Fereshteh still recalls the first time she arrived in the United States in November 2012. “I was waiting in custom line, I was very worried because I had an Afghan passport - a country depicted as a war zone, ruled by Taliban and terrorists - and also because I was wearing hijab [headscarf].”
Then, Fereshteh looked around: “While I was in my worrisome world, I noticed that there were many female employees working in the airport and wearing hijab. It comforted me a bit.”
“When the officer called me I handed my document and he asked me: “You came here to study, right?” I replied: “Yes.” He smiled and told me “Best of luck and welcome to New York!”
Fereshteh was born in Iran as an Afghan refugee during the Taliban rule. One year after the fall of Taliban, Fereshteh and her family moved back to Herat in Afghanistan. She was able to graduate in Computer Science from the Technical University of Berlin in Germany. Soon after, she set off to her city of dreams, New York.
“I found New York to be a very welcoming city where many people from different parts of the world are living together to make their dreams come true. There is a saying about New York: ‘If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.’”
Fereshteh founded Code to Inspire in 2015. The U.S. based non-profit opened the first coding school for girls in Afghanistan last November. “Currently we provide a safe educational environment for 50 female students aged 15-25 from high school to computer science backgrounds. We are empowering half of Afghanistan’s population through technical literacy and coding to help women on a path to financial independence.”
Fereshteh is also the founding member of Women’s Annex Foundation. She was the first person to bring bitcoin to Afghanistan, using it to finance her projects. Her mission is to educate and empower girls and women in Afghanistan through technology.
Although Fereshteh has faced discrimination, she won’t let her gender and ethnic background pull her back. “What I believe is being a minority is not a disadvantage, I use it as a possibility to show that I can do and achieve what I want by accessing same and equal resources.”
Fereshteh has not always had the available resources to succeed but her determination and her mother’s dedication were key. ”I remember when we were living in Iran as refugees, we had difficulties accessing education. We were eight kids in the family living in a new country and fleeing war. My mother learned stitching to buy notebooks and pencils which enabled me to finish my high school in Iran. I learned to use the best out of anything and it has helped me until now. Opportunities will not come to you, you should create them! That’s how I am living my 'Afghan Dream' in New York City.”