Afghan girls ro­bot­ics team com­petes af­ter visa is­sues

Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition - - NATION & WORLD - By Jes­sica Gresko

WASH­ING­TON — Their team shirts didn’t say “Afghanistan” and their name badges were hand­writ­ten, not typed, sug­gest­ing the last-minute na­ture of their en­try into the United States. But the Afghan girls com­pet­ing 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 U.S. visas be­fore Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump in­ter­vened. They ar­rived in Wash­ing­ton from their home­town of Herat, Afghanistan, early Satur­day, and their ball-sort­ing ro­bot com­peted in its first round 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 ac­knowl­edged, though, that the team “hadn’t long, or enough time to get ready for com­pe­ti­tion.”

The girls’ strug­gle to over­come war, hard­ship and U.S. bu­reau­cracy on their jour­ney to the U.S. cap­i­tal 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 U.S. won’t say why the girls were re­jected for visas. But Afghan Am­bas­sador Ham­dul­lah Mo­hib said that based on dis­cus­sions with U.S. of­fi­cials, it ap­pears the girls were turned away due to con­cerns they would not re­turn to Afghanistan.

Speak­ing with the as­sis­tance of a trans­la­tor, team mem­ber Fatemah Qaderyan, 14, said that she was “grate­ful” to be able to com­pete.

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