The Internet may be important, but it's not everything. In rural Afghanistan, courageous and talented young women who have never heard of the Internet are using skills today often associated with social media users -- initiative, resourcefulness, and social connections -- to make tangible contributions to their community.
During a recent visit to the Guzara district outside Herat, near Afghanistan's western border with Iran, I saw teenage girls training themselves in English and leading language classes for their younger peers. These women worked with the Afghan Women Educational and Professional Improvement Organization, an ambitious organization housed in a sparsely furnished three-room office. This organization provides curriculum planning resources for teachers at a nearby girls' school, study space for that school's students, and -- as the young, aspiring English teachers demonstrate -- a place for women to develop the skills to assist their community.
These proactive and energetic young women provide an educational link for their community members, who would find the 10-mile bus ride to central Herat's library, the closest similar space, prohibitive.
Even though the girls I met don't use the Internet and have never heard of Facebook, they yearn for information on the world beyond Guzara, particularly English language resources. The modest library offers American and British literature, as well as resources in Farsi, Pashto, and European languages.
One of the most popular books in that library, funded by a small public diplomacy grant, was developed and printed locally. It pairs on facing pages the English and Dari versions of speeches by President Obama. The young volunteer teachers use those coupled speeches as one tool to teach American English to local girls. The book has since been augmented by other books on American culture and government in a similar format.
My visit to Guzara drove two lessons home for me. One, English language learning is an aspiration of many students around the world. And two, women can lead their communities to achieve that goal -- and many others -- through simple means such as access to information, safe study spaces, and networks of peer support.