The Afghan all-girl robotics team that made headlines in 2017 when they were briefly banned from travel to the US, before winning silver for courageous achievement at the FIRST Global Challenge in Washington, DC, are now "begging" to be allowed to move to Canada, faced with a grim and uncertain future under the hands of the Taliban.
The robotics team – named the "Afghan Dreamers" – has come up with unique inventions since their beginnings four years ago, including a low-cost, hand-operated ventilator for coronavirus patients, using parts discarded from old Toyota Corollas, a common car in Afghanistan. The young women looked to have long and successful careers in STEM ahead of them, but following the fall of Kabul to the Taliban, they are said to be "terrified".
"What’s been happening to little girls over this last week is that the Taliban has been literally going from door to door and literally taking girls out and forcing them to become child brides,” human rights lawyer Kimberley Motley told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp (CBC) on Sunday. “We are very, very concerned of that happening with this Afghan girls robotics team – these girls that want to be engineers, they want to be in the AI community and they dare to dream to succeed."
The lawyer went on to say that they are "literally begging" the Canadian government and Prime Minister Trudeau specifically to allow the team to come to Canada, where they met Trudeau following their victory in another robotics competition in 2018.
"They want to be educated," Motley told CBC. "They want to be in a safe place. They want to make Afghanistan proud, and they want to make the world proud and to continue on with their robotics dreams, their A.I. dreams."
"They believe that Canada would be an amazing place to continue to basically have a future.”
The message is starkly different to a speech given by team captain Fatemah Qaderyan at the Oslo Freedom Forum in 2018.
“Everything in a child starts with imagination,” Fatemah said during the talk. "After a while, imagination grows and becomes a dream. Once they have that dream, they want to achieve it in reality. However, children who live in conflict zones [...] are told that their dreams will only remain dreams."
"Leadership must be in the hands of the youth, the generation that considers technology as a weapon against war. Now that we have gotten our first taste of education, we are determined to get as much as we can to build a better future for our country.”
The team, comprised of 20 girls aged 12–18, now wants to move to Canada, in order to be safe, and continue their education.
“They’re worried about what tomorrow brings," Motley said. "They want to continue to [...] be educated. They want to continue to be the future of Afghanistan, but it’s an extremely tenuous and dangerous situation for them."