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Oklahoma mom helps rescue 10 girls on Afghanistan's robotics team

Oklahoma mom helps rescue 10 girls on Afghanistan's robotics team

"Ultimately the girls 'rescued' themselves. If it were not for their hard work and courage to pursue an education, which brought them in contact with the world, they would still be trapped."

The Afghan Girls Robotics Team first made headlines in 2017 after winning a special award at an international competition in the U.S. They proved their talents again last year when they wowed the world by building a lightweight, low-cost ventilator out of car parts for COVID-19 patients at a time when several countries were facing extreme ventilator shortages. Hence, when Kabul fell to the Taliban on Sunday, the robotics team was on the mind of many. According to NBC News, among those concerned was Allyson Reneau, a mom of 11 who graduated from Harvard in 2016 with a Master's in international relations and U.S. space policy, who feared that the team of young girls might be in danger.



 

 

Reneau first met the girls through her work on the board of directors for Explore Mars in 2019 when the girls attended the Human to Mars conference. Impressed by their love for engineering and robotics, the 60-year-old kept in touch with them over the years. "I remembered my former roommate in D.C. a couple of years ago was transferred to Qatar," Reneau explained. "She said she worked in the U.S. Embassy in Qatar... she was sure her boss would approve helping the girls."



 

 

Reneau and her former roommate immediately got to work to rescue the team, which consists of a group of girls between the ages of 16 and 18 who have overcome hardship to pursue their passion. They attempted the necessary paperwork to get the girls out. Although it is unclear how much their efforts helped, 10 girls from Afghanistan's girls' robotics team have been successfully flown out of the country. "Several members of the girls Afghan robotics team have safely arrived in Doha, Qatar, from Kabul, Afghanistan," the Digital Citizen Fund and Qatar Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.



 

 

"The Digital Citizen Fund (DCF), the team's parent organization, is deeply grateful to the government of Qatar for their outstanding support, which included not only expediting the visa process but sending a plane after outbound flights from Afghanistan were repeatedly canceled," the DCF said in a statement. Elizabeth Schaeffer Brown, a board member on the DCF, revealed that she and the DCF founder had been working with Qatar since early August when it became clear that the Taliban would be overthrowing the government.



 

 

"The flight out of Kabul was only at the very end of a journey in which safety was always a concern," she said. "Ultimately the girls 'rescued' themselves. If it were not for their hard work and courage to pursue an education, which brought them in contact with the world, they would still be trapped. We need to continue to support them and others like them." The girls will remain in Qatar to pursue higher education. "We appreciate this and hope it translates to long-term commitment to girls' education," Brown said. "This is the most effective way to guarantee their safety and a better future for everyone."



 

 

Unfortunately, several other members of the team are still in Afghanistan. Kimberly Motley, a U.S. lawyer who has represented the team for years, told NPR that although she's in close touch with the girls and their families, she does not want to publicly discuss details out of fear for the safety of those still inside Afghanistan. "We're hopeful that they're safe. But we're really concerned with the reports that we're seeing," Motley said. She also criticized the Biden administration for the part it played in the Taliban's swift takeover of Afghanistan.



 

 

"We went there and we sold them this dream of democracy and freedom. Because of that, there were millions and millions of little girls that were educated," she said. "But now we're leaving and everyone knew that this day would come." Motley also called out President Biden for blaming the Taliban's takeover on Afghan political leaders who fled the country and the unwillingness of the U.S.-trained Afghan army to fight the militant group. "The girls that were going to school for the last 20 years, that's fighting. The women that are doctors, lawyers, judges, running for politics, the Afghan girls' robotics team, that's fighting," she said. "So I'm sorry that my girls weren't picking up AK-47s. But they were fighting, and we have a duty to protect them."

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