A team of Gambian student robotics enthusiasts have finally been granted U.S. visas after their two previous applications were denied.
While the initial rejections are unclear, the team will now travel to Washington, D.C., to participate in the FIRST Global Robotics competition that would see teams from about 164 countries, including about 40 from Africa, compete in a series of robotic games scheduled to be held between July 16th and July 18th, according to the BBC.
Team spokeswoman Fatoumata Ceesay, 17, says that her group’s participation in the event is a dream come true.
“We are excited and happy but also disheartened, because we are not going with our mentor because he is a government official,” Ceesay says.
Since U.S. authorities placed a ban on the granting of visas to Gambian government officials after a deportation row last year, Mucktarr Darboe, the team’s mentor and a director at the Gambian Ministry of Higher Education, wasn’t granted a visa.
The robotics competition is organized by FIRST Global, a non-profit organization which aims to promote science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects.
For the competition, the Gambian team built a robot that cleans contaminated rivers.
Ceesay says she hopes her team can achieve success on the international stage to highlight the Gambia’s potential to innovate and inspire her peers to pursue careers in STEM fields, such as engineering.
“I hope to come back with knowledge and inspiration to give young Gambians, especially the girls,” Ceesay says.
Last week, Face2Face Africa reported that the team — made up of five Gambian high school students aged 17 and 18 — were left disappointed after the U.S. consulate in Banjul repeatedly turned down their visa applications following an interview in April.
An all-girls team from Afghanistan was also denied U.S. entry visas to showcase their creation at the same competition.
U.S. President Donald Trump‘s controversial travel ban on residents, citizens, and refugees from six Muslim-majority countries went in to operation last week.
However, neither the Gambia nor Afghanistan are mentioned on the list.
by Mark Babatunde