Gambian High School Robotics Team Denied US Visa for Global Contest

I guess the global robotics contest isn’t so “global” after all. The United States has reportedly denied five Gambian high school students visas, consequently prohibiting them from accompanying their invention to a prestigious international competition taking place in the U.S.


According to Al-Jazeera, the Gambian students are the second team that was refused entry into the U.S. to attend the First Global robotics event taking place in the nation’s capital July 16-18. An all-girls team from Afghanistan was also denied.

Moktar Darboe, the director for Gambia’s ministry of higher education, research, science and technology, told Al-Jazeera that the team, made up of high school students ages 17 and 18, were “very disappointed.”

“They put in so much effort into building this, and now, after all the sacrifice and energy they put in, they have been left disheartened,” Darboe said.

The robot the teens created is a ball-sorting machine and will be sent off to the U.S. without them; the Gambian American Association will represent them at the event. The teens will have to watch the event over Skype.

As Al-Jazeera notes, the First Global Challenge is open to students ages 15 to 18 around the world, with 158 countries, including 40 African countries, represented. Currently, only the teams from Afghanistan and Gambia have had their visas denied.

Darboe said that they were given no explanation for the refusal and were denied shortly after their interview at the U.S. Embassy in the capital of Banjul in April. Each student had to pay $170 for a visa application.


“We were only told we did not qualify and that we could try again,” Darboe said. “Their parents had to sacrifice a lot to pay this fee.”

Fatoumata Ceesay, the team’s programmer, told the news site that the team overcame working in less-than-ideal conditions, working hard day and night, with little guidance during the holy fasting month of Ramadan. Gassam said that she was disappointed that she would not be able to represent her home country and “show the world, ‘Yes, we can do it.’”


“But we’re not giving up, despite the challenges we face; we still continue to work hard,” she said. “Next year it will be somewhere else, so I think next year we have hope to get there.”

Read more at Al-Jazeera.

News Editor at The Root, animation nerd, soca junkie, yogi



Darboe said building the robot was difficult. When parts arrived, customs officials took their time in releasing them. “They asked us if were building RoboCop,” he said.

Customs officials always have the best worst jokes.

Also I’m going to admit that I was geographically ignorant and did not know the country’s preferred name is The Gambia. Thanks for teaching me something today, Al Jazeera.