HERAT: In the middle of a bazaar in western Afghanistan, Arezo Akrimi pulled out his smartphone and, after a few taps on the screen, exchanged some cryptocurrency for a bundle of hard cash.
Arezo, 19, is one of about 100 students from Herat who have been receiving around $200 a month in cryptocurrency since last September thanks to the US non-governmental organization Code to Inspire.
This sum, which she converts at a currency exchange into Afghanis, is crucial for her rent and to help feed her family of six.
Since the return of the Taliban last August, the Afghan economy has virtually collapsed and the country is in the grip of a crisis caused by the seizure of billions of dollars in assets held abroad.
But digital currencies and their decentralized architecture, insensitive to international sanctions, allow a handful of young Afghans to avoid the worst of the crisis.
“It was very surprising for me to learn that it could be used in Afghanistan,” Arezo told AFP. “It was really helpful.”
Code to Inspire was founded to teach computer programming to women in Herat, but its high-tech approach now also helps students raise funds in this economically disadvantaged country.
Bank transfers to Afghanistan are currently almost impossible, to prevent funds from falling into the hands of fundamentalists.
But even those with money in a bank are struggling to withdraw it – individuals are limited to withdrawing the equivalent of US$200 per week and businesses US$2,000.
Customers have to queue for hours even for these transactions.
The cryptocurrency transfers have allowed the NGO to circumvent these obstacles while ensuring that each donation reaches those who need it most, founder Fereshteh Forough told AFP.
“Crypto is an incredible way to overcome all kinds of political and economic sanctions, but also a tool that can change the lives of people living in an authoritarian regime,” said the American, whose parents fled Afghanistan in the 1980s.
To guarantee the financial security of its students, the NGO avoids paying them in Bitcoin, the most famous crypto-currency but whose price regularly oscillates wildly.
Instead, it favors Binance USD (BUSD), a so-called “stablecoin” whose price is backed by the US dollar.
“A BUSD is a dollar,” Forough said.