A robotics competition team of Afghan girls won’t be able to watch their creation compete in person.
They were recently denied one-week visas to the United States to come to Washington, D.C., for the First Global Challenge, a new robotics competition that focuses on providing clean water.
The team twice traveled the roughly 500-mile distance to the U.S. embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital, for visa interviews, but officials denied them.
“I wanted this to happen badly, I really did,” said First Global President Joe Sestak, a former Navy admiral and member of Congress. “These girls are courageous.”
Instead, they’ll watch via Skype as their robot competes against creations from over 100 other nations.
Event organizers plan to play a short video of the team at Constitution Hall to honor their effort.
Team Afghanistan was put together under the umbrella of The Digital Citizen Fund, an organization co-founded by Roya Mahboob, an Afghan entrepreneur and Time 100 alum, who said the girls spent the day crying after they found out they wouldn’t get to go to the United States.
“The first time [they were rejected] it was very difficult talking with the students,” Mahboob said. “They’re young and they were very upset.”
They had, after all, spent months as part of the team and had invested time and energy into convincing parents that they should make the often perilous trek to Kabul.
“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. “We want to be that child and pursue our dreams to make a difference in peoples’ lives.”
“We want to make a difference …”
Sestak said he believes the team got a “fair shot” at getting visas, but he’s not sure why they were denied, and the State Department hasn’t responded to a Mashable request for comment. The Syrian refugee team and a team from Sudan were granted visas.
The six Afghan girls already had trouble participating in the competition because the materials they needed to build their robot were held up at the airport.
First Global sent kits full of building materials to each participating team, but Team Afghanistan only got their stuff three weeks ago because officials feared it might wind up in the hands of extremists. Everyone else has been working with their materials since the beginning of March.
Mahboob doesn’t understand why Afghanistan is just one of two countries denied visas for the competition. Being denied is one thing, but being one of two? Still, she hasn’t lost sight of what it means for young girls to create in a society not known for empowering women.
“In Afghanistan, as you know it’s a very man-dominated industry,” she said. “The girls, they’re showing at a young age that they an build something.”