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Afghanistan’s All-Female Robotics Team Continues Building Robots in Qatar

/ 27 Sep 2021

Afghanistan’s All-Female Robotics Team Continues Building Robots in Qatar

DOHA—It has been only a little over a month since nine members of Afghanistan’s all-female robotics team were evacuated from Afghanistan, and the young women are already busy building robots for an upcoming international competition.

The team was already trying to leave Afghanistan when the Taliban movement reached Kabul and seized power on August 15. Nine of them arrived in Doha on August 17, while another six were evacuated to Mexico.

“We continue our way, and nothing can stop us,” Sumaya Faruqi, an 18-year-old member of the team, said during a Zoom interview. “By participating in this competition, we want to show everyone that Afghan girls have talent. If you provide them with facilities, then it doesn’t matter where they are.”

“By participating in this competition, we want to show everyone that Afghan girls have talent. If you provide them with facilities, then it doesn’t matter where they are.”

Sumaya Faruqi   An 18-year-old member of the team

The team became known in 2017 after being denied visas to attend an international robotics competition in Washington, D.C., before then-president Donald Trump stepped in and waived visas for the team.

Qatar Foundation, in collaboration with Qatar Fund for Development, offered the young women, ages 15 to 20, scholarships to continue their education at the foundation’s secondary schools and pre-university programs. The programs are part of the foundation’s Education City, which also hosts campuses of eight universities. (See a related article, “Importing Higher Education: A Qatari Experiment.”)

Qatar is currently hosting around 20,000 Afghan evacuees. Qatar Foundation has no plans yet to support the education of other Afghan evacuees.

However, earlier this month, Qatar’s Education Above All Foundation started a cooperation agreement with the American University of Beirut and Luminus Technical University College, in Jordan, to develop scholarship programs to support 1,200 disadvantaged Lebanese, Jordanian, Palestinian and Syrian youth over the next four years. As part of the program, top students from both universities will be selected to continue their education in Qatar’s universities.

Qatar Foundation, in collaboration with Qatar Fund for Development, is helping the young women continue their education at the foundation’s secondary schools and pre-university programs.
Qatar Foundation, in collaboration with Qatar Fund for Development, is helping the young women continue their education at the foundation’s secondary schools and pre-university programs.

In March of this year, Qatar signed an agreement with the State of Palestine to provide assistance to Palestinian refugee students in completing their university education.

The support, also offered through the Education Above All Foundation, will benefit 339 young Palestinian refugees, over a period of five years.

Since 2009, the foundation has offered 1,000 scholarships for higher education in Gaza. It has also aided in the reconstruction and rehabilitation of 50 educational facilities, including 10 universities, that were damaged in 2014. (See a related article, “Palestine’s Education Institutions Are Victims of Conflict Again.”)

Support and Care for the Team

“Our priority is to ensure that these students feel safe, cared for, and confident in the knowledge that their education will progress, despite this immensely difficult period in their lives.”

Buthaina Al-Naimi   President of pre-university education at Qatar Foundation

The scholarships offered to the Afghan robotics team members in Doha are currently limited to high school studies. It’s not clear if the support will extend to higher education.

“Our priority is to ensure that these students feel safe, cared for, and confident in the knowledge that their education will progress, despite this immensely difficult period in their lives,” Buthaina Al-Naimi, president of pre-university education at Qatar Foundation, said by email.

“These students have been living through a time of uncertainty and upheaval,” Al-Naimi wrote.  “Without support and care, traumatic times such as these can have a lasting effect on those who suffer them. And for talented, creative, ambitious students such as these, it creates the risk of their education being severely disrupted and their hopes being derailed.”

Before the Taliban’s arrival to power, the young women used their interest in robotics to build ventilators from used car parts as the coronavirus pandemic spread through their country. They were planning to pursue higher education abroad in fields such as artificial intelligence, space engineering and robotics.

“There are no universities that offer these programs of study in Afghanistan. We wanted to continue our education in another country that is safe and where we can have better education.”

Ayda Haydarpour   A member of the team

“There are no universities that offer these programs of study in Afghanistan,” Ayda Haydarpour, another member of the team, said. “We wanted to continue our education in another country that is safe and where we can have better education.”

According to 2013 report by the World Bank titled “Higher Education in Afghanistan: An Emerging Mountainscape,” the demand for higher education exceeds the supply available in the country. In 2011, about 75,000 high school graduates did not gain admission to higher education because there were insufficient spaces.

The shortage of higher-education opportunities offered within the country has resulted in many Afghan students pursuing degrees abroad, the report said.

More than 30,000 Afghan students now study abroad, according to Unesco statistics, with most of them going to Iran, Turkey or India.

‘A Very Good Opportunity for Us’

Faruqi and Haydarpour said right now, they don’t want to worry about higher education. They are happy they got scholarships for high school and just want to focus on their study and robotics competitions in a safe place.

Members of the team work on a project in Qatar. “We continue our way, and nothing can stop us,” says Sumaya Faruqi, one of the nine in Qatar.
Members of the team work on a project in Qatar. “We continue our way, and nothing can stop us,” says Sumaya Faruqi, one of the nine in Qatar.

“It’s a very good opportunity for us and all the team is happy and excited about it,” Haydarpour said. “We want to study in a safe place. That’s very important for us and this is a place where we can perfectly continue our education and have a good focus on our competitions.”

Besides attending school, the girls now go to a laboratory at Texas A&M University’s branch campus in Qatar three times weekly to develop their robots for the 2021 FIRST Global Robotics Challenge.

Part of the competition involves having teams identify a pandemic-related problem in their community and creating a project to solve it. For that challenge, the Afghan team is building an ultraviolet disinfection robot.

“We started building it in Afghanistan, but we came here and had to leave our robots in Kabul. So we are building it again using the same software,” Faruqi said.

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The 2013 World Bank report says that studying abroad contributes to a brain drain in Afghanistan, as many students who travel overseas fail to return, and take up jobs in foreign countries. But the robotics team members are eager to return to their home country.

“When we complete our education, we will go back to our country. We will build our country and we will develop different technologies for the people of Afghanistan,” Haydarpour said. “Our people need us and we will be a good patron for all those who need us.”




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