn’t pick computer science. I was very upset—I didn’t want to do computer science because I didn’t have any background in math or technical stuff, so it was scary for me. But my parents really encouraged me, especially because my English was decent at that time. They said that if you know English, that’s something that can help you and would be very valuable for the future and for a career. So they really encouraged me. When I went to start my classes, at first it was very intimidating because it was a lot of math and I really wasn’t good at math because I didn’t have any background. But then they added classes like introduction to algorithms, problem-solving, dealing with computers and getting online, that really inspired me. I liked the creativity, critical thinking and problem-solving aspects of it, which led me to then finish my bachelor’s in computer science and get a master’s degree from the Technical University of Berlin.
M: When you first started getting into computer science in college, were there any barriers you faced as a woman?
F: There were certainly barriers. I’m talking about 2002 when we moved to Afghanistan from Iran (I was born in Iran and then we moved to Afghanistan one year after the fall of the Taliban). So you can imagine that it’s a country the Taliban just left, but there are a lot of extremists and Taliban in different parts of Afghanistan, and you could see signs of war. One aspect was infrastructure – in our city, we only had three hours of electricity and it would only come on when it was getting dark so you’d use whatever you could in that time. I didn’t have a computer at home and very few people had mobile phones—forget about internet connection—so the infrastructure was certainly an issue. Even in university, there were not a lot of resources in the computer lab and there were more men than women so you would have less opportunity to find an available computer. If you wanted to go outside and use internet cafes to work, not only was it expensive but there was also verbal and sexual harassment that you would face. It was very uncomfortable. It was very odd at that time for men to see girls going to internet cafes. You wouldn’t feel very safe and comfortable there. And there were more men at that time—there were like ten girls in the class compared to 90 or 100 boys. I was being vocal and outspoken, participating in a lot of projects and activities, and that was something that was against the normal routine of girls in Afghanistan who should be shy and not be active. That’s why not a lot of my classmates or people outside liked it, and I faced backlash, threats and harassment just for being vocal. So there were a lot of challenges both culturally and in terms of infrastructure and resources.
M: You mentioned how supportive your parents were about your coding; can you speak a little more on that?
F: We’re a big family—eight kids and five of us are girls. My mom was always supportive of what we wanted to do and always emphasized that we had to finish our education and get a job and be independent. My parents moved to Iran as refugees and left everything behind. A lot of refugees had to start from nothing. She learned how to stitch and make dresses and sell them to bring income to the family to buy us school supplies and invest in our education. From that age, I understood how important it is to learn a skill that you can translate into some sort of opportunity that you can monetize and, through that, become independent. That was a great lesson for me. That was the reason that even though I was in Afghanistan and studying computer science in such a male-dominated culture, I felt such a freedom.
M: Can you talk about your earliest inspiration for Code to Inspire? What sparked that idea?
F: It was a journey in that I was always thinking about doing something in my life to give back. It was very personal because I was born a refugee and was denied access to education. I couldn’t wrap my head around why you should be deprived of access to resources because you’re different from other people. I knew the value of education, and why should a woman face backlash for being outspoken or pushing for gender equality? I really wanted to do something to change this narrative and enable women to access resources, be independent and create a sisterhood community to support each other. I really wanted to do something particularly in tech, and I was thinking and drafting ideas, meeting different people. I believed it was time – I had enough resources, and I knew a lot of people who believed in me. I was fortunate enough that I could get the right help. I started Code to Inspire in January of 2015 and over a few months, we raised thousands of dollars and we received laptops and donations from Overstock. The school was up and running by November of 2015.
M: Do you keep in touch with the women who have participated in Code to Inspire? Do the graduates stay in touch with each other?
F: Absolutely. We have different messaging apps that we put all the girls in. We have an overnight group and groups for each class separately with the mentors in it. Usually I try to do a call with the girls at least every one-to-three months to see what they’re up to and if they have suggestions or ideas. I haven’t been able to go back to Afghanistan since 2012 because of my immigration situation, so the girls only see my pictures or videos. I want to make it as personal as I can so they feel comfortable with me and can talk with me about any issue. So we do a lot of calls and we also have groups in which we post about work opportunities and announcements. And every few months or so we check in with the graduates and see what they’re up to and if they got hired.
M: How do participants learn about Code to Inspire?
F: When we started, we really tried to do it in person as much as we could. We went to schools and our mentors talked to girls in the schools and in their classes. We wrote our announcements on paper and posted them to bulletin boards in universities and schools. And also word of mouth — talking to friends and family. As we grew and social media became more popular in Afghanistan, we took advantage of Facebook for posting announcements and recruiting students. We also partner with a local television station that runs ads when we have openings. We use a lot of different mediums. We are fortunate that because our work has been recognized and families have seen its impact, it established us as a national brand. There are a lot of people who reach out to us and recommend us to other girls and families. It organically grew by itself.
