Grace Hopper Conference Shines Light on Coding School for Afghan Girls

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to Afghanistan and graduated from Herat University with computer science degrees. Forough obtained a master’s degree in computer science at the Technical University in Berlin, and then returned to Herat to teach programming courses at her alma mater.

“We got a lot of backlash from male classmates because they didn’t like it,” she recalled. “The guys didn’t want to come to a woman’s class. Only seven out of 200 people showed up. After two months, the guys started coming.” She taught for three years.

In 2012, Forough moved to New York to head up Women’s Annex beachhead there but, two years ago, decided to launch Code to Inspire. An Indiegogo campaign last year raised $22,000, which went to buying computers and other equipment.

A year in, and Code to Inspire is trying to connect college-aged students with internships at companies that hire outsourced labor to do mobile development, website design, and other jobs. She hopes those internships will lead to full-time jobs and change perceptions of what Afghans, and especially Afghan women, are capable of. “We have a job-driven curriculum,” she says.

Code to Inspire creates “safe space” for the students to learn, she said. Providing the students with a computer, Internet service, and the technology skills to use them, enables the students to work, and get paid, online, giving them opportunities they otherwise wouldn’t have in a society that usually forbids women from working outside of the home, living alone, or mixing with unrelated men. “With enough learning, we can boost their self-esteem and raise their voices,” she said.

In this first class of students, 20 percent have dropped out. “If 80 percent can graduate from our coding school, that’s success,” she said. “We’ve changed perspectives about being a woman in a coding space.”

Forough said the hardest thing about running Code to Inspire is that since she’s based in New York, she does it remotely. (She hopes her immigration status will soon change to allow her to travel back and forth to Afghanistan.) While teachers at the school focus on the day-to-day with students, Forrough is fundraising: $25,000 from the Google Rise award, and other grants from Github, the Malala Fund, and PWC.

“Once families know they can bring money in, they are of value, it helps to reduce violence against them,” Forough said. “[Hiring companies] help us overcome this social barrier.”

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