Robotics competition pits high school students against teams from around the world

Calgary High School Students Carry the Flag for Eritrea at International Robotics Competition


Five Calgary high school students are representing Eritrea in Singapore at an international robotics competition. (L-R: Heyab Samson, Adonai Habte, Rafael Abraha, Yosan Woldeghebriel, and Niyat Dimtzu)

Five Calgary high school students are heading to Singapore this week to test their new robot against others from around the world. But they’re not representing Canada. They’ll be carrying the flag for the small East African country of Eritrea.

“It definitely means a lot to our families and the community,” said team member Adonai Habte, who was born in Canada to a family that moved here from Eritrea.

“Not a lot people people get this opportunity. We know the weight is on our shoulders. It’s a big responsibility but we have the support of people all around.”

The Calgary community has been sending a robotics team to the competition to represent Eritrea since 2018 after they noticed Eritrea was absent from the annual competition. The Canadian team this year is coming from Edmonton.

The group got a small kit of equipment and has been working on their robot and the underlying computer code all summer. It has to be able to recognize the colours of different balls, filter them, and shoot them in order to compete in the games at the four-day event.

The competition runs from Oct. 7 to 10 and is called the First Global Challenge. Organizers expect 190 countries will be represented.

“I’m really excited to meet other country’s teams. We have a cultural day, too, so we get to show off our culture and see other cultures, too. I’m really excited for that,” said team member Rafael Abraha.

The hardest part of the challenge was building a shooter since that’s new to the robot this year, said Abraha.

But when they get frustrated, “we talk it out,” he said. “I feel like this group is pretty close. We all got chemistry.”

The group is aged 14 to 18, all from the local Calgary Eritrean community.

“It’s unfortunate we couldn’t send people from back home, but (they) didn’t have a team. That’s why we’re sending people from here,” said team member Niyat Dimtzu.

“It’s an honour to represent (Eritrea) because unfortunately, back home in Eritrea, their visas can get declined and they have problems traveling,” added Habte.

Heyab Samson went last year as well. She said it can be challenging as a second-generation immigrant to balance Canadian and Eritrean identities. But there’s a lot of pride involved in an event like this, where they can mix with youth from many different backgrounds.

“You get to show someone where you’re from, straight from your ethnic roots and not just your Canadian part,” she said. “It’s just good to have that opportunity.”

They expect family from all over the world will be watching. [ELISE STOLTE | CBC NEWS]