Keeping the dream alive

Posted by
On August 19, 2022

Photo of Somaya Faruqi, who is wearing a black top and black head covering. She is gazing into the distance with a slight smile on her face.

Somaya Faruqi, a first-year student at Missouri S&T, is hoping to earn a mechanical engineering degree and return to Afghanistan to teach at a university. Photo by Michael Pierce, Missouri S&T.

Somaya Faruqi brings belief in herself and girls everywhere to Missouri S&T

A year ago, Somaya Faruqi huddled in desperation with thousands of other Afghans inside Hamid Karzai airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, frantically trying to get a flight out of the country after the Taliban returned to power. Today, Faruqi is a first-year student at Missouri S&T, where she plans to major in mechanical engineering. She would like to one day return to Afghanistan to teach at a university.

Somaya Faruqi works with her Project X design team to build a robot during Orientation Week at Missouri S&T. Photo by Michael Pierce, Missouri S&T.

Faruqi was halfway through her senior year in high school and captain of Afghanistan’s first all-female robotics team, widely known as the Afghan Dreamers, when the Taliban banned education for girls after sixth grade. Desperate to leave the country, she and other team members spent two days with their mentor at the airport in Kabul, but there were no flights for them.

“It was impossible,” says Faruqi. “We could hear guns firing. There were corpses in the streets.”

Faruqi says on the third day, the team moved to a Kabul hotel, and the Qatar Ministry of Foreign Affairs was able to get them a military flight to safety in Doha, Qatar. Once there, Faruqi was able to continue her education at Education City, a large campus composed of multiple educational and research institutes. She also continued working with robots.

“I have been captain of my robotics team from 2019 to now, and I would definitely like to join a robotics team here,” says Faruqi. “My biggest goal at S&T is to work in nanobots so that I can teach mechanical engineering at a university in Afghanistan.”

Faruqi says public Afghan universities do not currently have female faculty, but she hopes that will change in the next four years.

“I want to prove to the new government of Afghanistan that gender doesn’t matter,” says Faruqi. “If you have talent, if you have the opportunity and potential, you can make a positive change.”

Somaya Faruqi with her father outside his mechanic shop in Herat, Afghanistan. Photo © UNICEF/UNI363807/Feridoon Aryan.

For now, Faruqi plans to focus on her mechanical engineering studies, inspired by her father, who worked as a car mechanic in Afghanistan before the family relocated to California. She says she helped him work on cars at home in Herat. His shop is also where she learned to build inventions. Her robotics team has a list of inventions to its credit.

“We developed a ventilator to help COVID patients at the request of the ex-governor of Herat, along with a robot that uses UV light to kill viruses and another that can spray disinfectant,” Faruqi says. “We developed a drone that can map areas for security, and we built a metal-detecting robot that can find unexploded mines. The police officers in Herat City asked us to do this.”

Faruqi adds that the team built a robot to help women harvest saffron, a spice collected by hand from the female portion – known as stigmas – of crocus flowers. She says the team developed another robot that cuts, collects and processes wheat.

Six Afghan teenage girls wearing red jackets and black head coverings gather around a ventilator they invented.
Team captain Somaya Faruqi (center) and the “Afghan Dreamers” robotics team show how they used locally available second-hand spare auto parts to assemble a bag ventilator device to help treat patients with acute COVID-19. Photo © UNICEF/UNI363793/Feridoon Aryan

Faruqi says her team started with six members – girls whose families allowed them to get passports to compete internationally. She says before the first competition there were many negative comments about the team on social media. But when they returned home, most of the comments were positive and more girls could easily get permission from their families to join the team. Faruqi says team membership has grown from those original six girls to more than 250.

Along the way, the team has garnered international recognition for its accomplishments. Faruqi says they were the youngest honorees in Forbes 30 under 30 in 2021 and were among Vogue’s 20 under 20. Faruqi was named one of the BBC’s 100 inspirational and influential women in 2020. UNICEF named her a hidden hero and a teen activist.

“We should believe in ourselves. If we have a dream, we should have belief,” Faruqi says. “Once the belief is killed, the dream is killed. When we have belief, nothing can stop us.”

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On August 19, 2022.

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6 thoughts on “Keeping the dream alive”

  • Shari Hill says:

    Somaya, it is an honor and a privilege to have you here to study at Missouri S&T! Your story is amazing and will be an inspiration to young girls all across the world. In the face of adversity you stood fearless and continued to chase your dream all while still maintaining your integrity and remaining kind. I look forward to seeing you help change the world. Welcome to the Miner Family!

  • Ronald Corradin says:

    Ms. Bowles,
    You need this woman at MST and she needs you. Be good to her. Now and in the future there will be a need for highly qualified women in mechanical engineering, especially in third world countries. MSM/UMR/MST has always had a contingent of capable foreign students, and now more and more of them are women. Somaya Faruqi has what it takes to succeed in a wide range of design fields, and she will be of enormous help to you and her peers.

  • Tom Wilcox says:

    What a great, inspiring story! I wish her all the best.

  • Webber George says:

    Its a great story!! I commend her for studying mechanical engineering, but the fact is if Afghanistan is ever going to develop beyond a tribal nation it needs to commence tapping its mineral resources. She needs to recommend individuals for studying mining engineering. Thanks
    George Webber
    Mining Engineer

  • John Brisco says:

    When I see and read about amazing people, I’m encouraged to believe we human beings can live together in peace. Every person can contribute if given the opportunity. Man doesn’t need to fight and kill his fellow man. Good people give this planet a chance to survive with us in it. So, let’s keep encouraging our talented youth to dream beyond ourselves and make a difference.

  • Ben Love says:

    I love this so much. Keep going!