What risks would you take to escape your own country? For Team Burundi, the six students who represented Burundi in an international robotics fain in Washington, the answer seems to have been; any risk necessary.
The six high school students who made up Team Burundi in the three day FIRST Global Challenge, vanished from the International Robotics fair after coming 73rd out of 143 participants in the competition.
Foul play has since been ruled out as investigators attempted on Sunday to figure out whether their families conspired in their disappearance and where they are currently.
The FIRST Global Challenge was meant to be an event to celebrate the global community and science. It brought together competitors from over 150 nations.
Team Burundi was one of them and the team’s page on the First Global website talks about the teens’ slogan, “Ugushaka Nugushobora,” which can be loosely translated from their native Kirundi language to English as; “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”
According to the website; “We get our motivation for winning this competition through this slogan, which inspires Burundian team,” They, however, did not win the competition and seem to have willed themselves another way.
When the First Global competition wrapped up on Tuesday night, the Burundi mentor discovered that his team had left him their dorm room keys, packed their bags and disappeared.
First Global said in a statement; “There were indications that the student’s absence may have been self-initiated,” but the organizers still notified the police hurriedly on Wednesday morning and a search began.
By Thursdy morning, police had reported that two of the teens — Audrey Mwamikazi, 17, and Don Charu Ingabire, 16 — had been seen crossing into Canada. The police did not, however, say exactly where or exactly when, but added that there was no indication of foul play involving any of the disappearances.
For the rest of the team; Richard Irakoze, 18, Kevin Sabumukiza, 17, Nice Munezero, 17 and Aristide Irambona, 18; no information has yet been released. Canesius Bindaba, the team’s mentor told the Washington Post that he had sent messages back to the families of the teammates back in Burundi and their calm responses had made him suspicious.
According to him, they suggested that he relax, that everything would be alright. Joe Sestak, the FIRST Global President said he was disappointed the students “chose not to return home” but added that he understood the challenges there.
Bindada, however, although he did not dispute the presence of challenges in Burundi insisted that the children did not flee because Burundi was unsafe. He used as a case in point the fact that they had safely worked late on many nights as they had prepared for the competition without any event.
He believes that Team Burundi had help disappearing, saying that it is improbable that six teens who don’t speak English, can’t drive and had never left Burundi managed to navigate a metropolis alone and even cross an international border. He also brought up the issue of brain drain in Burundi, saying that the best and brightest flee for better opportunities.
The mentor who seemed to have been most badly hit by the disappearance said; “For me, they were some kind of hope for the future of this project in Burundi.” It seems, however, that the team was more concerned about saving their own future.