Afghan girls robotics team competes after visa issues
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.