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South Sudanese teens develop ocean cleaning robot in STEM challenge

The 2019 FIRST Global Challenge brought attention to the troubling amount of pollutants that find their way into the world’s oceans. Participating teams learned about real-world challenges related to cleaning up the world’s oceans and got a chance to create machines that could tackle these challenges



According to statistics provided by Globe Water, 14 billion pounds of plastics are dumped into the ocean each year. Unlike rivers and streams, trash thrown into the ocean can eventually sink to the bottom and never be seen again thus negatively affecting marine life and global populations.

The organisation also reports that humans are responsible for dumping some 1.2 trillion gallons of untreated wastewater back into bodies of water, ranging from the vast ocean to tiny streams that go on to form rivers. Untreated water pumped back into the Earth, means that roughly 47 percent of people around the globe will struggle to find sufficient stores of drinking water by 2050.

The FIRST Global Challenge therefore sought to highlight this critical issue in order to educate and inspire action to preserve our oceans and wildlife under the theme “Ocean Opportunities”.

The yearly international robotics contest endeavours to ignite a passion for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) among the more than two billion youths across the world. It also seeks to highlight the greatest challenges facing the planet, including the 14 Grand Challenges for Engineering.


This “Olympics”-style robotics challenge ultimately aims to inspire, “students to learn the skills they will need to make the discoveries their parents and grandparents would consider miracles, impossibilities, or just plain science fiction.”

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“By showing the youth of the world that if they learn how to communicate, cooperate, and work together using the tools of science and engineering to find solutions to the world’s grand challenges – water, energy, security, medicine, food, and education – they will learn how to work with each other, trust each other, and become part of a truly global community,” details the challenge’s website.

South Sudanese teens create water cleaning robot

At the recently held First Global Challenge in Dubai, a team of South Sudanese teenagers built a robot that can clean pollutants from water bodies. The team went up against more than 1,500 students from 191 countries in participation. Their robot Ramceil Botics did well during the match although one of its chains fell in the process.


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When the team won their individual match, team member James Madut told Gulf News that the most important lesson he learned was teamwork. “As a youth, our main point is to unite and make a change and work with the community to clean the oceans. We can do it together,” Madut was quoted saying.


Adau Deng Kuol, also from South Sudan, said the competition “gave a voice to people who can do something about the problem”.

Other African teams that placed in the challenge include: Tunisia which received the Albert Einstein Award for FIRST Global International Excellence; Uganda which received the Finalist Alliances Award; Burundi and Sudan both received the Judges Award – Non-Technical for unique efforts, performance or dynamism; Nigeria received the International Enthusiasm Award and Tunisia and Algeria received the Sofia Kovalevskaya Award for International Journey awarded to teams that documented and shared their FIRST Global experience with the global community.