By D.P. Moran
“Just…no matter what happens, no matter what they do, you have to take every opportunity.” This was the mantra that helped Nasir Ahmad Nezami get through the unthinkable.
For two years, Nasir served as the mentor to the Afghan Dreamers robotics team. As an all-girls team of young roboticists, this team made waves during Nezami’s tenure – competing, gaining attention from government figures, and inspiring young women across the country. Unfortunately for them, in the August of 2020, this would also earn unwanted attention: the Taliban.
“With the Taliban…they didn’t want anyone teaching girls. Letting girls learn anything at all…even if we stopped, just for being a girls’ mentor at all, I was afraid I might be punished.”
For Nasir, this was more than just a threat to a successful team. Teaching women these skills meant going directly against the Taliban’s regressive ideology. Any who defied them were at risk of punishment, persecution, and worse. It was a choice no one should have to make – but like so many refugees before him, Nasir had little choice but to run from his home.
In late November 2021, Nasir found refuge in a U.S. military base in Qatar. But separated from his family, his home, and all the pieces of his life he’d been forced to leave behind, solace didn’t come easy. “It was the worst time of my life. Everything was shut down, we barely even had the motivation to…work, or do anything. So long waiting for an unknown future.”
Through it all, though, his passion for robotics helped keep him afloat. “We were doing job training, proving we were ready to find opportunities in the United States. And for me…Massachusetts, a center for new technology, places like M.I.T….for someone studying robotics, it was a big dream for me.”
Seeking a place to jumpstart a new life in Boston, it was something familiar that drew Nasir’s eye to MassRobotics. The robotics innovation center ran programs where high school girls could learn the tools of the trade – a reminder of the Afghan Dreamers back home. The immigration process was difficult, long months spent trying to prove his intent to settle, work, and build something for himself. When he finally did? MassRobotics had a lab manager position open and waiting for him that he was excited to accept.
“MassRobotics is a friendly, welcoming environment. You feel like part of the company as more than an employee. You care about MassRobotics, and MassRobotics cares about you.”
After everything, the Afghan Dreamers remain active – many members still competing with great success in the United States, Qatar, and beyond, using the skills Nasir had risked so much to teach them and turning them into new innovations. Nasir himself still works at MassRobotics – and has since reunited with his wife, happy to be back doing what he loves.