Later in July, young robotics teams from around the world will gather in Washington, D.C. for the annual FIRST Global Challenge. The international robotics competition brings together young students from diverse backgrounds and works to highlight the need for STEM education to address global challenges. This year, 164 teams will participate in the competition, but Afghanistan's all-girl robotics team couldn't secure travel visas to attend the event in the United States.
According to Forbes, the six teenagers made two 500-mile journeys and sat for two rounds of interviews at their American embassy before being rejected twice for the necessary visas. They will still compete, as the robot they built will be shipped to the competition, and the girls will video-conference in for a short time. Still, they'll miss out on the experience of handling their robot in person and getting to know members of the international engineering community.
It's not clear why, specifically, the State Department rejected the team's visa requests, but Forbes noted the low visa-approval rates coming out of Afghanistan in recent months. Interestingly, Afghanistan was not one of the six countries identified in President Trump's travel ban, which was partially reinstated last week by the Supreme Court. Regardless, the FIRST Global organization, which organizes the annual robotics competition, continued to support the team from Afghanistan after its visa requests failed.
The robotics competition will kick off on July 16 in Washington, D.C. and teams from such diverse places as Chile, Liberia, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka will attend. The theme of this year's competition is to "provide access to clean water," according to FIRST Global's website. That's a particularly important challenge for students from Afghanistan, as with many of the other national teams competing. As of 2015, just 55 percent of Afghanistan's population had access to clean drinking water, according to data from the World Bank. (For reference, 99 percent of the U.S. population has access to clean drinking water, according to the same data source.)
During the course of the competition, teams will be organized into alliances. Teams within an alliance will have to work together to complete tasks related to "the storing of drinkable water, filtering of contaminated water, and procuring of new sources water," according to the competition's website.
The event will also coincide with the meetings of various engineering academies to help bridge the gap between the current and next generation of engineers. Although the all-female team from Afghanistan won't make the trip, there's still hope for the team's robot and for the six teenagers to have their say in the competition from the other side of the world.