The United States Embassy in the Gambia has denied visas to five students invited to participate in a robotics competition in Washington DC later this month.
The team of young Gambians aged between 17 – 18 were denied visas as far back as April this year but continued to work on their project. Their robot, a ball sorting machine, will be present in the U.S. The FIRST Global Robotics contest takes place between July 16 – 18, 2017.
The official in charge of the team’s preparations told Doha-based Al Jazeera that the students were “very disappointed” by the visa refusal.
An all-girls robotics team from Afghanistan has been rejected for a travel visa to the FIRST Global Challenge in the U.S., via— AJ+ (ajplus) June 30, 2017
According to Moktar Darboe, director of The Gambia’s ministry of higher education, research, science and technology, “they put in so much effort into building this, and now, after all the sacrifice and energy they put in, they have been left disheartened.”
He said after paying an application fee of $170 each, “We were only told that we did not qualify and that we could try again.” As things stand now, they will be represented by the Gambian American Association and they will have to watch their project presentation over Skype from Banjul.
The Gambian team becomes the second students to be refused entry into the U.S. to participate. An Afghan girls team was also denied visas to attend the same competition.
The students, three boys and two girls, had their hopes up when the U.S. ambassador to the Gambia, Patricia Alsup, paid them a visit in June. They, however, resolved to keep working despite the current setback.
FIRST Global organizes a yearly international robotics challenge to ignite a passion for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) among the more than two billion youths across the world.
The competition is open to teenagers between the ages of 15 to 18. According to FIRST, about 158 countries will be represented, including 40 African countries. Only the teams from Afghanistan and The Gambia have had their visas rejected so far.