A British Armed Forces veteran has created a virtual learning aid that is now helping to educate girls in Afghanistan.
Mark Hill, 52, a veteran and entrepreneur from Catterick, North Yorkshire, created the Afghan Buddy Box this year, a tool originally designed in 2018 to help refugees learn English but now tailored in response to the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan.
After “amazing” success in UK and international schools, schoolgirls in Afghanistan have now been pictured using his creation – months after the Taliban placed strict limits on female education.
“The powerful thing for me is they’re watching this TV screen and it has got (Afghan) Buddy Box on it and I created that,” Mr Hill told the PA news agency.
“It’s making a difference. It’s changing people’s lives. Through the power of the internet, it’s gone everywhere and it’s been fantastic.”
The Taliban have barred girls from attending secondary schools in Afghanistan, and other changes to education for girls are expected, but Mr Hill has been collaborating with organisations to provide online learning.
The Afghan Buddy Box is a free digital resource available online for anyone to use, through a downloadable link or via an email.
It makes use of text, pictures and audio to translate Dari and Pashto to English, and vice versa.
It now also includes virtual teachers, who have been created using artificial intelligence, and subjects including English, maths, geography and science.
Afghan Buddy Box is being used up to twice a week, across multiple classes, and so far the programme has helped 40 girls in Afghanistan – but this number is expected to rise.
Mr Hill said the feedback for the scheme had been “amazing”, including at schools in the UK that are educating Afghan children.
“I was in a school last week, in Bradford, and wow – the children there were giggling, smiling, laughing, they were totally engaged,” Mr Hill said.
“The teachers haven’t seen them like that. For me, that was the magic of all the hard work I’ve put into this.”
The Buddy Box project was originally created in 2018 and has helped pupils across Europe and in Abu Dhabi.
Mr Hill came up with the idea after he visited a school in North Yorkshire and met four refugee children, three of them Syrian and one Iraqi.
He spoke to the children in Arabic and noticed that “instantly the kids had beaming smiles”.
So he created Buddy Box, which was in the form of a cardboard box with flashcards translating Arabic to English for Syrian and Iraqi refugees.
“(My next goal) is to get Afghan Buddy Box into other countries around the world and the number one country I’m looking at at the moment is America, because they’ve taken on quite a few Afghan families,” Mr Hill added.
“My mind is now thinking of Africa and the subcontinent – countries where I think (Afghan) Buddy Box could help others develop through education.”
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