Afghan Girls’ Robotics Team Wins Limelight at Competition

By Emily Cochrane for The New York Times

WASHINGTON — The Afghan teenager didn’t say anything as she scrolled through three days’ worth of pictures on her phone, her finger swiping across the screen. Feet dangling over a Washington fountain. Posing with students from Iraq and Iran. A meal carefully laid out on an airplane tray.

But then the teenager, Kawsar Roshan, paused, tilting the screen to show a picture of a piece of United States government paperwork she received only Thursday.

“This is my visa,” the 15-year-old said with a broad smile. “It’s a memory.”

It took an international outcry and intervention from President Trump and other officials to allow her and five other girls from an Afghan robotics team to receive visas after two rejections, letting them travel to the United States for participation in First Global, an international robotics contest.

For three days in the Daughters of the American Revolution Constitution Hall, where an African-American woman was once denied the right to sing before an integrated audience in the 1930s, the Afghan girls in head scarves were stars on an international stage, with cameras, lights and whispers trailing them from practice to competition.

“Inspiring, isn’t it?” said Mark Benschop, 44, a parent with the Guyana team, snapping photographs of the Afghan girls adjusting their robot on Monday.

Wai Yan Htun, 18, a member of Myanmar’s team who stopped to get the Afghans’ signatures on his shirt, said: “We love them. They’re like superheroes in this competition.”

Colleen Elizabeth Johnson, 18, one of three teenagers representing the United States, said: “They’re celebrities here now. They’re getting the welcome they deserve.”

Before their first match Tuesday morning, the six Afghan teenagers were paired with the United States and four other all-female teams for a demonstration match for Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and adviser. Ms. Trump then spoke briefly to the crowd, applauding the students’ work and dedication.

“For many of you who have traveled great lengths to be here, we welcome you,” she said, turning to smile at the six Afghan girls. “It’s a privilege and an honor to have you all with us.”

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