At the FIRST Global Challenge robotics competition held in Washington D.C. last month, more than 150 teams of young people from all over the world presented a plethora of ingenious automated creations. But one team stood out in the international contest designed to support youth in their passion for math, science, and technology. A team of six young Afghan women proudly represented their home country, despite being rejected twice for travel visas to the United States until mounting public pressure prompted President Trump to intervene personally only days before the competition.
The team members twice made the 500-mile journey from their hometown of Herat, Afghanistan, to Kabul to apply for the visas, only to be rejected each time. While U.S. officials will not confirm why the young women were denied visas, Afghan Ambassador Hamdullah Mohib told CBS News that, based on his conversations with the U.S. Department of State, there were fears that the team members would not return to Afghanistan once they gained entry to the United States. Fortunately, the press soon picked up their moving story, with everyone from The Guardian and The New York Times to CNN and NBC News bemoaning their struggles. Finally, after President Trump intervened on the young women’s behalf to grant them the travel visas, they arrived in the U.S. with less than two days to prepare before the beginning of the competition. [See Afghan Girls Robotics Team Competes After Visa Obstacles, by staff writer, CBS News, 17.Jul.2017.]
The team’s participation in the FIRST Global Competition was especially meaningful due do the limited educational opportunities available to girls and women in Afghanistan. Team member Rodaba Noori remarked to CBS News that “… of course it’s hard for Afghan girls because there is no high school or no college.”
Visa problems and a lack of educational opportunities were not the only hurdles these young women faced. Due to concerns about terrorism, the package containing their robot parts was delayed, leaving them with only two weeks to assemble the robot, compared to many other teams that had had several months to prepare.
Overcoming their obstacles, the team went on to win the first round of the competition and were ultimately presented with a silver medal during the closing awards ceremony for courageous achievement. While a competition, there also was collaboration between teams, and it is heartening to see these teens working together for the greater good. World leaders should take note. And while the young women are grateful to have been able to compete, Noori looks at their success as merely a launching pad to continued achievement in science and technology. “We want to be the young leader of robotic, technology, and science in Afghanistan. We want to work with men to improve our country and make it a better place.” [SeeAfghan Girls Celebrated At Global Robotics Event, by Gaby Galvin, USA News, 19.July.2017.]