[Note: This item comes from friend Ed DeWath. DLH]
Denied: Afghanistan’s All-Girl Robotics Team Can’t Get Visas To The US
By Hilary Brueck
Jun 29 2017
Their robot may have permission to travel, but six teenage Afghan inventors are staying put this summer.
They’ve been rejected for a one-week travel visa to escort their robot to the inaugural FIRST Global Challenge – an international robotics competition happening in Washington DC in mid-July.
The all-girl team representing Afghanistan hails from Herat, a city of half a million people in the western part of the country. To interview for their visas, the girls risked a 500 mile trek cross-country to the American embassy in Kabul – the site of several recent suicide attacks and one deadly truck bomb in early June that killed at least 90 people. Despite the recent violence, the teenagers braved the trip to the country’s capital not once, but twice, hoping a second round of interviews might help secure their 7-day visas after the team was rejected on its first try. But no luck.
Roya Mahboob, who founded Citadel software company in Afghanistan, and was the country’s first female tech CEO, brought the group of girls together for the project.
“It’s a very important message for our people” Mahboob says. “Robotics is very, very new in Afghanistan.”
She says when the girls first heard the bad news about their visas, “they were crying all the day.”
While the State Department won’t comment on the visa denials (those records are confidential), recent numbers suggest it’s pretty tricky to get a travel visa from Afghanistan to the U.S. According to State Department records, in April 2017, the country gave out just 32 of the B1/B2 brand of business travel visas the girls were trying for. Compare that to Baghdad’s 138 B1/B2s issued that same month, or the 1,492 issued at the same time in neighboring Pakistan, and the records suggest the girls’ try was a long shot. Still, they persisted.
Back home in Herat, Team Afghanistan is racing against the clock, putting the final touches on their ball-sorting robot that will travel to the U.S. to compete against 163 other machines from around the globe. The students are screwing together joints, programming the machine’s sensors, and still trying to find one chain. The six haven’t had much time to put this contraption together: their raw materials were held up in customs for months this spring, amid fears over ISIS’ use of robots on the battlefield. But instead of giving up, the girls took matters into their own hands, and designed their own homemade motorized robotic machines while they waited for customs to clear their parts. Just three weeks ago, those supplies cleared customs, and the team finally started working on their official FIRST robot, with remote programming help from a few robotics grad students at Carnegie Mellon.