This year at , a robotics competition in Washington, D.C., an international committee of judges will assess the creativity and collaboration of 163 teams from 157 nations focused on tackling the global water crisis. From Sunday through Tuesday, the teams will present robots designed to clean contaminated water, as represented in a simulation by colored balls.
One of the groups attending consists of six teenage girls from Herat, a city in western Afghanistan near the border with Iran. (They will present a device that can recognize and sort balls of different colors.) These young women, who range in age from 14 to 16, know the ravages of water crises firsthand. Indeed, Afghanistan and Iran, which share a border, areusage.
That the girls are able to attend at all is a political miracle. Despite winning a spot in the event, they were turned down twice by the U.S. consulate when they sought visas to come to America, once in May and again in June. Even after traveling to Kabul to try to obtain them, the girls joined their Gambian counterparts as the only teams turned down by local U.S. consulates. This, even though nearly 10,000 U.S. soldiers remain in Afghanistan—with more likely heading there before the year is out—in what has become America’s longest-ever war. As part of America’s presence in Afghanistan, it has invested heavily in girls’ education, maternal health, and the broader issue of women’s rights. These investments are frequently cited by U.S. leaders as measures of the country's progress. Yet it took sustained pressure on and from Washington leaders to bring these six girls, who embody their nation’s forward movement over the past 16 years, to the United States.