How The All-Female Afghan Robotics Team Is Changing Perceptions
Emerging from dire straits, the all-female Afghan Robotics Team aims to change how people think about their war-ravaged country by back-to-back low-cost technological inventions for public welfare.
Hailing from Afghanistan’s historic western city of Herat – the epicentre of Coronavirus pandemic – the all-girl team have won many hearts with their latest invention of an affordable open-source, low-cost ventilator at a time when Coronavirus cases were on an upward trajectory.
In an exclusive interview with FairPlanet, captain of the team Sumaya Faruqi said the young and promising students have much more to offer and have much bigger dreams to follow.
“We faced so many challenges in producing the vantilator. Of course there was a shortage of resources, and then there were restrictions on movement due to lockdown in connection with the Coronavirus, but we never lost hope, and never thought about quitting”, the determined young leader said.
As she explained, the group of eight girls under the supervision of three teachers pulled together this low-cost ventilator by using a motor of an old car, some 3D printed parts and other easily available tools to address the pressing need of Coronavirus patients in a country with fragile public health system.
“It can fully replace a branded and imported ventilator, which costs a lot. It properly controls the flow of oxygen, the volume of it in connection with the recommendations of the doctors for patients of different age and conditions”, she explained.
Health authorities in Afghanistan confirmed this month that at least ten million people have been infected with Coronavirus in the country. Sharing details of this nationwide survey, health minister Ahmad Jawad Usmani told a news conference on August 5th that COVID-19 has infected at least 31.5 per cent of the whole population of the war-ravaged country.
This came as the Afghan government has approved reopening of universities across the country. The public offices in the capital Kabul and in all provinces also began working with normal routine while schools across the country still remain closed. Afghanistan woke up to face the grim challenge posed by COVID-19 at least three months after the virus was first detected in China in December 2019. The threat came knocking on the country’s western border with Iran when thousands of panicked Afghan refugees began returning forcefully as well as voluntarily with evident signs of the virus on a daily basis.
The rise to fame
Members of the girls’ robotics team first rose to fame by winning the silver medal for “courageous achievement” at the First Global International Robotics Challenge in the U.S. last year. Their latest invention at home has earned them more respect and recognition from the general public. However, it is yet to receive full recognition from the authorities.
“There has been encouragement and plenty of kind words for us on social media…We are now working on a number of other low-cost technological ideas as well. One of these ideas is a UVC anti-infecting lamp for covered places, such as hospitals”, team captain Sumaya explained.
Their journey to fame was never easy. When the world media was praising them for winning the Entrepreneurial Challenge at Robotex (described as the “Europe’s biggest robotics festival”) in the Estonian capital of Tallinn two years ago, there was little mention of it in their home country.
Two years ago, members of the team were in tears when, after initial rejection of a visa, the group was finally allowed to fly to the U.S. to represent their war-torn country among 157 countries for a science fair at the Constitution Hall in Washington.
The team spokesperson, Diyana Wahabzada, said looking forward, the girls are now working on concepts to address some pressing issues. “Every year, we lose so many of our countrymen and women to landmines”, she said while hinting that the all-female robotics team aims to pull together a low-cost invention to clear these deadly explosive devices as well. “A prototype mine-cleaner, which helps operator complete this task from a safe distance is almost ready”, she said.
Latest figures by the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission suggest that in the first six months of 2020, a total of 2,957 civilians have been killed or injured in 880 different security incidents (1,213 killed, 1744 injured). Landmines continue to be among the leading factors behind these tragic killings.
The inspiring girls of the all-female robotics team want all this changed for good. “I want to see in my lifetime Afghanistan known for science and technology where boys and girls can nurture their talent for the welfare of their country and the entire world”, Sumaya said.