Empower Afghan girls with computer skills

by Help The Afghan Children
HTAC computer education lab
HTAC computer education lab

On a blistering afternoon in June of 2002, 16 Afghan teenage girls sat bunched together in a swealtering classroom at a Kabul middle school, staring at eight computer screens.  At the time, these girls didn't know what computers were and why they were even there; only being told they were part of a new special class and what they were about to learn would be very important to them one day.

In retrospect, this seemingly unremarkable event was historic.  Three months earlier their school lay partially in ruins, destroyed from months of war, including an ariel bombardment of Kabul.  Less than eight months before, the Taliban still ruled their city and 90% of Afghanistan and girls were forbidden to go to school. Their parents would have been beaten or perhaps thrown in prison for such an audaciouis act.  But here these girls were, sitting in this tiny room, not knowing what they were about to learn, but eager to learn nevertheless.

Little did these sixteen girls know they would become the first Afghan girls enrolled in a computer education program at any Afghan public school.  Thirteen years have passed and now in 2015 1,881 girls at nine HTAC-supported schools had enrolled in HTAC's computer education program, bringing our total enrollment of girls to over 30,000.

Computer education is giving girls opportunities that just didn't exist before.  It wasn't that long ago that computer jobs in both the private and public sectors were being filled almost exclusively by young men because it was thought women were not capable of learning such technology. Today, girls at HTAC-supported schools are often outperforming boys in their computer examinations and high percentages of graduating girls are finding computer related jobs.  that had previously not been available to them.  Before, many families were pulling girls from school once they rreached puberty because they did not want their daughters taught by male instructors. While that condition still exists today in many regions of the country, here at HTAC we strive to ensure that girls are taught by qualified female instructors. That means more girls are staying in school and graduating.  Perhaps most importantly, when Afghan girls become productive citizens, they help lower the poverty rate and contribute to stabilizing this struggling country.

Serious challenges continue to exist, especially when many people throughout the world are once again forgetting about Afghanistan. That is why it's more important than ever to support the education of Afghan girls and give them skills like computer education that will change their lives forever..    

There was a noticeable sense of excitement and anticipation among the students at Khwaj Musafer Girls High School in this often neglected region of Afghanistan.  The girls had quickly filled up a classroom that had been converted into a computer laboratory and they sat there in groups of threes, gazing at a computer screen, a keyborard and mouse for the very first time; eager, but patient as they waited to be introduced to their computer instructor and receive their first lesson.

For these students at Khwaj Musafer, this moment had been a long time coming.  Several years ago, during one of HTAC's periodic visits to the region, our educational team met with students and their teachers.  We had been providing this school with two programs and wanted to get their feedback.

They told us how much they enjoyed HTAC's hands-on environmental education program that was teaching them valuable lessons about taking personal responsibility for their health and local environment and they were eager to show us their litter-free school grounds and beautiful maintained school garden.  They were also grateful for bringing peace education to the school and we were impressed, not only hearing how students were embracing the princicples of peaceful daily living, but sharing their lessons and peace stories with their parents and other family members.

But there was one subject that kept coming up in our discussions.  "When can we have computer lessons at our school?" Many of these students came from poor families and after high school, they faced a predictably dim future of being married off and bearing children, unless they had job skills.

To make their wish a reality, HTAC reached out to our donors and friends, and with their help and a lot of work, a program began to come together.  Most of the computer equipment had to be shipped to Kabul, Afghanistan, then delivered by truck to the school.  Because the school lacked elecftricity, a generator was purchased to provide power to the computer equipment.  We also had to raise funds to pay a qualified computer instructor who would visit the school, once a week.

It took a while, but when the moment came in late March, and seeing the looks on the faces of these girls, we knew the wait was worth it.  The computer lab is not large; 15 girls at a time can sit by a computer for their once a week lessons, which means about 75 students are able to get a weekly lesson.  But eventually, our goal (with your help) is to keep this program running at Khwai Musafer so that all 719 deserving girls can obtain computer knowledge and skills that will transform their lives.

The teenaged girls lined up in orderly fashion, patiently waiting to receive their much-needed school kits.  Many of them came from families too poor to afford even the most basic school supplies and they were grateful as they opened their bags to find notebooks, pens, pencils and tablets.  Many of the girls were grateful to even being able to attend school, since it was not unusual for girls past puberty to remain at home, helping with household chores and waiting for a marriage proposal.

But what these and other girls in nearby schools really wanted was to be in a computer class.  They knew that if given the chance, learning computer skills would change their lives forever.  Upon their graduation, they could seek the computer related jobs that were beginning to appear in their district; jobs that were being filled by young men.  Or, they could find work in Kabul where there were even more opportunities.  Without any marketable skills they would not have much of a life.  These girls wanted to be productive and be able to help their families. Computer skills would give them that and something else; dignity.

