Some members of Afghanistan's all-girls robotic team, which has gained global attention in recent years as a symbol of a progressive Afghanistan, have left their hometown, Herat, in western Afghanistan, following the Taliban's takeover.
Members of the team boarded a commercial flight from Kabul, Afghanistan on Tuesday and have arrived safely in Doha, Qatar. According to a statement acquired by the New York Times from the team's mentor, Afghan tech entrepreneur Roya Mahboob, some of the girls will continue their education in Qatar, while others plan to stay in Afghanistan, at least for the time being.
They may, however, be in for a bleak future. In contrast to their previous policies that prohibited girls from attending school from 1996 to 2001, Taliban leaders have recently declared that they will allow greater liberties. But many Afghans are unconvinced.
"The Taliban have promised to allow girls to be educated to whatever extent allowed by Shariah law. We will have to wait and see to what that means," Mahboob said. "Obviously, we hope that women and girls will be allowed to pursue dreams and opportunities under the Taliban because that is what is best for Afghanistan and, in fact, the world."
The story of Afghanistan's first all-girls robotics team
The hopes of the 'Afghan Dreamers', comprised of girls aged 12-18 who have overcome much hardship to pursue their passion for engineering, were in peril following the takeover of their hometown Herat, Afghanistan's third-largest city. On Sunday, Taliban fighters seized control of Kabul, widening their territory.
The team's parent organization, the Digital Citizen Fund (DCF), had been collaborating with Qatar since early August to get the girls out of the country amid a growing turmoil, per TODAY.com.
While the girls were set to fly on Monday, their flight, had to be canceled due to chaos at the airport, which saw desperate Afghans crowding the runway. Various videos have surfaced depicting Afghan people trying to climb a U.S. Air Force aircraft as it attempted to take off.
"The flight out of Kabul was only at the very end of a journey in which safety was always a concern," Elizabeth Schaeffer Brown, a board member on the DCF, told TODAY.com. "Ultimately the girls 'rescued' themselves. If it were not for their hard work and courage to pursue an education, which brought them in contact with the world, they would still be trapped. We need to continue to support them and others like them."
The team first made global news when six members were denied visas to enter the U.S. for a robotics competition in 2017. Following a public uproar, they were permitted in thanks to a late intervention by the Trump administration, and they managed to win the hearts of many people around the world.
The team most notably developed a low-cost, lightweight ventilator utilizing old car parts during the COVID-19 pandemic, which is so low-tech that it can be replicated all over the world with local products. This contribution, which is a prime example of their innovation and hard work, carried the girls to Forbes Asia's 30 Under 30 list this year, and thankfully, they are now in for a liberated future.
It is doubtful if the same thing can be said about the girls remaining in Afghanistan that are unable to or not wanting to flee due to circumstances and left at the Taliban's mercy. "We are deeply worried about Afghan women and girls, their rights to education, work, and freedom of movement," the White House said on Wednesday, in a statement. "We call on those in positions of power and authority across Afghanistan to guarantee their protection."