This All-Girl Robotics Team From Afghanistan Was Denied US Visas

Later this month, Washington D.C. will host the inaugural FIRST Global Challenge, an worldwide robotics competition where teens from over 100 countries compete in order to raise enthusiasm for STEM education.

The young inventors, who attend high school in the city of Herat, had to visit the US Embassy in Kabul - 500 miles away - twice to try and secure seven-day visas. They made the journey and interviewed twice, only to have their requests denied, Forbes reports.

"The first time [they were rejected] it was very hard talking with the students", tech CEO Roya Mahboob, who put the Afghani team together, told Mashable.

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"We want to make a difference, and most breakthroughs in science, technology, and other industries normally start with the dream of a child to do something great", Team Afghanistan wrote on its competition page. The State Department declined to comment on the denial. Considering that the girls literally risked their lives in order to apply for a travel visa and still got rejected, such a reaction was completely understandable.

A total of 163 machines are expected to take part in the First Global Challenge, its inaugural robotics event, but the Afghanistan entry is just one of two team denied visas, the other being from Gambia.

Despite the length of the journey and the risk involved, the students made the journey not once but twice, hoping that the second set of interviews might help them secure seven-day passes to the USA, the news outlet added.

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The team was set to compete in the FIRST Global Challenge, an annual worldwide robotics event that aims to get young people - though not exclusively girls - excited about STEM fields. The girls traveled twice to the USA embassy in Kabul, which is more than 500 miles from their hometown of Herat, to interview for their 7-day visas, and they were denied both times without explanation. "And having them not be here for that is certainly very saddening I think in many ways". "We want to show the world we can do it", she said.

Team sponsor Roya Mahboob said the girls were "crying all the day" when they found out they would not be able to test their robot against other young engineers from around the world during the First Global Challenge, told the Washington Post.

Still, the team built a ball-sorting robot on a shortened timeline; their kit only arrived three weeks ago. Just 112 were granted in May, 2017; 780 visas were issued to visitors from Iraq and 4,067 from Pakistan. A causality, Sestak said, of Afghanistan's notable low acceptance rate for visas. "Robotics is very, very new in Afghanistan", she told Forbes.

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