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The Afghan Girls’ Robotics Team Designed an Inexpensive Ventilator Out of Car Parts to Help With the Pandemic Fight

These Mighty Girls have designed a cheap ventilator out of car parts to help with the pandemic fight in a country with only 12 working ventilators in its main coronavirus hospitals.

The Afghan girls’ robotics team has joined the fight against coronavirus by designing an inexpensive ventilator out of automobile parts! The team members from Herat created the prototype after the governor of the Afghan province sent out a public plea for ventilators. The region is expecting an explosion in coronavirus cases due to a huge surge in Afghan migrant workers returning to the country from neighboring Iran, one of the disease's global hotspots. The impoverished nation is ill-prepared for any significant outbreak; as of April 2, the country's two hospitals designated for coronavirus cases had only 12 working ventilators between them. In response to this desperate need, the Afghan Dreamers robotics team developed a ventilator prototype which costs under $300 to make from parts that can be easily sourced in the country. "The only thing that we all want to do is help our people and our community," says tech entrepreneur Roya Mahboob, who founded the Afghan Dreamers program. "I work with the girls, but mostly to coordinate. They are the real heroes."

Founded to encourage support for girls' education in a country where 85% of the 3.5 million children are out of school are girls, the Afghan Dreamers made headlines around the world in 2017 after they were denied U.S. visas to attend the First Global robotics competition in Washington. After an international outcry, their visas were approved and the girls ended up winning a silver medal for “courageous achievement” at the global competition. While that group of girls have now graduated, there are currently 50 Dreamers in the highly selective program, all between the ages of 14 and 17.


The program encourages local Dreamers teams to use their know-how and creativity to develop projects that can help their communities, so the team in Herat immediately focused on how they could help Afghanistan prepare for the pandemic. The team, which is made up of captain Somaya Faruqi, Dyana Wahbzadeh, Folernace Poya, Ellaham Mansori and Nahid Rahimi, decided to create a prototype that could mechanically squeeze an Ambu bag, a plastic pouch with a mask that's normally used by hand to help patients breathe. Whatever they designed would need to be able to squeeze the bag rhythmically, be adjustable for pressure and speed, and be able to run for long periods of time. With the country often experiencing power shortages, they also aim to make it able to operate on back-up battery or solar power if necessary.

At first, they tried to build an advanced digital ventilator but it was difficult to source the parts needed from overseas and the costs were prohibitive. Instead, the group decided to modify a design from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology using local parts from Toyota Corolla cars which are readily available locally. They developed a prototype and sent the design to experts at MIT for their feedback.

“We discussed our design with a professor from MIT, and sent it, based on the MIT prototype, using Toyota Corolla parts. He (the professor) was so surprised and wrote back to us saying that it was a clever design but would need to see if the system worked," Mahboob explains. “What we are hoping, is that with the help of MIT we will be able to improve our model and make it ready for actual use by the end of May or June."

The added challenge the girls have encountered in developing their prototype is finding a way to meet in person while still following community guidelines designed to avoid the virus' spread. "It's very difficult for the girls to come together in one place," Mahboob says. "The shops are closed, so we have to call so many people to open the shop — someone who knows someone, who can open the store to get that part." However, the girls have persevered and hope that, after their prototype is refined, it can be put to use especially in remote clinics with limited equipment. "The idea of these machines is that we use them for emergency cases, when there are no professional ventilators," explains Mahboob. "If we don't have access to anything professional we can use these ones."

Once the prototype is finalized, it will have to be approved by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Afghan Public Health Ministry before the team can start producing more machines, says Dr. Mehdi Hadid, a member of a medical board fighting the spread of coronavirus in Herat. The girls are optimistic that they will be able to perfect their ventilator design so it can be ready to help save lives as the outbreak spreads. For her part, Mahboob also hopes that the girls' success will show people across Afghanistan the value of educating girls: "In order to compete and prosper in the 21st century, all countries must be able to access the highest technology that's transforming our world. If these girls have access to the opportunity or the tools, their lives can be changed. But not only their lives, they can change their community, too."

