By Dr. Eliza Lo Chin and Dr. Douglas Chin
On May 10, 2018, the Afghan Dreamers the won first place in the International Entrepreneur Challenge at RoboRAVE International in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The all-girls robotics team from Afghanistan had been sponsored by the Raw Science Foundation and hosted by AMWA during their West Coast stop for the Raw Science Film Festival in Santa Barbara, CA earlier this year. The team received multiple awards at the film festival and were honored at a ceremony with scientists, celebrities, film producers, a Nobel prize winner and an astronaut. [Read more here]
The Afghan Dreamers made national news last year when they were unable to get visas for an international robotics competition in Washington, D.C. Only after an international outcry and the intervention of Congressional representatives were they eventually allowed to participate. They went on to win a silver medal for courageous achievement for the many logistical and technical hurdles they had to overcome. Later in the year, they won honors at the Robotex international robotics competition in Estonia.
The story of the Afghan Dreamers is one of courage and resilience. Team founder Roya Mahboob grew up at a time when girls were not allowed outside the home and whose social interactions were limited to whispering through walls. It was only in Iran, as an Afghan refugee, that she was able to go to school and get an education, before her family returned to Afghanistan.
Mahboob recalls that in 2003, she learned of a novel internet café whose mysterious “box” allowed connection to the outside world. She was 14 and girls were not permitted in the café, but Mahboob persisted. This “box” would transform her life, allowing her to reach people beyond her own country’s borders. She became the first female tech CEO in Afghanistan. Now as CEO and President of Digital Citizen Fund, her goal now is to help women and girls from developing countries achieve digital literacy and participation in the global community and marketplace. In 2013, Mahboob was named one of TIME Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World for her work in building internet classrooms in high schools in Afghanistan.
Youth member, Fatemeh, has spoken eloquently about her life in present-day Afghanistan and the impact of the robotics team on her life. While a childhood cartoon sparked her initial curiosity in robotics, it is now that Fatemeh is finding answers to her age-old question about how robots function. She hopes that her work with the robotics team will give other girls in Afghanistan greater opportunities. Sadly, Fatima lost her father during a terrorist attack last year, just one week after she returned from the competition in Estonia.
While in North America, the team participated in several robotics events in the U.S. and Canada, winning more honors along the way.
The Afghan Dreamers are reminders of the power of persistence in achieving one’s dreams. In a country afflicted by violence, poverty, and social inequities, they are also beacons of hope for a better future, not just for Afghanistan but for people everywhere. The opportunity to host them proved to be a life changing experience for many AMWA leaders and the beginning of a collaboration which will last for years to come.
(Article adapted from original article published in the Piedmont Post, March 16, 2018)View a Special Thank You to AMWA from the Team Learn more about the Digital Citizen Fund