With Afghanistan in great need of ventilators to treat COVID 19 patients, a team of Afghan teenage girls has stepped up to build ventilators from used car parts. The girls are members of the all-girls robotics team, named the Afghan Dreamers, whom you might remember from 2017.
That’s when they first garnered international attention after the US initially denied the team their visas for the 2017 FIRST Global Challenge, robotics competition held by FIRST, an international education program with teams in 191 countries and an annual season of events. Eventually, the White House intervened, and the girls made it to the competition, where they won a medal for courageous achievement.
The team has continued to inspire its nation and the world since, participating in robotics competitions in Estonia, Poland, and Canada, partnering with Afghanistan’s government to build the country’s first STEAM school, and speaking at panels across the world. With the 2020 FIRST Robotics season suspended because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the girls are now working on aiding their country’s response.
Of course, it’s no easy task. Afghanistan’s lockdown requires special permits for traveling, the shops to source parts are closed—which is why the team decided to use car parts, which are more readily available in the country, says local tech entrepreneur Roya Mahboob.
The hope is that the ventilators will be ready by the end of May, at which point they will have to undergo official testing and approval. In a country where girls have struggled to receive education and struggled to get opportunities, this team’s accomplishments are challenging long-held perceptions of women. “It’s helped the community believe in women’s abilities,” Mahboob says. “Looking at these young teenagers, they give us hope for Afghanistan, that we are going in the right direction.”