Education

Qatar awards scholarships to Afghan girls' robotics team

By Salaam Times and AFP

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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, flanked by Qatari Assistant Foreign Minister Lolwah al-Khater, meets with Afghan girls' robotics team members in Doha on September 7. [Marwan Tahtah/Qatari Foreign Ministry]

DOHA -- Qatar has granted academic scholarships to members of a girls' robotics team from Afghanistan dubbed the "Afghan Dreamers", the Gulf nation's education and science foundation said September 7.

Qatar has been instrumental in efforts to evacuate at-risk Afghans and foreigners from Kabul airport, including members of the team who are being housed in Doha's Education City campus of schools and universities.

"They will receive scholarships that enable them to keep pursuing their studies through a partnership between Qatar Foundation (QF) and Qatar Fund For Development," QF said in a statement.

The team of high-achieving high school girls has about 20 members, mostly still in their teens, and are now dotted around the world with some in Qatar as well as Mexico.

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Members of the Afghan all-girls robotics team, with their robot nearby, watch other country's robots in the practice area on July 17, 2017, at DAR Constitution Hall, in Washington, DC. [Paul J. Richards/AFP]

The girls made headlines in 2017 after being denied visas to take part in a robotics competition in Washington -- before then-president Donald Trump intervened and they were allowed to travel.

Last year, they worked to build a low-cost medical ventilator from car parts, hoping to boost hospital equipment during the coronavirus pandemic.

They also developed a pair of robots designed to identify and neutralise land mines.

"These talented, creative students have been living through a time of uncertainty and upheaval, and at Qatar Foundation we want to do whatever we can," said Sheikha Hind bint Hamad Al-Thani, vice-chairwoman and chief executive of QF.

"By providing them with scholarships to study at Education City, their education can now continue uninterrupted."

Qatar is assessing the girls' needs to determine which schools or pre-university programmes they should attend, she added.

The importance of women in science

The Ghani government's collapse last month has fuelled a chaotic mass exodus as many Afghans fear a repeat of the brutal interpretation of Islamic law implemented in 1996-2001.

Many especially fear a reversal of all the progress in women's rights that Afghans witnessed during the past 20 years.

To that end, hundreds of defiant women marched in the streets of Kabul September 7, demanding respect for their rights.

Scattered demonstrations also have taken place in smaller cities in recent days, including in Herat and Mazar-e-Sharif, where women have demanded to be part of the new government.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with several members of the robotics team September 7 during a whirlwind tour of Qatar.

"You're famous around the world and a source of inspiration," he told them. "The story you've already told about the importance about women engaging in science... sends an important message around the world, well beyond Afghanistan."

Roya Mahboob, the founder of the Digital Citizen Fund, parent organisation of the team, said the girls were "excited and grateful for this opportunity to study abroad".

Several other members of the robotics team, none of whom was identified for security reasons, have relocated to Mexico.

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