In a small classroom in Kabul, Afghanistan, 6 computers hum quietly. Around them sit 12 women, ranging in age from 7 to 55. These women are part of Barakat’s Sowat Hayati program that focuses on providing higher education to women who, for cultural reasons, are unable to attend school with men. These women are taking advantage of something that few Afghans have access to—the unique opportunity to learn about computers.
Zuhra Abhar, Barakat’s Overseas Program Director, who is currently based in Afghanistan, wishes that all of Barakat’s female students could have access to these programs. But it’s just not that simple.
“They’re very excited that these courses are here, but there’s always some resistance. It’s nowhere near as bad as it was a few years ago, but there is always some resistance,” said Zuhra in an interview. She’s speaking about Barakat’s schools in the Faryab and Jowzjan provinces of Afghanistan. Because of cultural values, parents insist on girls attending segregated classes and learning only from female teachers. “As the girls get older, their parents object to them learning from male teachers who may just have graduated themselves— men who are sometimes as young as twenty years old,” Zuhra said.
Even taking cultural obstacles into account, these classes are in high demand. Since such a small percentage of Afghans have access to computers, it is an incredibly valued skill to learn, and has the potential to enrich students’ lives in more than one way. The obvious benefit is the potential to be competitive in the job market. However, Zuhra emphasized that this was not the only positive result. “It’s not just about finding a job—they want to learn so they can teach others.”
Perhaps the greatest benefit of these courses is the affect they have on the community. Learning how to type and use computer programs empowers students to change their own lives, but it also empowers them to become teachers, to spread their knowledge on to others. “Everything they learn helps them and the society,” Zuhra said. Hopefully, Barakat will not only be able to continue offering these courses, but also increase the number offered within the next few years.
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