Afghanistan's all-girls robotics team evacuated to Qatar

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A celebrated all-girl robotics team from Afghanistan made it out of the country safely and are now in Qatar. Officials there sent a plane to evacuate the young girls, after the team's organization, Digital Citizen Fund, worked with Qatar's government to secure visas.

The team, known as the Afghan Dreamers, made headlines in 2017 when they were rejected for U.S. travel visas twice while trying to travel to the country for an international robotics competition in Washington.

To get to the U.S., the girls traveled 500 miles – twice – from their home in Western Afghanistan through Taliban-controlled territory to Kabul to get visas. Then-President Donald Trump intervened at the last minute to allow them into the U.S. during his administration's ban on travelers from six majority-Muslim countries.

Their package of robot parts was delayed due to concerns about terrorism. They had only two weeks to build their robots, while other groups at the competition had much longer. But still, they won the first round of the competition, CBS News' Chip Reid reports.

The girls' struggle to overcome war, hardship and U.S. bureaucracy on their journey to the U.S. capital made their team stand out among more than 150 competing in the FIRST Global Challenge, a robotics competition designed to encourage youths to pursue careers in math and science. 

Girls in Afghanistan risk their lives to get an education, as under the Taliban, women are kept under the control of male family members and girls out of school. “Of course it's hard for Afghan girls because there is no high school or no college,” 16-year-old Rodaba Noori, a member of the 2017 team, told Reid.

“We want to be the young leader of robotic, technology and science in Afghanistan. We want to work with men to improve our country and make it a better place,” Noori said. 

This week, the team also had the support of Allyson Reneau, an American woman who tried to help the 10 girls secure visas to leave Afghanistan.

Reneau, a mom of 11, has a master's degree in international relations with a focus in U.S. space policy from Harvard and is an advocate for human space travel. She first met the team when they attended a Human to Mars conference in 2019. 

She says she kept in touch with the team, and when the Taliban took over Afghanistan last week, she knew she had to try and help. 

In an interview with the “Today Show,” Reneau said she reached out to an old friend to try and get the girls out of Afghanistan. “I remembered my former roommate in D.C. a couple of years ago was transferred to Qatar,” she said. “She said she worked in the U.S. Embassy in Qatar … she was sure her boss would approve helping the girls.”

When the Qatar government sent a plane to evacuate the girls on Thursday, Reneau posted an update on Instagram. “This was a heroic and valiant effort by our US Embassy in the Middle East and others I can't mention here,” she said. “BUT! There is still a second group of young ladies needing evacuation—and the window is closing.”

“You might wonder why I am not rescuing Americans. These are the only people I know in Afghanistan,” Reneau wrote. “I just decided to take any action I could to save a few. Evil triumphs when good people do nothing!!”

CBS News has reached out to Reneau and Digital Citizen Fund for more information and is awaiting response. 

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