No, The Afghan Girls' Robotics Team Is Not A Threat To America

No, The Afghan Girls' Robotics Team Is Not A Threat To America

The robot they built will be in the U.S., but the Afghan all-girls team behind it was denied entry.
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FIRST Global hosts a yearly international robotics challenge, encouraging rising STEM leaders to engage in an "Olympics-style" robotics event that "builds bridges between high school students with different backgrounds, languages, religions, and customs." This year, Afghan girls do not have that bridge extended to them.

The team of six teenage girls from Herat, Afghanistan were meant to receive raw materials for their project from the U.S. in March, but amidst concerns of terrorism, the materials were delayed for many months. Nevertheless, the group built a motorized ball-sorting robot using household materials, and on their profile for the competition, they wrote: "As a dedicated group of students, mentors, and volunteers, we aim to transform the culture of our community through the STEAM program and become some of the young leaders of science and technology."

They traveled 500 miles from their hometown to the U.S. embassy in Kabul ㅡ where violence has recently surged ㅡ to apply for their visas. Twice, the girls experienced rejection.

The controversy is manifold; the girls have been denied entry, and the State Department has provided no explanation as to why. Granted, State Department records indicate the difficulty in receiving a business travel visa from Afghanistan; only 112 were given in May, whereas 1,091 were provided to Iran. Assumptions have been made linking their denial to the ever-debated travel ban, but countries on the ban list have been granted visas, including Sudan, and Iran. Only Afghanistan and Gambiaㅡanother predominantly Muslim country ㅡ have been kept from the event.

Joe Sestak, president of FIRST Global and former congressman has expressed his frustration with the decision made. However, he defended the efforts of the State Department, claiming that they had ensured the arrival of 156 other teams and provided the team with a fair opportunity. Attempting some form of reparation, Sestak has allowed a group of Afghan girls in the United States to learn to operate the robot submitted by the team and present it for the event. The teams for whom visas have been denied can further view the event via Skype.

Although efforts to accommodate the girls are admirable in intent, they hardly compensate for the reality of the situation. Afghanistan has seen women banned from school, from working outside their homes, and from leaving home without male relatives present. Being able to contribute to this competition demonstrates the drastic progress that the country has seen, as well as the hope that persists amidst Taliban insurgency controlling 40 percent of territory there.

It is difficult to see this story as removed from the circumstances and mindset of a post-9/11 world. The injustice the girls have faced should be remembered not only for their resilience, but for the progress we have yet to see. With or without the reasoning of the State Department, they are youths not unlike those of any other country; their efforts are ones of aspiration, not of threat.

Cover Image Credit: ErikaWittlieb / Pixabay

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An Open Letter to the Person Who Still Uses the "R Word"

Your negative associations are slowly poisoning the true meaning of an incredibly beautiful, exclusive word.
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What do you mean you didn't “mean it like that?" You said it.

People don't say things just for the hell of it. It has one definition. Merriam-Webster defines it as, "To be less advanced in mental, physical or social development than is usual for one's age."

So, when you were “retarded drunk" this past weekend, as you claim, were you diagnosed with a physical or mental disability?

When you called your friend “retarded," did you realize that you were actually falsely labeling them as handicapped?

Don't correct yourself with words like “stupid," “dumb," or “ignorant." when I call you out. Sharpen your vocabulary a little more and broaden your horizons, because I promise you that if people with disabilities could banish that word forever, they would.

Especially when people associate it with drunks, bad decisions, idiotic statements, their enemies and other meaningless issues. Oh trust me, they are way more than that.

I'm not quite sure if you have had your eyes opened as to what a disabled person is capable of, but let me go ahead and lay it out there for you. My best friend has Down Syndrome, and when I tell people that their initial reaction is, “Oh that is so nice of you! You are so selfless to hang out with her."

Well, thanks for the compliment, but she is a person. A living, breathing, normal girl who has feelings, friends, thousands of abilities, knowledge, and compassion out the wazoo.

She listens better than anyone I know, she gets more excited to see me than anyone I know, and she works harder at her hobbies, school, work, and sports than anyone I know. She attends a private school, is a member of the swim team, has won multiple events in the Special Olympics, is in the school choir, and could quite possibly be the most popular girl at her school!

So yes, I would love to take your compliment, but please realize that most people who are labeled as “disabled" are actually more “able" than normal people. I hang out with her because she is one of the people who has so effortlessly taught me simplicity, gratitude, strength, faith, passion, love, genuine happiness and so much more.

Speaking for the people who cannot defend themselves: choose a new word.

The trend has gone out of style, just like smoking cigarettes or not wearing your seat belt. It is poisonous, it is ignorant, and it is low class.

As I explained above, most people with disabilities are actually more capable than a normal human because of their advantageous ways of making peoples' days and unknowingly changing lives. Hang out with a handicapped person, even if it is just for a day. I can one hundred percent guarantee you will bite your tongue next time you go to use the term out of context.

Hopefully you at least think of my friend, who in my book is a hero, a champion and an overcomer. Don't use the “R Word". You are way too good for that. Stand up and correct someone today.

Cover Image Credit: Kaitlin Murray

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No Offense, Swifties, But We Shouldn't Need Celebrities Coaxing Us To Vote

Honestly, why did you wait for your favorite singer to tell you to register?

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The midterm election will be taking place this November and many people have been trying to encourage others to register to vote. Unfortunately, not many young people take advantage of their voting rights. According to the United States Census Bureau, roughly only 12% of people who range from 18- to 24-years-old voted in the 2016 Presidential Election. These previously low numbers have been inspiring campaign ads to push the youth to vote for the upcoming election. Celebrities are also taking the matter into their hands and are speaking out about voting. Icons like Taylor Swift and Rihanna have recently used their platform to encourage their young audience to vote.

But honestly, why did you wait for your favorite singer to tell you to register?

As much as I admire these celebrities for taking the initiative to persuade fans to vote, I'm a bit bothered at the fact that people are only voting because their idols told them to. Why are people suddenly realizing voting is important once their favorite stars open their mouths about the matter? As young adults, we should already be paying attention to national news and wanting to make a difference.

Buzzfeed News reported the number of voters who registered after Swift urged her audience. A statement from Kamari Guthrie, director of communications for Vote.org, quotes, "... 65,000 registrations in a single 24-hour period since T. Swift's post." While this appears to be great news, it's concerning knowing that those 65,000 citizens only registered after Swift's public announcement.

There are more important reasons why you should practice your right to vote.

Voting should be taken seriously. It's a privilege and a responsibility that all American citizens have. Our ballots direct us to what our future will look like, so it's imperative to consider your choice wisely. Our decisions will impact issues revolving healthcare, education, unemployment, foreign policies, etc.

These are huge subjects that can't be taken lightly. In order to fully grasp what each problem entails and what each party wants to do regarding them, we need to do heavy research. Sure, maybe it's not fun. But you know what's not fun? Letting other voices control your future.

People assume that our voices won't be heard because of the electoral college or that their one vote won't make a difference. That's not true. And it's that type of mindset that puts poor leaders into office. We need you guys at the polls in November. I know you vent on Twitter or complain to your friends about what's happening in the world right now, so why don't we start making the change?

YOUR VOICE MATTERS! Remember that.

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