Afghan college students on the Worldwide Olympiad in Astronomy and Astrophysics want your assist

The 16th International Olympiad for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IOAA) will be held this year from August 10th to 20th, 2023 in Silesia, Poland. 265 students from 53 countries will take part in this annual competition that challenges selected high school students from around the world in astronomical science.

One group of students in particular stands out when it comes to overcoming the incredible odds of qualifying to attend this event and they require financial help to attend. Due to the Taliban presence, students from Afghanistan are prohibited from publicly engaging in scientific activities such as astronomy. In addition, most of the students from Afghanistan who qualified to attend the IOAA are girls, and since the Taliban returned to power almost two years ago, they have resumed recruiting women and girls from public life and to be pushed out of schools.

The Afghan students who qualified for this year’s IOAA are part of a group called Kayhana. This is a dedicated group of Afghan astronomy enthusiasts whose mission is to inspire and educate youth in their country, particularly young women, in the field of astronomy.

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Kayhana was founded in 2018 by Amena Karimyan, a civil engineer and former lecturer at Herat Technical Institute who was one of the first female astronomers in Afghanistan. In 2020, her all-girls education group won an award at the International Astronomy and Astrophysics Competition and won a telescope from the International Astronomical Union’s Telescopes For All project. In 2021, Karimyan was voted one of the 100 Inspiring Women of the Year by the BBC.

Kayhana astronomy group students. Image courtesy of Amena Karimyan.

But Karimyan now lives in exile in Germany and was expelled from Afghanistan due to her persistence in teaching astronomy. She is asking for support so students can try to attend IOAA and has started a GoFundMe campaign. They’re very close to their goal of €10,300 and we’re asking Universe Today readers to help push the campaign past its goal.

“Since its inception in 2018, Kayhana has received no financial support from anywhere,” Karimyan told Universe Today. “I’ve always worked in civil engineering in my academic field and used it for Keyhana. But now I am not really able to pay this fee by myself. That’s why I created a funding program for the first time. This is our last hope.”

Seven people from Afghanistan (five students and two leaders) will travel to Poland. Karimyan said the funds will be used for expenses such as site fees, visa costs, transportation, accommodation and teaching materials. The donations will allow students to attend IOAA while empowering Afghan youth and nurturing a passion for astronomy despite the adversity they face.

We have previously written about the challenges and dangers of amateur astronomy in Afghanistan. Kayhana is the only active scientific group in Afghanistan. It has 150 members, with a significant proportion of its members being young women. On the GoFundMe page, Karimyan wrote, “By supporting them, you show your commitment to empowering Afghan youth and show solidarity with their pursuit of scientific knowledge.”

Karimyan said Kayhana will be launching a YouTube channel soon, “as the first and most trusted scholarly resource in Afghanistan, and we are currently working hard to educate our members.” Along with the many other bodies out there, we recently have one Professor hired in Olympiad department.”

Amena Karimyan.

Karimyan’s story is remarkable. When the Taliban returned to power, Karimyan was arrested, flogged and beaten. She was able to find refuge in the Austrian embassy in Islamabad and hoped to find asylum in Austria; However, her visa application was rejected. She fled to Pakistan and was later able to go to Germany thanks to the German journalist Evelyn Schalk, who wrote an incredible portrait of Karimyan. Karimyan recently learned that her father died “under great pressure” in Afghanistan.

“I don’t know how much a person has to sacrifice and hurt to be successful. But I am persistent and want to give Afghan students a sense of hope for their future with Kayhana,” she said.

Despite everything she’s been through, she continues to engage in online activities with Kayhana. She said she and the Kayhana volunteers want to resist despite death threats.

“In a world where today a woman in the new Artemis project wants to walk on the moon,” Karimyan said, “and at the same time, in the same world, there is a place where women not only have no right to education, but also no right.” to education.” no right to live.”

Kayhana astronomy group students. Image courtesy of Amena Karimyan.

But she sees the chance for Afghan students to attend IOAA as a big win.

“I want people around the world to see that the people of Afghanistan are actually fighting,” she said. “Even with the gates of education closed, our students want to compete with the superpowers of knowledge. It takes a lot of courage.”

Karimyan is asking for everyone’s support, financially if possible, but she said there are other ways people around the world can support her.

“We accept any kind of support,” she said. “We’re even looking for people to sing for us because music is the language of the soul. Music is also a big struggle for us. From all walks of life, we welcome any kind of help with open arms as it will have a profound impact on the lives of Afghan youth and help create a brighter future for their country.”

Visit the GoFundMe page for more information and how to donate.

Read an article Karimyan wrote for Nature: Female astronomers in Afghanistan need the world’s support

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