December 07, 2022
Girls with ideas and passion can change the world. That’s what the Afghan Dreamers FIRST robotics team proved when they became the first robotics team in Afghanistan.
“We were the girls who dared to dream, to believe in ourselves,” said Somaya Faruqi, caption of the team. “Once we have belief, we can achieve everything that we want. Once we have belief, we will be unstoppable.”
Kevin Gillis, chair of biomedical, biological and chemical engineering, brought Faruqi, currently a freshman studying mechanical engineering at Missouri S&T, to Mizzou Engineering to share her experience.
Faruqi’s dream of becoming an engineer began when she was seven years old, helping her father work on cars in his shop. She could only go on Fridays when other men weren’t there. But the time she spent there inspired her to pursue STEM and join the Afghan Dreamers FIRST robotics team.
“Being a part of the robotics team in Afghanistan was not easy,” Faruqi said. “We faced many challenges.”
When the team was initially formed in 2017, they had to import everything, including machine parts said Faruqi. Over 150 girls applied; the group was then narrowed down to 20 and six were chosen to be a part of the team. In 2018, a second team was formed with nine more girls. Apart from the two competition teams, more than 250 girls are members of the Afghan Dreamers.
Since their formation, the Dreamers have won many awards, both for their robotics work and activism. They were named in Vogue’s 20 under 20 and BBC’s 100 Inspirational and Influential Women in 2020, as well as Forbes’ 30 Under 30 in 2021. Faruqi is a UNICEF Hidden Hero and Teen Activist.
The team has done much more than compete in international robotics competitions. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Dreamers created ventilators for the country’s population.
“We were not doctors. We were not trained in the medical sector. But we couldn’t do nothing,” said Faruqi. “We saw that MIT had an open-source ventilator design and decided to build some. Making them is my favorite project … because we worked so hard on it.”
When the Taliban took over Afghanistan’s government, the Dreamers were forced to flee from their base city of Herat to Kabul, before some were able to evacuate to Qatar. Three, including Faruqi, are now in college in the United States. Most of the girls remain in Afghanistan and are forced to continue their learning online since education of girls is forbidden by the Taliban.
But Faruqi says they haven’t given up their goals of expanding STEM education, building a STEM school in Afghanistan and solving problems in their community. “There’s always a solution, so we can find it,” she said. “We have friends, and they have friends. Someone will have a solution. When we started in Afghanistan, we started from nothing. We imported everything into the country. If we really love something, we can find an answer.”
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