Shazia, 18, is passionate about languages, but she is particularly entranced with English. Since the fall of the Taliban in 2001 and the arrival of the United Nations and other international organizations, Afghans’ interest in learning English has increased dramatically. Hundreds of private English-language schools mushroomed throughout the country.

Language schools used to be an all-male preserve, but now they are attracting young women. Teaching institutions offer all-female classes led by female instructors even outside the main cities. As girls are freed from the notion that early marriage is inevitable and they will be forced to stay at home, girls increasingly take more interest in English. Many view it as a ticket to freedom. 

However, language schools cost money, and many poor Afghan families cannot afford the additional fees required to send their children to English classes. On August, 2016, 18-year-old Shazia, a participant in the USAID Promote Women’s Leadership Development program, decided to open her own English language school for disadvantaged children living in her district in Kandahar. The Jawana classes—‘sapling’ in Dari and Pashto—are designed to instill 18,000 young committed women with the leadership skills necessary to transform their country over the five-year life of the program.

Shazia picked up much of her English through conventional learning—an intensive three-month language boot camp offered through the Afghanistan Rehabilitation and Education Program (AREP); she was so passionate that she studied whenever she had the chance, watching English-language programs and reading books—lots of them. “I was searching different online sites during my free time and gained a lot of information about the language,” she said.

Once Shazia mastered the basics, she decided to help others learn, but she had two problems—lack of organizational skills and a shortage of self-confidence. Shazia acquired both through Jawana classes, which she says boosted her confidence and her fund-raising knowledge she needed to start a small, non-profit English class. “I am now a young leader, and I can make my dreams and goals real,” she said.

Twelve-year-old Hadia attends the ad-hoc school to improve her chances of getting work. “I want to learn English so I can eventually get a good job and support my family. My parents are illiterate, and they’ve had a very hard life. I want to be able to help them,” she said

Today, Shazia teaches 12 young students out of her home with books and material that she purchased out of her own pocket, but her dreams and dedication don’t end there. “I have big plans for my future,” Shazia said. Her dream - to establish an English language school that all Afghans can afford to attend.