Feresheteh didn’t grow up with coding in mind as a future career. Born in 1985 in Iran as a refugee, she and her family were not able to move back to Afghanistan until 2001. When the time came for her to apply to universities, one entrance exam referred her to the Computer Science Department. She would not have followed through had it not been for her parents’ encouragement.
Today, she is happy she did. After completing her degree in Computer Science in Herat, Afghanistan, she then moved on to obtain her Master’s degree from the Technical University of Berlin in Germany.
After returning from Germany, she taught Computer Science for three years at her old university in Herat.
Her experience as a female Computer Science student in Afghanistan, and later as a teacher, made her realize what young girls trying to enter the field must go through.
“They often are not properly encouraged since the classes and then later on the fields are mainly male-dominated,” she explains.
Working in the Computer Science field for so long and talking to those around her, she found a need to break down these barriers. This ambition is what led her to found, in 2015, Code to Inspire (CTI).
It is an affordable one-year program for girls and women aged between 15 and 25 in Afghanistan to be trained in coding and Computer Science. Though it was hard at first due to the lack of resources, Feresheteh persisted and started to crowdfund as she knew that her organization was vital. CIT was able to raise over 22,000 USD from their first attempt.
“I knew this program was important for the community not only to support girls and women in learning how to code but also to offer them a female-only safe space they can go to,” Feresheteh says.
Feresheteh and CTI pride themselves in looking out for the girls they train before anything else. When COVID-19 hit Afghanistan, instead of leaving their students to their own devices, CTI offered them laptops as well as rechargeable internet cards so as not to miss out on their sessions. In 2018, the program also started offering scholarships to prospective students to help them remain accessible to the community.
Today, 350 girls and women have graduated from the program. Almost 70 girls have been employed thanks to the skills they had learned that year. 10% of the entrepreneurs being trained even moved on to establish their own companies.
Feresheteh now lives in the U.S. and is still fighting for the rights of Afghan women to education.
“Times are very challenging today in Afghanistan. People there do not have access to electricity, education, and water as before,” she says, “This is why we need now more than ever to prioritize these girls, to empower them with skills and to employ them.”