Resources For Mighty Girl Engineers and Programmers

The Most Magnificent Thing

The Most Magnificent Thing

Written by: Ashley Spires
Illustrated by: Ashley Spires
Recommended Age: 4 - 8

The little girl in this story has an idea in her head for the most MAGNIFICENT thing... so with the help of her puppy sidekick, she collects some bits and pieces and starts building. Except that the result isn't quite as magnificent as she wanted, so she tries again... and again... and again. Eventually, frustration overtakes her, and she not only smashes, pummels, and explodes, she also quits. It's not until she takes a walk with her dog and clears her head that she can see the potential in all her previous design and build something that she really does feel is magnificent. This fun picture book sends a great message to young readers about the importance of persistence.

Coding Critters: Interactive Coding Toy

Coding Critters: Interactive Coding Toy

Manufacturer: Learning Resources
Recommended Age: 4 - 8

Meet the Coding Critters, adorable pairs of robotic animals that can teach preschoolers coding concepts — screen-free! You can choose Scamper the cat and Squeaker the mouse, Rumble and Bumble the triceratops, or puppies Ranger and Zip. As you follow along with the storybook in this playset from Learning Resources, you'll code a game of hide and seek, teach them to catch a toy, and more. Kids can also create their own coding adventures — or switch their critters to play mode where they act as interactive pets!

Amazon.com.au

Botley the Coding Robot & Activity Set

Botley the Coding Robot & Activity Set

Manufacturer: Learning Resources
Recommended Age: 5 and up

Learn to code with a friendly face — and without a screen — with Botley from Learning Resources! Botley is an easy-to-use robot: kid can draw a path for Botley to follow with the black-line follow mode, or code in up to 80 steps, as well as looping commands and if/then logic. As kids work with the 77-piece activity set, they'll learn how coding works and even unlock additional features that they can explore. The set includes coding cards, detachable arms, interactive obstacles, and more to ensure kids get years of fun and learning from this set. Plus, parents will love that Botley is completely app- and screen-free, so kids can foster creativity, problem-solving, and logic skills without ever picking up a device.

Amazon.com.au

Razia's Ray of Hope: One Girl's Dream of an Education

Razia's Ray of Hope: One Girl's Dream of an Education

Written by: Elizabeth Suneby
Illustrated by: Suana Verelst
Recommended Age: 6 - 9

Razia dreams of going to school, but in her rural Afghan village, girls haven't been permitted to study in years. Then, one day, a new school opens — just for girls — but in order to attend, Razia will have to convince her father and her older brother that school wouldn't just fulfill her dream: it would also change their whole family for the better. Based on true stories from students at the Zabuli Education Center for Girls, which was founded by Razia Jan, this book also includes activities to help kids broaden their understanding of Razia, her home, and her quest for education.

Kano Frozen 2 Coding Kit

Kano Frozen 2 Coding Kit

Manufacturer: Kano
Recommended Age: 6 - 12

Conjure your own ice magic with this Kano coding set inspired by Frozen! With this kit, kids will build their own Frozen-themed "ice" sensor, which they can use to control challenges and activities in the app. Make fractals, throw snowballs, conjure your own Ice Palace, and more! As kids play, they'll also learn the basics of programming, first with code blocks, and then with more complicated techniques like loops and variables. It's a fun and tactile way to get kids discovering the powers of coding.

Amazon.com.au

littleBits Base Inventor Kit

littleBits Base Inventor Kit

Manufacturer: littleBits
Recommended Age: 8 and up

With the Base Inventor Kit from littleBits, creative kids have everything they need to turn their ideas into inventions! littleBits are modular electronic components that connect with no glue or solder, making them a quick and easy way to prototype. With a range of bits that move, light up, and make noise, kids will try 12 different projects, including a voice-activated robotic gripper arm and a room-protecting Intruder alarm — then, they'll come up with their own inventions! Plus, this set is compatible with all other littleBits sets, so you can build her collection as much as you'd like.

