A team of Gambian robotics students were finally given permission to travel to the United States for an international competition after having visa applications twice denied. The U.S. government never specified why the applications of the five teenagers on the team were denied, although Gambia is a Muslim majority country; Gambia was not included among the nations covered by the travel ban from Muslim countries proposed by U.S. President Donald Trump. The spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy in Gambia has limited herself to saying that in an appeal, the Embassy will consider new or additional information when considering the second application for a visa after an initial rejection. However, the team had to travel without Mucktarr Darboe, one of the coaches on the team. Darboe is a member of Gambia’s ministry of higher education, and the United States has banned the granting of visas for Gambian government officials since last year. This follows a situation last week where an entirely female group of roboticists from Afghanistan were denied U.S. visas and had to watch their project compete via Skype.
The Gambians are competing in the First Global contest, which has representatives from 164 countries showing off their skills in robotics. The First Global organization operates with the purpose of promoting science, technology, engineering and mathematics among U.S. and international students. This particular competition is a three day event and will begin July 16th.
The project by the Gambians is a robot made to clean contaminated rivers. Fatoumata Ceesay, a 17-year-old member of the team, said, “I hope to come back with knowledge and inspiration to give young Gambians, especially the girls.” Ceesay says that the increasing interest in careers in medicine in Africa has inadvertently led to a decline in the African engineering industry. As a result, she hopes that success stories such as this one will impulse more Africans to pursue careers in this field.