KHOST, Afghanistan -- Social media has encouraged hundreds of young Afghan men to plant trees in a remote southeastern region once known for its oak and pine forests.
On March 14, scores of young people gathered in the southeastern Afghan city of Khost to translate their Facebook friendships into real-world activism.
Khalil Jan Gurbazwal, one of the organizers, says their aim is to help youth to mobilize for positive contributions to society and prevent them from using social media for spreading rumors and hatred.
Gurbazwal says their first aim is to plant trees on the Khwaja Matun hill overlooking the city of Khost from the east.
"We planted lots of trees there. We have pledged to water them and protect them," he told Radio Mashaal. "When these trees grow, they will attract a lot of people from Khost and from around Afghanistan."
Activists hope that the success of the tree plantations can help reclaim the region's forests, which were lost due to fighting and rapid deforestation.
The youth turned the tree-planting event into a picnic by cooking lunch and showing off their skills at Attan, a traditional dance performed by large groups of men who swirl to the tunes of drummers in the center of the circle.
Samiullah Lemar, who participated in the tree plantation, says the aim is to spread the message that social media can be a useful tool for mobilizing people for self-help.
Aslam Hassand, another organizer, says their goal is to use Facebook to mobilize people for similar local and national causes.
Khost showcases the economic and social transformation remote Afghan regions have experienced during the past decade.
The once sleepy town close to Afghanistan's border with Pakistan now has more than 15,000 shops, and its dusty streets frequently witness traffic jams.
The region's population has prospered thanks to remittances from Khost's migrant labor in Gulf countries and cross-border trade, but a lack of security and social services is a major challenge.