Teenage veterans of the global FIRST® Robotics Competition are helping coronavirus patients in Afghanistan by making ventilators out of car parts. The ingenious young women are using the engineering skills they developed in the Bechtel-supported FIRST engineering tournament along with the mentoring of Roya Mahboob, an entrepreneur who has been among Time Magazine's 100 Most Influential People in the World, to deliver ventilators to hospitals for around $600 each, a fraction of the market price.
The girls, aged between 14 and 17, come from Herat, where Afghanistan reported its first COVID-19 case. They have built a prototype using a motor from a used Toyota Corolla and a chain drive from a Honda motorcycle. They say their ventilators will give temporary relief to patients with respiratory difficulty in an emergency when standard ventilators are not available. Afghanistan is reported to have a fragile health system and approximately 400 ventilators for a population of 38.9 million.
The teenagers competed in the 2017 FIRST World Championship , where they won a medal for courageous achievement. The girls have subsequently inspired others by partnering with the government of Afghanistan to build the country’s first STEAM school and speaking at panels across the globe.
Bechtel has supported young people through the FIRST science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) programs since 2012. During that time, we have contributed US$6.5 million to underwrite tournaments, fund teams, and mentor students in Australia, Canada, Chile, China, India, Malaysia, United Kingdom, and United States.
Some of the girls spoke to the BBC about their innovation and the importance of engineering education for all.
"It's important even if we can save one life with our effort," said Nahid Rahimi, 17.
"I feel so proud to be part of a team that is trying to do something meaningful to support our doctors and nurses - they are our heroes at this time," said team captain Somaya Farqui, 17.
"It [being able to make ventilators] shows the importance of teaching girls at a young age and the role of women as active citizens in our society," said Elham Mansori, a 16-year-old team member.