Ro­bot­ics en­try

Afghan girls get to com­pete in brainy US com­pe­ti­tion

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE -

WASH­ING­TON — Their team shirts didn’t say “Afghanistan” and their name badges were hand­writ­ten, not typed, sug­gest­ing the lastminute na­ture of their en­try into the United States. But the Afghan girls com­pet­ing on Mon­day in an in­ter­na­tional ro­bot­ics com­pe­ti­tion in Wash­ing­ton were clearly ex­cited to be rep­re­sent­ing their na­tion.

The team of six teenage girls was twice re­jected for US visas be­fore Pres­i­dent Donald Trump in­ter­vened at the last minute. They ar­rived in Wash­ing­ton from their home­town of Herat, Afghanistan, on Satur­day, and their ball­sort­ing ro­bot com­peted in its first round on Mon­day.

“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 team mem­bers. She ac­knowl- edged, though, that the team “hadn’t long, or enough time to get ready for com­pe­ti­tion”.

The girls’ strug­gle to over­come war, hard­ship and US bu­reau­cracy on their jour­ney has made their team stand out among more than 150 com­pet­ing in the FIRST Global Chal­lenge, a ro­bot­ics com­pe­ti­tion de­signed to en­cour­age youths to pur­sue ca­reers in math and science.

The US won’t say why the girls were re­jected for visas, cit­ing con­fi­den­tial­ity rules. But Afghan Am­bas­sador Ham­dul­lah Mo­hib said that based on dis­cus­sions with US of­fi­cials, it ap­pears the girls, who are 14 to 16 years old, were turned away due to con­cerns they would not re­turn to Afghanistan.

Speak­ing with the as­sis­tance of a trans­la­tor who sum­ma­rized their re­marks, 14year-old team mem­ber Fatemah Qaderyan, said that she was “grate­ful” to be able to com­pete.

Her team­mate, 15-year-old Lida Az­izi, said she was a lit­tle “ner­vous” but also ex­cited to be play­ing and “proud”.

“Ro­bot­ics is a field that is part of my life. I’m so happy to be here and par­tic­i­pate against the other teams,” she said.

Though there was a crush of me­dia at­ten­tion, the girls looked much like other com­peti­tors, wear­ing jeans along with white head­scarves. Their mi­crowave-sized ro­bot, like that of other teams, dis­played their coun­try’s black, red and green flag.

“I’m so happy they can play,” said their men­tor Alireza Mehra­ban, a soft­ware en­gi­neer. He added: “They are so happy to be here.”

While teams had up to four months to build their ro­bots, the Afghan team built theirs in two weeks be­fore it had to be shipped to reach the com­pe­ti­tion in time, Mehra­ban said. He said the girls had a day to test the ro­bot in Afghanistan be­fore it needed to be mailed.

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.” Rod­aba Noori, team mem­ber

JACQUELYN MARTIN / AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Mem­bers of the Afghan team make a re­pair to their ro­bot af­ter the first round of com­pe­ti­tion in the FIRST Global Ro­bot­ics Chal­lenge in Wash­ing­ton on Mon­day.

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