The high school team planned to compete in an international robotics challenge in Washington D.C.
A group of six high school girls from Afghanistan traveled 500 miles from their hometown in Herat to the busy and dangerous streets of Kabul. They visited the American Embassy to apply for week-long Visa. The goal of the all-girl robotics team was to compete at the international robotics competition, “FIRST Global Challenge”, in Washington D.C.
While the mechanical robot the girls created was officially authorized to travel to the U.S– its creators were still denied permission. Roya Mahboob, known as the first female tech CEO in Afghanistan, had first introduced the girls to the world of robots. In an interview with Forbes, Mahboob explained that after receiving the sad news regarding the Visas, “[The girls] were crying all day”. She went on to comment, “Robotics is very new in Afghanistan”, and participating in the competition would bring a “very important message” to the Afghan people.
The U.S. State Dept. refused to comment on the Visa denial, claiming confidentiality. Yet, just recently, the Supreme Court officially approved President Trump’s travel ban. The ban prohibits entrance of visitors from Iran, Lybia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. Apparently the ban now also includes the Afghan high school robotics team.
The six teenagers tried a second time, expecting U.S authorities might be more lenient during a second review. Still, they were denied. According to U.S. State Dept. records, only 32 “B1” and “B2” travel Visas were released to citizens of Afghanistan in April 2017. This is a very small number compared to neighboring countries, such as Pakistan, wherein 1,492 travel Visas were issued the same month.
The team faced more obstacles. For months, different pieces and materials that they needed to build their robot were held in custody at the border. Apparently, the State Department was afraid these elements could be used by ISIS. The parts were finally released and the team had less than three weeks to build the robot for the competition.
The girls now plan to watch their robot compete over a video call from D.C. to Herat.
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