It took an intervention from U.S. President Donald Trump and other officials to allow the girls of the Afghan robotics team to receive visas after two rejections, letting them travel to the United States for a robotics competition.
One of the biggest surprises once in Washington? The tight security.
"The security that we see here is not in Herat, Afghanistan," Kawsar Roshan, a 13-year-old member of the high-profile team, told VOA during the last day of their competition at FIRST Global Challenge, where teenagers from around the world demonstrate their skills in designing, building and programming robotic devices.
"This is a peaceful city. People are not fighting each other, and it is a friendly environment," said Afghan player Fatima Qaderian.
Her homeland has been entangled in almost ceaseless cycles of war and violence for more than 35 years. The United Nations reported Monday that more than 1,660 civilians, many of them women and children, were killed in the war between January and June 2017.
The all-girls Afghan team made it to Washington only a day before the games were launched. Their initial visa applications had been refused by the U.S. embassy in Kabul, but they were granted entry to the country after a request by Trump, U.S. officials said.
On Tuesday, Trump's eldest daughter and senior adviser, Ivanka Trump, paid a special visit to the team and their sponsors. She had previously tweeted that she was looking forward to welcoming them.
The annual international robotics event aims to build bridges between high school students with different backgrounds, languages, religions and customs, and to ignite in them a passion for the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Afghan team member Lida Azizi said she learned "unity and teamwork" at the robotics games.
This year's competition was related to a practical problem that threatens more than a billion people worldwide: inadequate access to clean, drinkable water.
The task of the robots was to pick up and distinguish between blue and orange balls. To score points, teams deposit the blue balls, which represent water, and the orange balls, which represent pollutants, into different locations. The teams play in groups of three nations, with two groups competing head to head. The three-robot alliance that scores the most points in a game wins.
Some information in this report was provided by the Associated Press.