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How I became captain of the winning all-girls Afghan robotics team

I love asking questions. As a child, I questioned just about everything. Why was my country different than t...

Posted: Oct 11, 2018 1:17 PM
Updated: Oct 11, 2018 1:17 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.

Afghanistan

Asia

Continents and regions

Middle East

Middle East and North Africa

Robots and robotics

South Asia

Technology

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: 333180

Reported Deaths: 7502
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto22901279
Hinds22780438
Harrison19569326
Rankin14851287
Jackson14342251
Madison10692227
Lee10437179
Jones8746169
Forrest8210157
Lauderdale7561243
Lowndes6790150
Lamar669688
Lafayette6459124
Washington5516139
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Oktibbeha478498
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Marshall4654106
Warren4640127
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Monroe4255137
Union425379
Neshoba4182180
Lincoln4098115
Hancock405088
Leflore3565125
Pike3530112
Tate349588
Alcorn343974
Sunflower343093
Adams333387
Scott331775
Yazoo331173
Simpson314890
Copiah313867
Itawamba310180
Coahoma308785
Tippah298868
Prentiss292963
Covington282483
Marion279580
Leake278475
Wayne270743
Grenada266388
George261651
Newton256664
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Winston235584
Jasper226148
Attala220873
Chickasaw216360
Stone210237
Holmes195674
Clay192254
Clarke182080
Tallahatchie181742
Calhoun177532
Smith175935
Yalobusha169440
Walthall141548
Lawrence137726
Greene135734
Amite132843
Noxubee131635
Perry131038
Montgomery130944
Carroll124531
Webster117532
Jefferson Davis113334
Tunica111127
Benton104625
Claiborne104331
Kemper100729
Humphreys99133
Franklin85923
Quitman83519
Choctaw81319
Wilkinson74632
Jefferson69728
Sharkey51518
Issaquena1696
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 570667

Reported Deaths: 11483
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson834821584
Mobile45819855
Madison36785532
Tuscaloosa26757465
Shelby26612255
Montgomery25739624
Baldwin23810325
Lee16801181
Calhoun15130332
Morgan14941289
Etowah14662368
Marshall12806235
Houston11515292
Elmore10654217
St. Clair10521251
Limestone10472158
Cullman10257204
Lauderdale9991253
DeKalb9298191
Talladega8739187
Walker7594286
Autauga7419113
Jackson7269117
Blount7184139
Colbert6583142
Coffee6045131
Dale5326117
Russell465842
Chilton4645117
Covington4579125
Franklin444381
Tallapoosa4379157
Escambia420082
Chambers3852125
Dallas3688163
Clarke364462
Marion3380106
Pike324879
Lawrence3192101
Winston291072
Bibb280165
Geneva271583
Marengo258567
Barbour243461
Pickens239162
Butler236172
Hale231878
Fayette224564
Henry205145
Randolph194944
Cherokee193948
Monroe192141
Washington177139
Macon167552
Crenshaw164458
Clay162559
Cleburne159145
Lamar149538
Lowndes144354
Wilcox129231
Bullock125642
Conecuh118130
Coosa116029
Perry109928
Sumter108032
Greene97836
Choctaw63825
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