M: Has there been any pushback?
F: In terms of extremists sending us threat letters or doing physical damage to the school, luckily they have never. But we play it very low-key. We don’t give the address or show the physical location or many pictures of the school. We also try to stay away from politics and controversial topics. We don’t involve ourselves in anything that could put the girls in a compromising situation. Sometimes we get comments on social media that try to demotivate the girls. At the beginning, there was a lot of that—people asking why we were teaching girls to code when it doesn’t have any benefit to them. They’re just going to get married and stay home, why are they learning games? But eventually, there was a shift when the girls created games and apps and got hired and made money. It was proof to those people that the program actually works. And we haven’t received that many critical comments since then.
M: What is your vision for Code to Inspire?
F: Within the next five years, we would love to expand the school within Afghanistan and have a new branch in a new city every year. But also, we would love to create an online platform so we can reach girls not only in Afghanistan but also Afghan girls who are outside of Afghanistan and are interested in coding. We would love to create that online community for girls in STEM. Beyond Afghanistan, I think the model is very scalable. If we can find partners in other countries where the women have similar issues, we want to expand the program to those countries—especially neighboring countries.
M: How can we get girls more interested in STEM?
F: It’s about changing their perspective and showing them role models. When we started the school, it was so difficult to recruit students because when we were talking about coding and creating websites and games, they had no idea what that meant. I had to show them some games, apps and websites and explain how it could help them. Lack of knowledge about it was a big barrier and they didn’t know how they could make money off it. When we started, we had an introductory web design class for high school students. When the girls came, they were so shy. Some had never touched a computer or been online. They didn’t know what to do. It took a couple of months for us to get them to a level where we could start coding with them. It was so eye-opening and refreshing just to see how it changed their personality from being that shy girl who wasn’t active in class to being vocal and creative and having social media accounts, and caring about her work. We just need to create more role models and to make it easy and accessible for women to have exposure to STEM—to have opportunities to just try it out and experience it to see if they like it. A lot of those high school girls who came to our web development class said they’d like to continue in our school and take more coding classes. Some said they want to get into computer science in university. It’s a matter of resources and putting them right in front of them. And it’s important to see that there is someone else like you who is doing this. If there is no one to look at, it’s difficult to imagine yourself in that situation.
M: Thanks so much, Fereshteh. Before we wrap this up, is there anything you’d like to add?
F: Yes, I’d like to add that we have outsourced about 40 projects so far, worth $27,000! All the money has gone into the girls’ pockets. The average monthly income in Afghanistan is $150, and some of our girls earn double or triple that money and bring it to the family. There have been families where the parents have called us and were very happy with their daughter earning income, that was so heartwarming to us. I’d also like to share that right now, especially with peace talks with the Taliban and with how the media portrays Afghanistan as a warzone, what we want to do with Code to Inspire is change that perspective and tell people good stories about Afghanistan—especially ones about women and education. I’m always inspired by Rumi and one of his quotes that I like is, “Where there is ruin, there is hope for a treasure.” It makes me think of Afghanistan, a country that went through decades of war, but still under the ruins you can find treasures. I think the treasure is girls, and investing in their education so they can contribute to their community and to peace in Afghanistan and together help build Afghanistan 2.0 — the country we are trying to create where women are equally in power.
It’s been more than a year now since the COVID-19 pandemic started. We’re thinking of all the women and girls who’ve been disproportionately impacted by it. May International Women’s Day be meaningful for you and all the women and girls in your life.
As we head towards the end of what has been, and continues to be, a very challenging year for so many of us, we also want to take a moment to say THANK YOU… To all our friends and supporters, who have taken time throughout the year to check in with us, to rally at short notice to offer immediate funds to help our partners deal with the COVID-19 crisis, and who continue to cheer on the important work of encouraging girls who, in spite of their disadvantages, persist. Your interest and support for our work never fails to put a smile on our faces and joy in our hearts.
Because so many people are hurting this year, financially and otherwise, we have decided to forego our annual online fundraising campaign. However, we have set up this general donation page for anyone who would still like to contribute – your support as always will be deeply appreciated to keep our work going in 2021.
Every penny, every dollar contributed in 2019/2020 made an impact in a girl’s life. Here’s how you helped –
· We provided an annual grant of $5000 to our partner on the ground in Ethiopia – the Girls Gotta Run Foundation. Since 2014, we’ve partnered with GGRF to provide grants to help them grow their athletic scholarship programmes in Sodo and Bekoji for adolescent girls at risk of early/child marriage. Today, GGRF engages 275 girls and 80 mothers directly with programming around life skills, athletics, peer-support, entrepreneurship and savings clubs, as well as impacts over 1,000 community members. Many of our girls are headed to college, a rare feat for young women in Ethiopia.
