Ethiopia: overcoming civil conflict to connect

Each year, many teams face obstacles to their participation in the FIRST Global Challenge. But civil conflict and unrest? This is the challenge that Team Ethiopia faced in 2020.

The FIRST Global partner in Ethiopia was excited to assemble students for the 2020 FIRST Global Challenge, but as the season started in July, the team was surprisingly silent. It wasn’t until three weeks into the challenges that the mentor was able to get in touch with FIRST Global to tell us why — the government had shut down the internet around the country.

Throughout 2020, Ethiopia has faced social and political unrest that has resulted in ethnic division, riots, and thousands of deaths. In some regions, Ethiopians are fleeing to seek refuge in neighboring countries. In an effort to curb escalating turmoil and the spread of hate speech and calls for violence, the government shut down the internet.

There was no internet in households, and citizens were not permitted to gather in schools or internet cafes. The mentor of Team Ethiopia had a computer lab, but it had to be shut down after it was damaged in riots. The team’s students were also dealing with the deaths of some family members as a result of the violence. 

However, they were still determined to participate. Although it was very difficult to get internet access without government approval, the mentor managed to secure a temporary connection at an embassy in Addis Ababa so he could get in contact with FIRST Global. However, it wasn’t enough for the team to register or submit any challenges. While Team Ethiopia’s students were safe, they still were unable to participate and had fallen far behind the other competing teams.

It wasn’t until mid-August, about two-thirds of the way into the season, that the mentor traveled outside of the country to get internet access and register the team. Despite the setback, within the week the students got to work submitting as many of the missed challenges as possible. Even so, there were several instances where the team closely escaped danger as they worked together.

For the team, the opportunity to participate in the FIRST Global Challenge was a chance to dream big and work toward those dreams. One team member aspires to be a mechatronic engineer, while another has his eyes set on working for NASA. 

“FIRST Global is an amazing stage for all kinds of people because it promotes STEM education’s importance and shapes youths around the world,” said one student. “STEM helps students like us to expand our knowledge and creativity by helping us to be more critical thinkers and problem solvers. Innovation leads to new products that can help in solving so many problems in our society and supporting the processes that sustain our economy. We learn and develop skills like programming, visualizing an idea, and more that will make our future brighter.”

For Team Ethiopia, their participation provided an avenue to reach beyond the crisis in their country and connect to an international community of peers. They knew how crucial global cooperation is in shaping a better world, rising above differences and conflicts to work together for the betterment of our collective global society. FIRST Global is a model through which students develop connections and life skills that are key to nurturing world peace.

“Through our participation in the FIRST Global Challenge, we get the chance to expand our scope by seeing different people from different countries and different cultures. It teaches us how to cooperate with each other and others from all around the world.”

In this time of division within their country, the students of Team Ethiopia are pulling even more from the lessons FIRST Global has instilled within them. In a climate of chaos, they stood firm in their appreciation of diversity and unity.

Despite the many obstacles, by the end of the competition the team had ranked 77 out of 175, proving to the world that no challenge is too great to overcome with the tools of STEM and determination.

“To be honest, one good thing around us was the FIRST Global Challenge in our community,” said the team’s mentor. “Students escaped from their broken feelings when they took part in the game challenges. FIRST Global brought hope to us once again in these chaotic situations.” 

Source : FIRST Global 2020 Impact Report

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