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Liberian Students Aim For Victory At Robotics Competition In Louisville

Babygirl Jacobs

The 2017 VEX Robotics Worlds Championship is happening this week at the Kentucky Exposition Center. About 1,400 students from around the world will compete.

I went to a rented house in the Beechmont neighborhood in South Louisville earlier this week, where a small team from Liberia was preparing for the competition. Listen to their story in the player above.

Babygirl Jacobs is in the United States for the first time And she's not into the food here.

"So when I came and they brought the pizza, I lost my appetite because I don’t like it at all," Jacobs said.

The 12-year-old prefers food from where she’s from in Liberia — food like cassava, bread plantains, and baked fish. But her first trip to the U.S. isn’t about cuisine. She’s here to win at the VEX Robotics competition.

"Yes, I’m gonna win the competition because there are many strategies that we put together from Liberia and we have come to prove ourselves," she said.

Jacobs and four other students are a part of Wahjay-STEM, a pilot program in Liberia that teaches science, technology, engineering and math education. Since learning about robots, the students have been able to do practical things in their homes. They fix things for their families, like radios or power generators.

Getting the students to compete in a worldwide robotics competition was no small feat. One of the biggest obstacles to teaching these kids 21st century tech skills was Liberia’s past.

The country was engrossed in a 14-year civil war that ended in the early 2000s. That left Liberia’s infrastructure — including its education system — in shambles. According to UNICEF, 80 percent of schools in the country were damaged.

The Wahjay-STEM program started in 2016, and has served 25 students so far. That’s a small dent. But it’s also a step toward training the country’s future engineers — who could maybe rebuild Liberia’s roads and bridges one day.

But first, there's this week's competition.

Roxanne Scott covers education for WFPL News.