The all-girl Afghan robotics team is forging a new future in Qatar

·2-min read

In the robotics laboratory at Texas A&M University’s outpost in Qatar, members of the all-girl Afghan robotics team pore over their laptops and electronics, refining the projects they hope to enter into the global robotics competition.

The nine team members were evacuated from Kabul last month following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.

In Qatar, they have been placed in one of three institutions depending on their needs with full scholarships granted by Doha.

Roya Mahboob, founder of an Afghan software company, helped form the team which went on to develop a low-cost ventilator last year at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

While the young women are now back in education and planning their futures, Mahboob says their thoughts are still with loved ones and other team members left behind in Afghanistan.

“Right now, our programme is on pause,” she said.

“We only brought nine of our girls here - from 50 students. Thousands are still in Afghanistan, our mentor, our coaches are still in Afghanistan. Besides the robotic programme, we have thousands of other students that are in different programmes.

“We cannot give up on them”.

Team member Ayda Haydarpour, 17, who switched onto digital engineering after playing Super Mario as a child, said it was "too hard" to follow events in Afghanistan but hopes to return to open the first STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) school.

"My grandfather used to ask me lots of questions about his tablet and phone," she said.

"In Afghanistan, robotics is new, especially for women," Haydarpour, who has three sisters back in Afghanistan, added.

Her mother had worked as a teacher at a girls' high school, but the facility is yet to reopen following theTaliban takeover.

The Taliban had banned women from work and education, confining them to homes during their brutal rule of Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001.

In the wake of the chaotic US withdrawal from the country, Haydarpour now worries about the future and education of girls in her country.

"What will happen in Afghanistan?" she asks. "It's too hard to see your country in that situation."

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