Oklahoma Mom, NGO, Qatar Government Work To Get Female Afghan Robotics Team Out of Kabul

A mom from Oklahoma, the Digital Citizen Fund and the government of Qatar are all rallying behind an all-female Afghan robotics team as evacuations in Afghanistan continue in the aftermath of the Taliban's swift takeover of the country.

Allyson Reneau of Oklahoma first met the team of girls aged 16 to 18 in May 2019 at a Human to Mars summit in Washington, D.C. and kept in touch after meeting them at the conference.

"They had so much fun, and we just stayed in touch for a couple of years," she said in an interview with NewsNation. "They were really hoping to come to the United States and pursue their engineering degrees and then go back to their country at that time, and hopefully make a difference there."

Reneau told Business Insider that the girls of the so-called "Afghan Dreamers" had been texting her for weeks about the ongoing situation in Afghanistan until one morning, the 60-year-old woke up with an "overwhelming dreadful feeling that something was really wrong."

"I somehow felt that they were in great danger. And I couldn't shake it," she said. "It was so pronounced that I had to take action."

After hitting numerous roadblocks while trying to reach her senator and other local officials, Reneau contacted an old roommate who lived in Qatar and worked for the embassy.

The friend told Reneau they would begin filing the paperwork to start the process of getting the girls out of Kabul.

In the weeks leading up to the fall of Kabul, the Digital Citizen Fund (DCF), the team's parent organization, had also been working behind the scenes with the government of Qatar since August 12 to get the girls to Doha, Qatar.

On August 19, several of the girls safely left the capital of Afghanistan on a commercial flight to Qatar.

In a statement made last week, DCF's founder, Roya Mahoob, and board member Elizabeth Schaeffer Brown, thanked everyone who helped the girls get out amid the Taliban takeover.

"Mahoob and Brown worked for days, in cooperation with Qatar government officials, against the backdrop of great uncertainty, to organize safe passage for team members still in the country," the statement read. "They are appreciative for all those that contributed to this effort."

DCF is a New York-based nonprofit that "helps girls and women in developing countries gain access to technology, virtually connect with others worldwide, and obtain the necessary skills to succeed in today's expanding global market."

Reneau said she got word of the evacuation in a text from one of the girls.

"All the emotion from two weeks of work and running into a wall constantly, and burying your feelings, and bearing your feelings for the girls, it just hit me all at once," Reneau said.

Afghan Afghanistan Female Robotics Team Evacuation Taliban
Ten girls who are part of an all-female Afghan robotics team safely left Kabul, Afghanistan last week. A member of the team adjusts the flag on her robot on July 17, 2017, between 2017 FIRST Global Challenge competitions at DAR Constitution Hall, in Washington, DC. Paul J. Richards/AFP

The all-girls team, which Mahoob helped organize, made headlines in 2017 for their participation in an international robotics competition hosted in Washington, D.C. after an intervention by former President Donald Trump allowed the girls to obtain travel visas to fly to the U.S. and compete.

Reneau said the girls are still figuring out where to go from Doha but that they've received an "abundance of scholarship offers from incredible universities" in the U.S.

"For the first time in their life, I really believe they have the freedom to choose and to be the architects of their own destiny and their own future," Reneau said. "It's the freeing feeling to me to know that they will be able to go somewhere and get educated wherever they want."

There has been growing concern over the future of women and girls in Afghanistan now that Kabul has fallen to the Taliban.

When the group last controlled the region, their strict enforcement of Islamic Sharia law largely confined Afghan women to their homes, banning them from attending school or working in most professions.

While the Taliban has said women would be allowed some of the freedoms that have been granted over the last two decades, local reports say that since the takeover, girls have been forced into marriage, female workers marched from their jobs and that the homes of activists' have been raided.

Update 09/25/21 11:15 a.m. ET -This story was updated to include comments from DCF in regards to its work to assist the team in leaving Kabul. The headline of the story was also updated to include the nonprofit and the government of Qatar in the efforts to help the team.