Photograph — Reuters

It’s been a week since six Burundian teenagers were declared missing in the United States. The teenagers, age 16 to 18, journeyed from Burundi to the United States to take part in an international robotics competition. But they disappeared immediately the event came to an end.

Two of the teens were reportedly seen crossing into Canada, raising suspicions that it was all a premeditated plan. But as Facebook messages remain ignored, and panic calls to their relatives in Burundi are received with sheer calm, it has become fairly obvious that the teens do not want to be found. And that their relatives are probably in on it.

Canesius Bindaba, the teen’s chaperone/coach said he saw a few signs that the teens probably had a secret plan, but he thought that they were perhaps just anxious about the competition and new surroundings. “Before, I thought they were acting a bit strangely. I thought maybe it was their first time to be there, to see the big buildings that we don’t have here,” Bindaba told the Washington Post.

The last time Bindaba saw the teens was just before the closing ceremony. They were on the floor of the auditorium with other contestants “whistling and whooping,”celebrating the end of the three-day competition. At the end of it all, five of the teenagers had disappeared leaving one, Aristide, behind to help Bindaba load and return the robot to their dorms at Trinity University. Once they arrived, Aristide said he was going to take a shower and he too disappeared.

Bindaba smelled foul play when he unloaded his bag and saw that the other five-team members had left their name tags and room keys in it. “I knew something nasty was happening. I felt it from within,” he said. He quickly rushed to Aristide’s room but he was not there. The rest of the team were not in their rooms as well. “I cannot really describe what I felt over there, but it was really scary for me,” Bindaba told WP.

Bindaba said while he sympathises with the teenagers’ desire to remain in the United States and Canada, he wishes they understood that their skills and potential mean quite a lot for the future of Burundi. “For me, they were some kind of hope for the future of this project in Burundi.”

Joe Sestak, president of FIRST Global, the organisers of the robotics event, said although he understands the challenging state of things in Burundi, he is disappointed that the teenagers chose not to return home.

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