Amazon.com.au

Gutsy Girls Go For Science: Engineers

Gutsy Girls Go For Science: Engineers

Written by: Diane Taylor
Illustrated by: Hui Li
Recommended Age: 8 - 11

Engineering touches almost everything we do, whether it's opening a carton of milk for breakfast or crossing a bridge that connects a city! In this book from the Gutsy Girls Go For Science series, kids will learn about five women in engineering: Ellen Swallow Richards, Emily Warren Roebling, Kate Gleason, Lillian Moller Gilbreth, and Mary Jackson. They'll also test out some hands-on STEM projects, from conducting a virtual tour of a model bridge to researching organizational psychology. With a fun narrative style and full-color pages, this book is sure to inspire future engineers.

littleBits Avengers Hero Inventor Kit

littleBits Avengers Hero Inventor Kit

Manufacturer: littleBits
Recommended Age: 8 and up

Avengers, assemble — including you! With this set from littleBits, kids will join their favorite Avengers, including Iron Man, Black Panther and Shuri, and Ant-Man and the Wasp, to create their own superhero identity. Eighteen in-app activities get kids building gear with the easy to use littleBits components, adding new abilities with easy block coding, and designing the perfect superhero icon with the LED Matrix bit. Authentic Avengers sound effects make this an absorbing and exciting way to learn real STEM skills!

Amazon.com.au

Weird Little Robots

Weird Little Robots

Written by: Carolyn Crimi
Illustrated by: Corinna Luyken
Recommended Age: 8 - 12

11-year-old Penny Rose is lonely in her new town; the science-loving girl only has her homemade robots to keep her company. When she spies on Lark, the girl next door, she realizes that she, too, loves making things, and before long the two girls have struck up a friendship — and created a magical world where Penny Rose's robots come to life. Then Penny Rose gets the break she's been waiting for: an opportunity to try out for the Secret Science Society, run by the popular kids at school. Her robots, of course, would be the perfect way to show off her skills... but revealing them may risk both the robots and her friendship with Lark. This quirky illustrated chapter book celebrates ingenuity and true friendship, as well as the joy of creativity and imagination.

The Breadwinner

The Breadwinner

Written by: Deborah Ellis
Recommended Age: 10 and up

When the Taliban takes control of Afghanistan, Parvana, her mother, and sisters suddenly can't go to school, work outside the home, or even appear in public without being covered. When her father is arrested because of his foreign education, the family is soon in dire straights. So Parvana takes a bold step: she cuts her hair, disguises herself as a boy, and sets off to earn money. The first volume in a series about life under the Taliban regime — and after it — is suspenseful and all too timely, even years after it was written. The series continues with Parvana's Journey and Mud City, which are also collected in a single volume in The Breadwinner Trilogy, and in My Name is Parvana; the book has also been adapted into an acclaimed animated film.

Code Like a Girl: Rad Tech Projects and Practical Tips

Code Like a Girl: Rad Tech Projects and Practical Tips

Written by: Miriam Peskowitz
Recommended Age: 10 and up

When you don't know how coding work, it seems like magic — but when you learn how to use it, you'll discover that you can use coding skills to make your vision come to life! In this inspiring book, girls will learn how programming can be used in creative, expressive ways, and explore a variety of different projects, from making a digital fortune-teller with the Python programming language, to creating light-up bracelets, and even building your own computer! With an encouraging tone and an empowering message, this book will help her see herself as a coder — and put code to work to change the world.

Cinder: Book One of the Lunar Chronicles

Cinder: Book One of the Lunar Chronicles

Written by: Marissa Meyer
Recommended Age: 13 and up

Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She's a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister's illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai's, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world's future. No one — including Cinder herself — knows that Earth's fate hinges on one very special young woman... To follow Cinder's further adventures, all five books in the series are available in The Lunar Chronicles Box Set.

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