Fatemah – The Afghan Girl with a Dream

Team Afghanistan working on their robot at the 2017 FIRST Global Challenge in Washington, D.C.

The all-girl Afghan robotics team — the Afghan Dreamers — made headlines in the summer of 2017 for being denied, then eventually waived, visas to attend the 2017 FIRST Global Challenge in Washington, D.C.

This wasn’t the first challenge they had faced. Some girls’ families had pulled them from the team. The robot kit had also been held in customs for three months, limiting the amount of time they had to build the robot; they had no prior robotics experience, so time was precious. Not to mention the fact that they had twice set off on the over 12-hour trek from Herat to the U.S. Embassy in Kabul in order to apply for their visas in the first place.

“Where there is a will, there is a way,” said Fatemah, the team’s captain, in an interview for the team’s profile video.

The Afghan Dreamers took to the media, and coverage broke out. Eventually, with just days until the competition, the United States’ Administration stepped in and waived visas for the team.
Team Afghanistan competing at the 2017 FIRST Global Challenge in Washington, D.C.
They made it to the competition in time and ranked 114th out of 163 — not bad for first-timers — and won the silver medal for the Rajaâ Cherkaoui El Moursli Award for Courageous Achievement.

Their bravery and determination did not end there.

Today in Afghanistan almost 40 percent of Afghan girls attend school, but due to poverty, a lack of teachers and supplies, and cultural prejudice, millions of girls still do not have access to education.

In a country that had not too long ago seen girls prevented from going to school, these young women set an example. The team’s participation in the FIRST Global Challenge had catapulted them into a new world. And they knew they could do more.

“I think I must represent not only my voice and beliefs, but the voice of all Afghan women,” Fatemah said in an interview with CNN. “I want to stand up for their rights, and represent the voices of those who have been silenced in our society, on a global level. To show the world that there are women in Afghanistan and all around the world that are able to speak in the field of STEM and technology.”

The team went on to compete in competitions in Estonia, Poland, and Canada, where they won more awards. They met with presidents, prime ministers, and other world leaders. They spoke out, in the news and at events worldwide.

Fatemah speaking at the Oslo Freedom Forum in the summer of 2018. As a way to cultivate and expand upon what they gained, the Afghan Dreamers are partnering with the government of Afghanistan to build a Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics (STEAM) school. to help empower the next generations of Afghan youth, especially young girls. Not only do they want to lift up their fellow citizens, but also reclaim the narrative of their narrative and what they are capable of achieving.

“Everything in a child starts with imagination,” Fatemah said in her talk at the 2018 Oslo Freedom Forum. “After a while, imagination grows and becomes a dream. Once they have that dream, they want to achieve it in reality. However, children who live in conflict zones… they are told that their dreams will only remain dreams. Leadership must be in the hands of the youth, the generation that considers technology as a weapon against war.

“Now that we have gotten our first taste of education, we are determined to get as much as we can to build a better future for our country.”