Deaf, But Not Silenced in Afghanistan

August 17, 2015
Technology provides new ways to communicate for Deaf Afghans.

“Since I joined the Anaar center, I have learned how to communicate effectively using the Internet.”

August 2015—In Afghanistan, a proliferation of mobile phones is dramatically changing how citizens across the country are communicating with one another. But for deaf Afghans, mobile phone usage is limited to SMS text messages—a particular challenge considering that less than one-third of the population is literate.

The Anaar Multimedia Center in Jalalabad, supported by the USAID-funded Afghan Civic Engagement Program (link is external), teamed up with a nearby organization serving Nangarhar’s deaf population to offer a series of trainings for deaf Afghans conducted entirely in sign language. The trainings, which were conducted in April, included how to use basic computer software such as Microsoft Word, how to search for information using Google, and, most critically for these deaf students, how to hold video calls on Skype.

One such trainee, Ziaudeen*, is a deaf student in Jalalabad. Though he is literate, these Anaar trainings have transformed his day-to-day life. Now, not only can he use Microsoft Word to complete his school assignments, and social networks to connect with his other Internet-savvy friends, but he can also hold real-time conversations with relatives over the Internet.

“Since I joined the Anaar center,” he said, “I have learned how to use the Internet and communicate effectively through the Internet.” Although he does regularly use email to communicate, he says, “most of the time I am using Skype video calls for communication with my classmates, teachers and relatives.”

There are four Anaar Multimedia Centers located in various parts of the country. The centers—which provide many free services such as social media training; multimedia training on photography, videography and sound recording; citizen journalism training; computer and Internet training; and free Internet use—give Afghans like Zaiudeen the chance to build civil society networks.

The five-year Afghan Civic Engagement Program supports media development as part of its objective to help Afghan citizens monitor government and advocate for political reform. The program, which began in December 2013, is implemented by Counterpart International, Internews, the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law and the Aga Khan Foundation USA.

*Many Afghans use only one name.