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Teen robotics champ fights to empower Afghan girls

15-year-old Fatemah Qaderyan is the captain of Afghanistan's all-girl robotics team and is advocating for all girls in her country to get an education.

Posted: Oct 11, 2018 4:39 PM
Updated: Oct 11, 2018 4:39 PM

I love asking questions. As a child, I questioned just about everything. Why was my country different than the ones I saw on television shows and in movies? Why was my gender an obstacle to me becoming a leader someday? Why was educating young girls seen as so threatening to the leaders of my country?

My mother would attempt to answer my questions. But in doing so, she would also tell me stories about a dark time in my country, a time when the Taliban required women to stay inside their homes, a time when ignorance and servitude were forced upon us. Hearing these stories, I realized that my own sisters were the victims of this regime. The world they knew left no room for knowledge or imagination.

Not long ago, the Taliban prevented all girls from going to school. Today, almost 40% of Afghan girls attend school. But due to poverty, lack of teachers and supplies and cultural prejudice, millions of girls still do not have access to education.

I am fortunate enough to be an exception -- to come from a family where I have always been encouraged to explore and to watch the occasional animated movie. When I was six years old, I saw "Robots," an animated film about the possibilities of robots. Inspired, I promised my mom that someday I would make her a robot that could help her with all her housework.

And I put my mind to making that promise a reality. Last year, I had a chance to apply for a spot on my high school's all-girl robotics team, which would travel internationally to participate in competitions.

Out of the 150 students who applied, only six were selected for the final round. I was one of these students and, eventually, I was named captain of the team.

I was so excited to compete on behalf of my country. But just before my team was supposed to travel to Washington, D.C. for our competition, our visas were denied. I did not know why and I twice travelled from my home in Herat to the US Embassy in Kabul to appeal the decision.

After failing both times, I decided that I needed to fight back -- and so I took to the media. My team's story gained attention and eventually millions of people around the world knew what was happening. In 2017, US President Donald Trump decided to intervene. Our small robotics team was granted visas to enter the United States just days before the start of the competition.

We returned to Afghanistan with a silver medal for our achievement, and we were proud to serve as a symbol of hope for Afghanistan after many long years of war. We helped bring attention to the limits placed on girls and women in my country, and we showed the world that, if given the chance, Afghan girls could do anything.

No one was prouder of my team's victory than my father. He was the one who encouraged me to join the team in the first place, and he never lost hope that we would win our battle. He always believed that his children would become symbols of pride for our country.

But one week after I returned to Afghanistan, while he was at our mosque for daily prayers, ISIS took my father away from me. Some neighbors blamed me for my father's death. They said that if I had not been on the robotics team, this might not have happened to him.

At first, I didn't think I could remain on the team because of this tragedy. But my mother stood up to everyone. She said, "Fatemah must continue on this route, even if only for her father, who is the reason she joined this team." And she was right.

Children and young adults make up more than half of Afghanistan's population. The ability of my country to change is in our hands. But convincing others of our ability to do so -- and with technology -- is not going to be easy.

Growing up in a war zone, few Afghan children have had the chance to turn their dreams into reality. But we have a chance now -- the Digital Citizen Fund, which provides digital literacy training to Afghan girls, is creating that opportunity. This organization is how I learned computer programming and where I first worked with robots, and it is the reason I believe in the power of imagination.

I used to tell people, "Night will not always rule over Afghanistan. A new day will come soon." My father reinforced that idea. And just as he never stopped believing in me, I will never stop believing in a brighter future for the next generation of girls in Afghanistan.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 482902

Reported Deaths: 9425
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison33063488
Hinds31021589
DeSoto30610358
Jackson23687348
Rankin21340370
Lee14909220
Madison14166271
Jones13404227
Forrest13160240
Lauderdale11601305
Lowndes10443176
Lamar10214130
Pearl River9098221
Lafayette8241137
Hancock7514112
Washington7102150
Oktibbeha6964124
Monroe6514164
Neshoba6475201
Warren6464164
Pontotoc630393
Panola6250126
Marshall6126123
Bolivar6115144
Union574186
Pike5613136
Alcorn537290
Lincoln5303131
George471472
Scott459196
Leflore4476140
Prentiss446779
Tippah446480
Itawamba4444100
Adams4416116
Tate4394101
Simpson4335112
Wayne433066
Copiah431787
Yazoo423386
Covington415792
Sunflower4148104
Marion4099104
Leake397586
Coahoma3957100
Newton370875
Grenada3556104
Stone350860
Tishomingo336289
Attala325387
Jasper314162
Winston304691
Clay296473
Chickasaw287065
Clarke282190
Calhoun266141
Holmes262187
Smith250649
Yalobusha221047
Tallahatchie220450
Walthall211058
Greene209045
Lawrence206833
Perry199953
Amite198452
Webster196542
Noxubee178939
Montgomery172454
Jefferson Davis168342
Carroll162137
Tunica153334
Benton142535
Kemper138640
Choctaw127026
Claiborne126834
Humphreys126637
Franklin116728
Quitman103926
Wilkinson101936
Jefferson91333
Sharkey63020
Issaquena1926
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 789054

Reported Deaths: 14022
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1115991765
Mobile708511234
Madison49865633
Shelby36274315
Baldwin36242495
Tuscaloosa33931548
Montgomery33190678
Lee22680220
Calhoun21211410
Morgan19816335
Etowah19300462
Marshall17680274
Houston16823386
St. Clair15442305
Cullman14602258
Limestone14581188
Elmore14480264
Lauderdale13520281
Talladega12958236
DeKalb12199237
Walker10588330
Blount9720157
Autauga9667137
Jackson9385158
Coffee8882175
Dale8609173
Colbert8534184
Tallapoosa6673181
Escambia6591121
Covington6452167
Chilton6385144
Russell607255
Franklin5795101
Chambers5416134
Marion4800120
Dallas4705189
Clarke463279
Pike462397
Geneva4413117
Winston425895
Lawrence4117108
Bibb409381
Barbour347270
Marengo326285
Monroe320053
Butler318290
Randolph305956
Pickens305274
Henry301858
Hale292685
Cherokee289855
Fayette279673
Washington245448
Crenshaw238470
Cleburne235851
Clay228565
Macon220158
Lamar197743
Conecuh182046
Lowndes170758
Coosa170235
Wilcox159736
Bullock149243
Perry136537
Sumter124536
Greene121443
Choctaw73427
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