Afghan Robotics Team Finally Allowed Into U.S

Posted by Emma Brownstein
(@Emma Brownstein)

A Chance to Compete

Although they only had two weeks to prepare, significantly less than the four months most other teams had, the team of six teenage girls from Herat, Afghanistan were ecstatic to compete at the FIRST Global Challenge robotics competition in Washington D.C. after their struggles to get a visa came to an end.

157 countries are represented at the competition, and the girls were proud to represent their nation, saying “We feel really good that we can show our talents here. Afghanistan is not just a place of war. Afghan girls can build robots and compete in global competitions.”

Afghan Team Selfie
Photo by: Hoshang Hashim/Agence France-Presse

One of the competition’s goals, aside from celebrating science, technology, math and engineering, is to build bridges and cooperation across cultural borders through a shared love of robotics. Every nation is invited to send one team of high school STEM lovers, and creating alliances is essential to succeed given the structure of the competition. The founder of FIRST Dean Kamen has said “FIRST Global is getting them at a young age to learn how to communicate with each other, cooperate with each other and recognize that we’re all going to succeed together or we’re all going down together.” Despite their visa troubles and uncertainty, the girls were fully able to partake in the collaborative spirit found in D.C.

Afghan Team Robotics
Photo by: Paul J. Richards

Visa Obstacles

On the tail end of The Supreme Court approving Trump’s travel ban, the team of six faced rejection when their request for a one-week visa to The U.S was denied. They traveled upwards of 500 miles to war torn Kabul to meet with U.S officials twice only to be shot down both times. Though disheartened, the girls refused to give up.

U.S officials never gave a reason for the rejection, citing confidentiality. However, from his discussions with U.S officials, Afghan Ambassador Hamdullah Mohib supposes the main reasoning was a fear that the girls would not return to their hometown.

After international media uproar in support of the girls, Donald Trump eventually intervened and personally granted the girls access to the country and competition.

“We were so interested, because we find a big chance to show the talent and ability of Afghans, show that Afghan women can make robots, too,” said Rodaba Noori, one of the teammates. After all the hardships they have endured, the team is certainly a representation of perseverance and are showing the strength of Afghans like they desired.

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