It's not easy to get robotics equipment through customs in Afghanistan, but that didn't deter this plucky bunch.

For months, a team of six teenage girls has been scrambling to build a ball-sorting robot that will compete in an international competition. Other teams received their raw materials in March. But the box sent from America had been held up for months amid concerns about terrorism. So the young engineers improvised, building motorised machines from household materials.

They didn't have time to waste if they were going to compete in the First Global Challenge, an international robotics competition to be held in Washington this month. Young teams from around the world face off against each other, in an effort to engage people in Stem (science, technology, engineering and maths). To participate, the girls from the city of Herat in western Afghanistan needed permission to travel to the United States. So, after they convinced their parents to let them go, they made the 800km journey to the US Embassy in Kabul to apply for their visas. They did this twice, even though that location was targeted by a deadly truck bomb.

But then the team got some bad news: Their visa applications had been denied. Roya Mahboob, who founded the Citadel software company in Afghanistan and was the country's first female technology chief executive, is one of the team's sponsors. When the girls heard the news, she said, "they were crying all the day".


Fourteen-year-old Fatemah told Forbes, "We want to show the world we can do it; we just need a chance."

It's particularly hard to get a business travel visa from Afghanistan to the US. Just 112 were granted in May, 2017.

First Global president and former congressman Joe Sestak was disappointed by the news and frustrated that the "extraordinarily brave young women" won't be able to travel to the US and instead will have to watch their robot compete via Skype. Teams from Iraq, Iran and Sudan will be at the competition.