Afghan all-girl team shines at robotic competition

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Washington, July 21 (IANS) A team of six Afghan girls has won the limelight in an international robotic competition held there for their “courageous achievement” after a bumpy US journey that almost crushed their dreams.

They were in Washington DC this week for the First Global Challenge event, a robotic contest that encourages youth to pursue careers in science, reports Xinhua news agency.

The three-day event, which kicked off over the weekend, attracted teenagers from over 150 countries, competing at DAR Constitution Hall for medals of a variety of categories.

The Afghan girls won a silver medal on Tuesday for what judges praised the group’s “can-do attitude” as they overcame war, hardship and US bureaucracy on their way to the contest.

The six girls came from Herat province. In order to get permission to attend the event to be held abroad, they twice travelled about 800 km from their hometown across dangerous territories to the US embassy in Kabul, only to have their visa rejected.

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“When I heard the embassy’s decision, I got very disappointed and I could not believe it,” 14-year-old team leader Fatemah Qaderyan told Xinhua.

“I worked very hard to learn about robotics and how to build them,” said Qaderyan, who cried after learning the team’s visa was turned down.

The second time didn’t work either though the girls convinced their worried parents into allowing them to travel again to Kabul in the aftermath of a truck bombing in May that killed over 150 people.

The US authorities didn’t disclose reasons for rejection, but the Afghan Ambassador to the US, Hamdullah Mohib, reportedly said the decisions were based on concerns that those girls, aged between 14 to 16 years old, would not return to their country after the contest.

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Eventually, a global outcry promoted the US to have their visas approved and the girls arrived in DC at midnight on Saturday, only a day prior to the robot competition’s opening.

In the competition, each team, provided with kits that included wheels, gears and video controllers, manoeuvre a robot to collect and sort orange and blue based on their colours.

Though the Afghan girls, selected from 150 teenager applicants based on maths and science exams scoring, did not make to the top ranks overall, they agreed their performance was better than what they had hoped for, given the limited robot-related resources accessible to their start-from-scratch training.

–IANS

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