Oklahoma mom rescues members of Afghan all-girls robotics team

Afghanistan's all-girls robotics team in Washington, DC on July 16, 2017.


An Oklahoma mother of 11 flew to Afghanistan earlier this month to rescue 10 members of the country’s all-girls robotics team, and hoping to save more as the Taliban takes power in Kabul.

Allyson Reneau, a 60-year old Harvard graduate with a Masters degree in international relations and US space policy, took it upon herself to try and save members of the Afghan Girls Robotic Team, according to NBC.

She flew into Qatar on Aug. 9 after making a “Hail Mary” call to a former roommate at the US Embassy there to help get the girls from the advancing Taliban, known for their oppressive treatment of women.

Reneau had been in contact with the team — made of girls ages 16 to 18 — since 2019 when she worked on the board of directors for Explore Mars and met the girls when they attended the organization’s annual Humans to Mars conference.

The team was hailed in Western media as the future of the war-ravaged country, as well as a shining example of how women’s rights had improved after the US invaded following 9/11.

She said she “couldn’t shake” the feeling that the girls were in danger while watching the news of the advancing insurgent army in early August. The first step she took was to call Sen. Jim Inhofe [R-Okla.], a ranking member of the Armed Services Committee, but that “lead went cold” when the senator became “overwhelmed with the need to help our American citizens,” Reneau told NBC.

Afghanistan’s all-girls robotics team in Washington, DC, on July 16, 2017.

Then, she decided to try herself, hopping on a flight towards the Middle East, but still thousands of miles away from Afghanistan. Her friend in Qatar was thankfully able to help her once she arrived.

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“I remembered my former roommate in D.C. a couple of years ago was transferred to Qatar,” Reneau told NBC. “She said she worked in the U.S. Embassy in Qatar. … She was sure her boss would approve helping the girls.”

“She wrote up a request, and I got all of their passports together,” Reneau said. “She went back to the Embassy at midnight and worked all night to prepare the documents [and] packets for the girls.”

Afghanistan's all-girls robotics team show their projects at an exhibition in Herat, Afghanistan on July 4, 2021.
Afghanistan’s all-girls robotics team show their projects at an exhibition in Herat on July 4, 2021.

Reneau said it was chaotic trying to get the girls out, who “were in a sea of chaos with 8 million people and a city halfway around the world,” forcing her to work at the embassy all night.

“It’s very narrow window of opportunity,” she told NBC. “I knew that if I didn’t run through that door now — it’s now or never. Sometimes you only get one chance.”

After one flight was canceled, 10 girls boarded the next flight from the American side of the Kabul airport, which has been a scene of violence and turmoil as residents attempt to flee the Taliban regime.

The girls were taken to a secure location in the U.S. and will pursue higher education, Reneau said.

Afghanistan's all-girls robotics team competes in the First Global Robotics Challenge in Washington, DC on July 17, 2017.
Afghanistan’s all-girls robotics team competes in the First Global Robotics Challenge in DC on July 17, 2017.

According to NBC, Reneau is still working to get 25 more girls from the team to safety.

“All the emotion, two weeks of work for them, it hit me all at once,” she said.

Human rights groups had demanded earlier this week that Canada take in the girls robotics team, as the Taliban goes “door to door and literally taking girls out and forcing them to become child brides.” The team competed there in 2018.

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“[The girls] are worried about what tomorrow brings. They want to continue to be educated. They want to continue to be the future of Afghanistan, but it’s an extremely tenuous and dangerous situation for them,” human rights lawyer Kimberley Motley told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. on Sunday.

Lida Azizi, right, and other members of the Afghanistan team make a repair to their robot after their first round competing in the FIRST Global Robotics Challenge, Monday, July 17, 2017, in Washington.
Afghanistan’s all-girls robotics team was garnered as a shining example of the country’s progress for women’s rights.


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