Huddled around a small table in the halls of a cavernous Washington concert hall, a group of Afghan girls tweak gears and sprockets on their radio-controlled robot, hoping to best the competition.
The plight of the Afghan team had made headlines around the world after it appeared to underscore the negative consequences of stricter visa policies for Muslim countries under Trump. The US leader recently succeeded in passing a limited version of a long-touted travel ban -- temporarily barring visitors from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen without a "bona fide" US connection and all refugees - pending a hearing by the Supreme Court. Afghanistan was not on the list, but critics contended the frequency of such refusals undermined the administration's pledge to empower women. A team from Gambia was also temporarily barred.
Eventually, however, all 163 teams -- including those from Iran, Sudan and a team of Syrian refugees -- were granted visas.
"Robotics is a field that is part of my life. I'm so happy to be here and participate against the other teams," said 15-year-old Lida Azizi told, adding she was a "bit nervous" about taking part in her first competition.
The competition tests multiple skill sets -- programming the machines, adjusting the hardware to maneuver more efficiently, and dexterity in controlling the devices while under time pressure.
"We up-cycled material and used trash," said Alireza Mehraban, the Afghan team mentor, explaining how the team created a simple suction device using a Coca-Cola bottle.
Unlike their counterparts from wealthier countries, the Afghans had unique problems they had to contend with, such as a lack of some basic equipment.
"Fifteen years ago, Afghan women couldn't read and write and they didn't have any rights," said Roya Mahboob, an Afghan tech entrepreneur.
"And today with the help of the international community, we have a lot of women going to school, going to university -- they are becoming ministers. We are the same as the boys and they should give us the same opportunity. If you give access to education and technology it doesn't matter what your gender is," she said.
Updated Date: Jul 18, 2017 16:40 PM