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Afghan Girl Coders Design Game to Fight Biggest Problems of Their Country

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Like the team of Afghan schoolgirls who rose to fame last year when they competed in a robotics competition in the United States, the coders show what reserves of talent there are to be tapped when Afghan girls are given a chance.
Afghan Girls design games to fight opium and inequality, wikimedia commons

Think Super Mario Bros., but with an Afghan twist. This is how Afghanistan’s first generation of female coders explain their abilities as game-makers after uploading more than 20 games on digital app stores this year.

More than 20 young women in the western city of Heart have established themselves as computer experts, building apps and websites as well as tracking down bugs in computer code.

Like the team of Afghan schoolgirls who rose to fame last year when they competed in a robotics competition in the United States, the coders show what reserves of talent there are to be tapped when Afghan girls are given a chance.

“Coders can work from home and it is in this process women are building a new career path for themselves and for the next generation,” said Hasib Rasa, project manager of Code to Inspire, which teaches female students coding in Herat.

One of the games designed by the all-female team has caught the eye of developers and gamers as it illustrates the scourge of opium cultivation and the challenges the Afghan security forces face as they try to stamp it out.

The 2-D game “Fight Against Opium” is an animated interpretation of the missions that Afghan soldiers undertake to destroy opium fields, fight drug lords and help farmers switch to growing saffron.

Afghanistan is the world’s largest source of opium but it also grows saffron – the world’s most expensive spice – which has long been pushed as an alternative to wean farmers off a crop used to make heroin.

Despite a ban, opium production hit a record in 2017, up 87 percent over 2016, according to a U.N. study.

The 2-D game "Fight Against Opium" is an animated interpretation of the missions that Afghan soldiers undertake to destroy opium fields, fight drug lords and help farmers switch to growing saffron.
Afghanistan Flag, wikimedia commons

Khatira Mohammadi, a student who helped develop the anti-opium game, said she wanted to show the complexities of the drug problem in the simplest way.

“We have illustrated our country’s main problem through a game,” said Mohammadi.

At the institute, more than 90 girls and young women, wearing headscarves and long black coats, are trained in coding and software development, a profession seen by some in conservative Afghanistan as unsuitable for women.

In Afghan society, it is unusual for women to work outside the home. Those who do, are mostly teachers, nurses, doctors, midwives and house helpers.

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After the ouster of the Taliban in 2001, women regained freedom to work in offices with male colleagues – but many consider working as a software developer a step too far.

Hasib Rasa said girls are encouraged to design original player characters, goals, and obstacles that reflect Afghanistan’s ethos.

The course is exclusively aimed at females, aged 15-25, who are unable to pursue a four-year degree due to lack of funds or hail from families where they are prevented from enrolling in co-education schools.

“In Afghanistan the ability to work remotely is a key tool in the push for equality,” said Rasa. (VOA)

 

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About 2M Children in Afghanistan Suffer Acute Malnutrition: UNICEF

But UNICEF is struggling to fund its operation. The agency needs an immediate injection of $7 million, Boulierac said

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FILE - A boy walks inside what is left of a home in Kandahar province, south of Kabul, Afghanistan, March, 3, 2019. The U.N. Children's Fund is appealing for money to treat Afghanistan's malnourished children. VOA

About two million children in Afghanistan are acutely malnourished. Of those, 600,000 face severe acute malnutrition, the most dangerous form of undernutrition in children, said Christophe Boulierac, a spokesman for the U.N. Children’s Fund.

“Any child suffering from severe acute malnutrition is a crisis and needs to be treated to survive,” he said. “We cannot tell you how many children will die, but we can tell you that a child with severe acute malnutrition is 11 times more likely to die than their healthy peers.”

Afghanistan, alongside Yemen and South Sudan, is among the countries with the highest numbers of children under age five suffering from severe acute malnutrition. Severe drought in 2018 has worsened the situation.

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But UNICEF is struggling to fund its operation. The agency needs an immediate injection of $7 million, Boulierac said. Pixabay

Recent nutrition surveys across Afghanistan find 22 out of 34 provinces are above the emergency threshold of acute malnutrition. Last year, UNICEF provided life-saving assistance to nearly half of the country’s most nutritionally deprived children. It is aiming to reach 60 percent, or 375,000, of those children this year. But UNICEF is struggling to fund its operation. The agency needs an immediate injection of $7 million, Boulierac said.

“We are the sole provider of this treatment against severe acutely malnourished children,” he told VOA. “We need urgent funding in three weeks, otherwise, we will not send the necessary ready-to-use therapeutic food treatment to the 1,300 health facilities that are waiting for that.”

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This year, UNICEF has provided treatment to more than 73,000 severely malnourished children. Boulierac said plans are in place to immediately scale up the operation to reach more children as soon as more money is available.

He also warned that the nutritional status of Afghanistan’s children is likely to worsen without more secure funding in the pipeline. (VOA)