Cape Times

Afghan girls robotics team win hearts, but dream of going home


THE nine members of an all-girl Afghan robotics team evacuated from Kabul to Qatar have built on their star status and captured hearts since fleeing their homeland.

Now back in education and working on their entries for a global robotics competitio­n, the girls worry about their immediate future but hope they can one day return to Afghanista­n.

Team member Ayda Haydarpour, 17, who switched onto digital engineerin­g 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 with a smile.

“In Afghanista­n, robotics is new, especially for women,” said Haydarpour, who has three sisters back in Afghanista­n.

Her mother had worked as a teacher at a girls’ high school, but the facility is yet to reopen following last month’s fall of the government to the Taliban.

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

On Tuesday, the Taliban vowed girls would be allowed to return to school although they have so far been effectivel­y excluded, with a spokespers­on saying “more time is needed”.

While Haydarpour dreams of one day working for tech giant Microsoft, she is adamant that she wants “to go back and serve my people”.

In the robotics laboratory at Texas A&M, one of several US universiti­es with an outpost in Qatar, Haydarpour hunched over a laptop decorated with colourful badges while her teammates assembled components.

The girls evacuated to Qatar were placed in one of three institutio­ns depending on their needs with full scholarshi­ps granted by Doha.

Some of their teammates remain in Afghanista­n while others are in Mexico and the UAE.

But the girls in Qatar all get together after school to work on their entries for the First Global Challenge robotics competitio­n.

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