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Robotics champion fled Afghanistan. Now she’s studying at Virginia Tech

Ayda Haydarpour was on the Afghan Girls Robotics team, which won numerous awards for their skills in engineering and robotics.
Ayda Haydarpour was on the Afghan Girls Robotics team, which won numerous awards for their skills in engineering and robotics.

The Afghan Girls’ Robotics Team has been internationally recognized. They’ve won numerous awards for their skills in engineering and robotics. Now, a year has passed since the Taliban took over the country, and because most education for girls has stopped, so has the robotics team. Many of the former team members have dispersed to other countries to pursue their education, including Ayda Haydarpour, an incoming freshman at Virginia Tech.

Like most college freshmen, 17-year-old Haydarpour is hoping she’ll be able to create close friends in school. “I want to know about their culture, and somehow make them familiar with our culture. I’m trying to find some people that can be close,” Haydarpour said.

Haydarpour made it onto the Afghan Girls Robotics team when she was 13 years old. During the pandemic, she worked to create projects to help improve public health in Afghanistan, like a low-cost ventilator created out of car parts and a robot that sanitizes surfaces.

When the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan last year, they closed most schools to girls above 6th grade. However, nine members of the Afghan Girls Robotics Team, including Haydarpour, fled the country for Qatar to study in a program that teaches English and computer skills. The program is called the Academic Bridge Program of Qatar Foundation (ABP). It’s focused on high school graduates who are interested in studying in universities around the world.
This year, an additional 10 girls left Afghanistan to study in this program.

Members of the Afghan Girls Robotics Team
Courtesy Afghan Girls Robotics Team
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Members of the Afghan Girls Robotics Team

Haydarpour’s family is still in Afghanistan, and she says they were supportive when she told them she wanted to continue her education in the United States. “I explained [to] them that it can be a best option for me that I can go to Virginia Tech and study. I can be the best version of myself here.”

Haydarpour plans to major in computer science and return to Afghanistan one day to help women and girls attain their dreams. “I’m hopeful that I can be with Afghan women and help them and support them.”

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Updated: September 1, 2022 at 4:09 PM EDT
Editor's Note: Radio IQ is a service of Virginia Tech.
Roxy Todd is Radio IQ's New River Valley Bureau Chief.