Afghanistan’s Girls’ Robotic Team Breaks New Paths

Do-ers not dreamers

Monique Awad
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UNICEF Afghanistan/2020/Omid Fazel
29 December 2020

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 has been an unprecedented and challenging year for many children and young people across Afghanistan.  Many have lost vital school days; some have lost loved ones; many have seen family income plummet; and too many were displaced.  Yet, for Afghanistan’s Girl’s Robotics Team, 2020 was a year of opportunities, adventures, and great success.

Somaya Faruqi, 17, led the Girl’s Robotic Team, consisting of five girls from Herat, western Afghanistan, to develop a prototype ventilator. The creative idea was born of despair and a desire to support her country’s health system at a time when a limited number of ventilators across the country threatened the most vulnerable.

“The idea evolved out of the dire need for ventilators to save lives of people during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Somaya.

The Robotics Team challenged themselves to drive positive change in their community during the height of the pandemic.  They used spare parts from old cars to develop a prototype ventilator.

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UNICEF Afghanistan/2020/Omid Fazel

In Afghanistan, 3.7 million are out of school, 60 per cent of them are girls.  And in hardest to reach areas, and conflict zones, around 85 per cent of out-of-school children are girls.

“Every girl in Herat and across Afghanistan has the capacity to bring positive change in her community,” said Somaya.  “Though, not everyone is privileged, or has access to education or gained the support to pursue her passion.”

Do-ers not dreamers

As UNICEF Acting Representative, Mustapha Ben Messaoud, told the Girls’ Robotic Team this week, “[You] are do-ers, not dreamers. [You] built foundations underneath [your] dreams. [You] did the hard work. At the height of a global pandemic that had the world’s leading minds scrambling for solutions, [you] created a low-cost machine to save lives.”

That hard work paid off, not only on a national scale, but also globally. 

In November 2020, Faruqi, the team leader was chosen as one of the BBC's 100 most inspiring and influential women of the year -- globally.

“I am so proud of our collective achievements,” said Faruqi.  “I want Afghanistan and the whole world to shift their mindsets and acknowledge that girls are equal to boys and can use science and technology to innovate.”

On 22 December, the Robotics Team took part in an exhibition showcasing their prototype innovation with the participation of key ministers, parliamentarians, policy makers and UNICEF.

Roya Mahboob, the co-founder of the Robotics Team, led the exhibition.

“I am so excited to be here today to showcase what girls in Afghanistan are capable of doing,” said Roya.  “It is high time that we overcome stereotypes, and acknowledge that girls are as equipped, if not better equipped, than boys to innovate -- if provided with opportunities.”

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UNICEF Afghanistan/2020/Omid Fazel

At the exhibition, the Ministry of Public Health congratulated the Robotics Team for their great achievement.  They requested some minor adjustments to the prototype to conform to the required standards and specifications of a ventilator, prior to mass production.     

Out of belief in the Robotics Team, the Minister of Industry and Commerce, Mr. Nizar Ahmad Ghuryani, donated US$ 10,000 out of his private funds to the team.  He also secured land for building a factory where the ventilators will be produced in the near future.

“The Robotics Team challenged gender norms. They overcame stereotypes,” said Mustapha Ben Messaoud.  “These girls shone a spotlight on the importance of girls’ education. And they put Afghanistan on the global stage – for all the right reasons.”

During the exhibition, the Ministry of Education pledged to incorporate science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) into the national curriculum.

“I think everyone here today, and all over Afghanistan, will agree that investing in girls’ education is a price-tag the country can afford,” concluded Ben Messaoud.