Afghan girls get to compete in brainy US competition
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
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.