In addition, we also provided an emergency grant of $1500 in April for GGRF’s Emergency Covid-19 Relief Fund. The grant was provided as a ‘match’ to attract more contributions to the relief fund, and helped lead to over $3000 being raised. During the school shutdown in Ethiopia, girls were provided with free lunch and snacks, soap, menstrual hygiene supplies and access to safe hygiene facilities, as well as medical subsidies to cover unexpected medical costs. Savings groups also continued to operate as a vital source of emergency loans for mothers of the girls, and a channel to raise awareness about how to protect their families and communities during the pandemic.
· We were honored to partner for the first time with Code to Inspire, the first coding school for young women in Afghanistan. Founded by Fereshteh Forough, a computer science professor, who studied and then taught at Herat University, CTI is a non-profit training programme that to-date has taught more than 200 young women how to code, and build mobile apps and games. Over 70% of CTI’s graduates have found work, earning above-average wages in their country. By focusing on equipping young women with technology and digital skills, CTI is challenging traditional negative attitudes towards girls’ education in Afghanistan, and empowering girls to grow expertise and get jobs in male-dominated fields, and ultimately to challenge the status quo that considers women inferior to men.
Good for Girls provided CTI with an initial grant of $2500 which was allocated to purchasing high performance touchpad tablets/computers for advanced graphic design work, to kick-start a new year-long after-school programme. Additionally, we also provided an emergency COVID-19 grant of $1350 which bought internet access for 4 months for 21 students so they could continue remote learning during the country’s COVID-19 outbreak. [Photos: Athletic scholars, Ethiopia, courtesy of Girls Gotta Run Foundation; and Young woman learning graphic design, Afghanistan, courtesy of Code to Inspire]
We are pleased to announce that as part of #GivingTuesday 2020, Good for Girls will match all funds raised for the Girls Gotta Run Foundation’s Covid-19 Emergency Relief Fund (up to their goal of $1500). All proceeds go towards supporting the athletic scholars and their families in this difficult time. Read more below for how the funds will be used.
This is a critical time to support girls and women in Ethiopia. As COVID-19 forces millions of children out of school worldwide, the rising drop-out rates will disproportionately affect adolescent girls. This will only exacerbate gender gaps in education and lead to increased risk of sexual exploitation, early and unintended pregnancy, and child, early and forced marriage.
Help GGRF and our local partners provide the resources and information families need to stay safe, healthy, and financially resilient.
Increased Access to Hygiene Facilities and Materials: Increased provision of soap, access to safe hygiene facilities, and disbursement of sanitary pads. Local public health officers are present during the distribution of hygiene materials to provide awareness on how to protect oneself and one’s community during this outbreak.
Free Lunches and Snacks: GGRF students will have access to our lunch program throughout the duration of school closures.
Savings Groups: The GGRF Savings Groups provide access to the groups’ collective savings as well as grants and loans that are of critical importance at this time. All members will be able to access these resources at this time while observing best practices in social distancing.
Medical Subsidy: Students will continue to have access to a medical subsidy to cover any necessary medical costs during this time.
As we head into our Holiday Party fundraiser tonight, we are just inches away from reaching our fundraising goal! A big, heartfelt thank you to all of our friends and supporters for contributing to our cause – we are deeply grateful.
Our speaker tonight, photojournalist John Isaac, has generously donated a beautiful print for auction. Bids start at $500 and will open from 10am Dec 11th until 10am Dec 12th. To place a bid, please email email@example.com with your full name and contact number.
Special guest speaker: John Isaac, former UN photographer “The Pictures I Didn’t Take”
John Isaac worked for the United Nations as a photojournalist for over 20 years. Many of his assignments were in conflict and humanitarian crisis situations including the Israel/Lebanon conflict, the Vietnamese ‘boat people’ crisis, the Ethiopian draught, the Iran/Iraq conflict, and the humanitarian situations in Bosnia and Rwanda. After his retirement from the United Nations he became a wildlife photographer, continuing today to especially document threatened species like the tigers of India.
John’s 45-year career has led to many national and international awards including Picture of the Year (1985), Professional photographer of the year (Photographic Manufacturers and Distributors Association, 1993), and the Lifetime Achievement award (2000) from the International Photographic Council. In 1991, the legendary Audrey Hepburn chose one of John’s photographs of her as one of her all time favorites for American Photo Magazine. In 1997 his exclusive photo of Michael Jackson’s first child Prince (1997) was featured in more that 350 international magazines.