The global robotics competition, held in the United States in 2017, was a chance for the team to show the world what so many in their own country doubted – that girls can accomplish anything.
And they achieved that, winning an award for “brave achievement” given to teams that endure through trying circumstances. Although they did not place among the world’s best teams in the overall score, they proudly and decisively walked away with worldwide recognition.
It was the recognition that helped the girls flee Afghanistan a few months ago when the Taliban re-emerged.
“The Taliban took over villages and neighboring provinces, so we decided to leave Afghanistan,” said Kawsar Roshan, one of the team members. “At that time, our families did not even allow us to leave the house for any reason, not even to go to school.”
They left with an elderly relative as guardian and took the difficult trek from the western Afghan city of Herat to the capital city of Kabul and left their home in July.
It managed to get one of the last commercial flights out of Kabul bound from Islamabad, Pakistan.
It was in Pakistan that a plan began to form that eventually led them to a country thousands of miles away – Mexico.
Using private funding from various humanitarian aid groups, they made their way from Pakistan to Doha, Qatar, where the group, at the invitation of the Mexican government, boarded a commercial flight and stopped in Frankfurt, Germany, before landing in Mexico City.
The government here has given the girls, all 17 or 18 years old, permission to stay for at least six months with the option to extend their time further.
Some of the team spoke to CNN in a hotel conference room and preferred not to speak from where they live in the city for security reasons.
Some of the first thoughts they shared appropriately cared about the home and criticized the cruelty of the Taliban regime.
“The rule of their government is just mockery, an insult to Islam,” said Fatemah Qaderyan, an original team member. “Islam is the religion of kindness. We kindly ask not only the United States but the entire community, but the entire international community to exterminate the Taliban generation from Afghanistan.”
They know that the United States has limited options in this regard after the withdrawal in August. They also know how lucky they were to get out.
“It was really hard to leave our loved ones in Afghanistan,” said Saghar Salehi, another team member. “But we are happy that today we are safe not only because of ourselves, but here we can be the voice of thousands of girls who want to be safe in Afghanistan and who want to continue their education and can do their dreams come true. ”
It is a dwindling reality for girls in the country. In the weeks and months since the Taliban took over, their actions have confirmed a return to a society in which women are treated as completely unequal to men.
Still, the team has a message for the bereaved.
“My message to my generation is that in order not to lose your hope,” Roshan said. “I know it’s hard because I’m also an Afghan girl and I fully understand you. But do not lose your spirit, there is always light in the dark, just make your dream and follow your dream and believe in , that one day your dream will come true, for I have experienced it.
Despite the challenging circumstances of the last several months, every young woman looks to the future and hopes to go to college next year somewhere in the United States. Not surprisingly, they will each pursue careers in STEM fields.
In the long run, they all said that one day they hope to be able to return to an Afghanistan free of the Taliban and the oppression they represent.