Afghan girls robotics team competes after visa obstacles


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 at the last minute. They arrived in Washington from their hometown of Herat, Afghanistan, early Saturday, and their ball-sorting robot competed in its first round Monday morning.

"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, citing confidentiality rules. But Afghan Ambassador Hamdullah Mohib said that based on discussions with U.S. 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, 14-year-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."

Though there was a crush of media attention, the girls looked much like other competitors, wearing jeans along with white headscarfs. 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.

On Monday, they were making adjustments and practicing in between rounds. When a chain seemed to come loose on a part of the robot that moves up and down, a competition judge recommended a larger part, and another team provided one.

Like others in the competition, the girls' robot can pick up and distinguish between blue and orange balls. To score points, teams deposit the blue balls, which represent water, and the orange balls, which represent contaminants, into different locations. The teams play in alliances of three nations, with two alliances competing head to head in 2 ½ minute games. The three-robot alliance that scores the most points in a game wins.

Mehraban, the team's mentor, said their robot managed to score one or two points in the first game and in the final two games of the day they got their robot to successfully hang from a bar, which earned their alliances additional points. The team will play three more matches Tuesday.

____

Associated Press reporter Josh Lederman and Associated Press video journalist Noreen Nasir contributed to this report.


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Nation & World

Trump campaign ad calls Democrats 'complicit' in killings by undocumented immigrants
Trump campaign ad calls Democrats 'complicit' in killings by undocumented immigrants

A new ad released by President Donald Trump's campaign is claiming that Democrats are “complicit” in killings by undocumented immigrants. The ad was released after Senate Democrats opposed a short-term spending bill to keep the government from shutting down. “President Trump is right — build the wall, deport criminals...
Michael Phelps reveals he considered suicide after 2012 Olympics
Michael Phelps reveals he considered suicide after 2012 Olympics

Swimmer Michael Phelps has revealed that after the 2012 Olympics, he considered suicide. “Really, after every Olympics I think I fell into a major state of depression,” he told David Axelrod at the fourth annual conference of the Kennedy Forum, an organization for mental health advocacy, according to CNN. Phelps revealed that...
Deployed troops will be able to watch NFL playoff games
Deployed troops will be able to watch NFL playoff games

UPDATE, 10:03 a.m. 1/21/2018: Despite the shutdown of the United States government early Saturday, the NFL announced Sunday morning that the Armed Forces Network will  air the AFC and NFC Championship games. >> Read more trending news  The NFL also said it is providing free access to the games via NFL Game Pass to all USO centers...
Parents accused of holding their 13 children captive appear in court
Parents accused of holding their 13 children captive appear in court

David and Louise Turpin are facing a string of charges, including torture, after police say the couple kept their 13 children locked away in subhuman conditions in their Perris, California, home. On Thursday, the Turpins made their first court appearance. David Turpin appeared in chains, wearing a lavender shirt and black jacket while his wife...
Dogs found in perfect condition in home where 13 siblings held captive
Dogs found in perfect condition in home where 13 siblings held captive

A pair of well-kept dogs were taken from the Perris, California, house where 13 children were found shackled and severely malnourished last week. David Turpin, 57, and Louise Turpin, 49, are facing a minimum of 94 years for charges including child neglect and torture after police said their children, ranging from ages 2 to 29, were discovered in their...
More Stories