After visa delays, Afghan girls’ robotics team arrives in D.C. for global competition


With two words — “Team Afghanistan” — the crowd assembled in the stands at DAR Constitution Hall erupted into a deafening roar Sunday as the teenage girls made their way onto a sprawling stage, waving their country’s flag and wearing headscarves in matching colors.

Their triumphant entrance on the stage Sunday at the FIRST Global Robotics Challenge marked the end of a long and uncertain journey to the United States. As of last week, their dream of traveling to what has been billed as the “Olympics of Robotics” had been shot down when their visas were denied, despite two grueling trips from their home in Herat to Kabul for interviews with U.S. State Department officials.

But after their plight made international headlines, President Trump intervened at the last minute to grant the girls passage to the United States, and they arrived Saturday.


Besides the girls from Afghanistan, the team from Gambia also had visa issues, according to the Associated Press, before their applications were also ultimately approved.

Because of sanctions, Global FIRST was unable to ship a robotics kit to Iran, where a group of teenagers was awaiting the parts to build a robot. That might have spelled the end of the team’s shot of going to the world championships. But the organization introduced the Iranian team to a group of teenage robotics enthusiasts at Marshall High School in Fairfax County, Va., calling themselves Team Gryphon. The team in Iran sketched out blueprints on the computer and sent the designs to their counterparts across the ocean, and then corresponded over Skype.

Sunday, the team flew the Iranian flag at their station next to the flag of Team Gryphon — a black flag with a purple silhouette of the gryhpon — as a sign of their unlikely partnership. For Mohammadreza Karami, the team’s mentor, it was an inspiring example of cooperation.

“It’s possible to solve all of the world’s problems if we put aside our politics and focus on peace,” Karami said.

Kirsten Springer, a 16-year-old rising junior at Marshall High, said she didn’t want the Iranian team to be locked out of the competition just because of the sanctions.

“Everybody should be able to compete … and to learn and to use that experience for other aspects of their life,” Springer said.