Paghman is a district known for its beautiful setting at the foot of the Hindu Kush mountain range, its fruit trees and famous gardens.  It is also an underserved region of the country with few schools and insufficient resources to support a growing population of school-aged children.  Sadly, girls' schools tend to be less supported than schools for boys.

Two years ago, the girls politely asked their teacher if a computer class might be coming to their school in the future. Their teacher did not want to dash their hopes, but she didn't want to raise their expectations either.  She was aware that HTAC had been working hard to bring the first computer education program to several schools in the area, including theirs. "One day" she told them. "People are raising money to bring this program to our school." This past year they asked again.  She knew we were closer in securing funds for a computer class, but she was cautious in her response to her students. 

This spring, HTAC gave this teacher and her students a huge surprise.  When we brought in and began assembling the computer equipment at the school, the village buzzed with excitement. Even many parents who had been reluctant to send their daughters back to school expressed gratitude for they realized the skills their girls would learn could help their families economically.   A generator with sufficient fuel had to be brought in to power the equipment (there is no electricity in these schools), and a search for a qualified female instructor took some time. Finally, everything was ready and HTAC's education team proudly announced the very first computer education for this Paghman school was open for enrollment.  To see the looks on the faces of these deserving girls made all our work worthwhile.


HTAC computer education class
HTAC computer education class

Just a few years ago, hardly any of the girls at this school could have dreamed of sitting behind a computer and learning word processing skills, or how to create an Excel spread sheet.  Most certainly, some of them had resigned themselves to being pulled out of school by their parents to be matched with an Afghan boy or man for an early marriage.  In fact, in the more conservative regions of Afghanistan, the majority of girls reaching puberty don't don't even attend school despite laws created to give girls and women equal educational opportunities.

Thanks to organizations like Help the Afghan Children, the playing field for girls is gradually being leveled and computer education is creating untold opportunities that allow these deserving students to follow their dreams and accomplish amazing things.

HTAC's computer education program not only empowers Afghan girls by giving them the skills and confidence to succeed; it has also begun chaning attitudes.  In male dominated societies like Afghanistan, boys are viewed as more talented and valued.  While results can vary depending on the instruction and educational setting, girls at HTAC-sponsored schools are out-performing boys on computer testing (97.3% to 96%).  More importantly, more Afghan parents are recognizing the valuable skills their daughters are acquiring and they begin to rethink about their future.  One of the most gratifying experiences is seeing a proud mother and father recognizing their daughter's accomplishments and encouraging her to find a good job in Afghanistan's rapidly emerging informational technology marketplace, or even going on to study at the university, thus delaying early marriage and child-bearing.

When you support HTAC's computer education program, you are giving Afghan girls the necessary technical and life skills to become productive young citizens and help Afghanistan better utilize its most precious resource; its human resources.


Like many Afghan girls of her generation, Nagina has dreamed of a better life and that has long meant finding a school that offered computer education and one day, earning a degree in computer science so she can use her education and skills to seek a productive job and help her family.  But the reality of living with six other family members and little money ever available, there has been on-going pressure from Nagina's parents for her to leave school, find a suitable husband so the family can receive short-term financial gain from the husband's family.  Nagina has always managed to convince her mother and father that she should complete her schooling, but for years, becoming computer literate has always been out of reach.

In Afghanistan, finding a school that provides computer education can be very difficult, even though the Ministry of Education has deemed computer education a requirement for high school students.  Unfortunately, many schools simply do not have the financial resources to establish even the most basic computer laboratories, leaving far too many girls without opportunities.  In other cases, many schools who do have computers are private and the tuition costs are far out of reach for most families.  Even if they were able to afford the costs, getting to these schools can often require traveling through insecure areas; a situation few Afghan families would ever consider for their daughters.  These barriers, along with her family's economic difficulties, almost derailed Nagina's dream of completing her schooling and studying the computer.

Fortunately for Nagina, she found a school that offered computer education; one of several supported by Help the Afghan Children, which was the first organization to introduce computers into Afghan public schools, and here she has thrived.  Now in 12th grade, she has learned MS Windows, Word and Excel and before she graduates, Power point presentations.  Nagina is grateful that she (along with her other classmates), can learn lessons and complete assignments for other classes on the computer.  By teaching girls real world computer applications, HTAC is preparing graduating girls to seek and obtain jobs in Afghanistan's expanding IT marketplace.

While it's true that today, more Afghan girls do attend school, family and cultural pressures often result in too many girls never finishing their education, let along developing marketable skills.  HTAC is doing its part to give Nagina (who wants to serve her country), and several thousand girls like her every year, a chance to beat the odds.



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Organization Information

Help The Afghan Children

Location: Fairfax, Virginia - USA
Website: http:/​/​www.HelpTheAfghanChildren.org
Help The Afghan Children
Project Leader:
Stephen Perlman
Consultant, HTAC
Fairfax, Virginia United States

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