Afghanistan's all-girls robotics team evacuated to Qatar

Afghanistan's all-girls robotics team evacuated safely to Qatar
3 min read
22 August, 2021
Members of Afghanistan's all-female robotics team have been successfully evacuated to Qatar as Taliban militants take hold of the country.
Members of Afghan girl robotics team at the FIRST Global Challenge competitions in Washington in 2017. [Getty]

Several members of an Afghan girl robotics team known as the "Afghan Dreamers" have been safely evacuated from Afghanistan after repeated failed attempts, amidst the Taliban’s rapid takeover of the country.

At least a dozen of the girls from the team have reached Qatar, according to the New York-based Digital Citizen Fund, the team’s parent organisation, and Qatar's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Due to security reasons, the specific details about the evacuation – including how many girls fled, their ages and whether they were accompanied by family members – have been withheld.

According to Elizabeth Schaeffer Brown, an adviser with the Digital Citizen Fund, the immediate priority was raising scholarship money so that the girls, who are high-schoolers between the ages of 13 and 18, will be able to continue their education.

"They would continue to build the future of their country; they are the future," Brown told The Washington Post. "If you ever talk to them, they have this infectious amount of hope. They don't talk about the Taliban, or war — they talk about what they want to do, their dreams. They want to go to Mars, go to Harvard, become engineers, make a mining robot, make video games."

Plans to evacuate the robotics team, formally known as the Afghan Girls Robotics Team, accelerated when Roya Mahboob, the team's mentor, requested the help of the Qatari government to expedite the visa process and send a plane to evacuate the girls after most outbound flights from the Kabul airport were cancelled.

Brown, however, rejected the narrative that the girls were rescued by foreign intervention.

"If it wasn't for their hard work and dedication to their education, the world wouldn't know them and they'd still be trapped," Brown said. "The girls rescued themselves. It was their bravery that got them out."

The team had captured the world's attention in 2017, when they faced challenges to gain entry to the United States to attend a competition in Washington. After a 500-mile journey from Harat to the US embassy in Kabul, they were twice denied visas and later had their robot kit confiscated by the Afghan government in the months before the competition.

The team members, whose portraits were emblazoned on a mural outside the US embassy's gates in Kabul, have come to represent hope for the future of a country that looks favourably at education for women and girls.

The Taliban had barred girls from getting an education when they last controlled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001. The group, which follows a strict interpretation of Islam, has vowed to allow more freedoms for women.

Despite promises of inclusivity, on Friday women working for Afghan state television reported that Taliban fighters barred them from appearing on camera. Reports of school closures and crackdowns are also multiplying as the Taliban reassert their control of the country.