Image copyright AFP/Getty Images Image caption The team had hoped to be granted asylum in the US
The first Afghan girls to compete in a major robotics competition in the US have sent a message to the country’s women: they are not alone.
The girls from Afghanistan had been hoping to qualify for the international competition for young people called FIRST Global, but narrowly missed out.
Instead, they have returned home to a nation where they are perceived to be considered national heroes.
Women have long complained of violence and discrimination in Afghanistan.
The 22-strong team – all from Kabul and the mother of 11-year-old Thin Shukria – were the first ever from Afghanistan to take part in the FIRST Global competition.
It is described as “a robotics competition for kids”.
Each team has to design and build a robot they hope to conquer the competition. The competition offers a $2m prize.
The girls created an android called Atlas.
The girls and mother of Shukria (pictured above, at a news conference) wore headscarves
Atlas could create pipes or metal plate launchers, steer itself or autonomously drive a car, according to their robot brochure.
Shukria’s mother, Khalida Wakil, who decided to take the girls’ chances after the Afghan government failed to grant them visas, said that she believed there were now better days ahead for the country.
“This robot now has become something that Afghans can be proud of,” she said.
“Many robots are being designed today and will definitely be able to improve the quality of life for Afghans.”
The Afghan government awarded the sisters a medal for their achievements – albeit with a heavy note of disappointment about not winning a place in the competition.
But their coach, Marzia Safadi, told the Associated Press news agency that the girls had been able to achieve something that many women and girls did not get the chance to do.
Shukria told the AP that she was looking forward to other events in her country.
“I want to see my friends and go to school and be educated,” she said.
Image copyright AFP/Getty Images Image caption FIRST Global aims to inspire the next generation of innovators by combining robotics and engineering
‘More can be done’
The girls are welcomed home at Kabul airport by the Afghan Chief Executive Officer, Abdullah Abdullah, where he and President Ashraf Ghani congratulated them.
Mrs Wakil said: “This time I [did] not feel like all girls were under the threat.”
Instead, the country’s First Lady, Parviz Soraya, told the girls that they were motivated by Islam to become a difference maker and that their message was also something that “all women and girls can learn from”.
President Ghani said: “If I die, my daughter will continue in my shoes, my granddaughter will continue in her mother’s shoes. I have many daughters, and I know that Allah will raise a son [Son of God] to lead our nation.”
More than 100 women-led start-ups were accepted into the prize, the highest of the three competitions.
First developed in 1989 as a four-week outreach project designed to get kids excited about science, FIRST Global has become a top draw for college students, but it aims to also inspire young people to be inventors, researchers and entrepreneurs.