All eyes are on Afghanistan this week as chaos and turmoil ensues under the newly claimed rule of the Taliban. Thousands are still desperately scrambling to escape Taliban rule, but ten girls from The Afghan Girls Robotic Team have been safely rescued this week, thanks to one mom from Oklahoma.
Allyson Reneau could not get her mind off of girls on the other side of the world earlier this month as reports of a Taliban takeover began to grow with the removal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.
The 60-year-old mother of 11 graduated from Harvard in 2016 with a masters in international relations and U.S. space policy. In 2019, she met The Afghan Girls Robotic Team at the annual Humans to Mars Conference.
“As a mother of nine daughters and two sons I immediately connected with the girls,” she said.
The Afghan Girls Robotic Team is a group of girls ages 16-18 who have overcome hardship in order to pursue their love of engineering and robotics in Afghanistan.
Under Taliban rule, the future for women and girls in Afghanistan is bleak. After taking the country’s capitol of Kabul on Sunday, reports began to circulate that Afghan girls were already being married off to Taliban soldiers, likely to be sex slaves.
Reneau, who has kept in touch with the team over the last several years, says she “couldn’t shake” the feeling that the girls were in danger while watching the news of the advancing insurgent army in early August.
“I didn’t know where to start, but I couldn’t shake it,” Reneau said. “I said to myself ‘What do I have in my hand? Where can I start?’ I felt a little helpless.”
The entrepreneur and author knew she needed to use her network, so she began making calls.
“I called Senator Jim Inhofe, because he is the ranking member of the Armed Services Committee,” Reneau said, adding that the Senator put her in touch with the military liaison for the Senate. “But he was quickly overwhelmed with the need to help our American citizens. So that lead went cold.”
On August 9, Renee decided to fly to Qatar herself.
“I decided that Monday, I’m just going to fly to Qatar — like a leap of faith — and see what I can do,” she explained. “Sometimes action just opens doors, [but] I was going alone, and I’m thinking ‘Do I even know anyone in Qatar?'”
That’s when she remembered her former roommate in D.C. had been transferred to Qatar just a few years ago.
“She said she worked in the U.S. Embassy in Qatar. … She was sure her boss would approve helping the girls.”
Reneau and her friend got to work filling out request forms, filing the necessary paperwork, and getting the girls’ passports in order. But organizing documents at the U.S. embassy was only part of it.
The girls “were in a sea of chaos with 8 million people and a city halfway around the world,” she said, adding that unrest in Kabul worked against their efforts.
“It’s very narrow window of opportunity,” Reneau said of the effort to rescue the girls. “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 cancelled flight, ten of the girls were successfully evacuated.
“We were able to get them on the U.S. military side [of the airport], so they were protected over there waiting [and] the next text I got was that they were airborne,” Reneau said
The girls were flown to a secure location, where they will be able to pursue higher education.
According to NBC, Reneau is still working with a team of people in the Middle East to get 25 more girls from the team to safety.
Allyson Reneau, a determined mother of 11 from Oklahoma, took action to evacuate ten members of an all-girls Afghan robotics team amid the ongoing chaos in Afghanistan. CNN’s Brianna Keilar shares her story. https://cnn.it/3j4tyMG
Posted by CNN on Friday, August 20, 2021