Championing environmental sustainability in Malawi schools: inspiring the next generation

By Naomi Oates, Fiskani Kondowe, and Evance Mwathunga (UPGro Hidden Crisis)

 ‘This activity has been inspiring for us and we will work very hard to reach university and be able to carry out experiments using big machines which we have seen from your presentations’ – a learner at Pirimiti Secondary School, in Zomba district

In March 2018 a team of motivated scientists from ‘Malawi Girls in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics’ (MAGSTEM) at Chancellor College, a scholar from the Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures (University of Sheffield) facilitated by an UPGro researcher teamed up to reach out to disadvantaged schools in Zomba, Malawi. The talks were inspired by our realisation from UPGro research survey that learners in rural schools in Malawi, in spite of their curiosity to know what we were doing in our groundwater research, they lacked knowledge regarding environmental sustainability including water. The aim of the workshops, therefore, was to encourage students to care for their local environment and to inspire them to pursue careers in the sciences.

Photos 2 & 3: The water purification experiment

During the workshops students from Naisi and Pirimiti Secondary Schools brainstormed the threats to water resources in their area, highlighting deforestation, pollution and climate change as big challenges. Groups of girls and boys then tried a simple water purification experiment using a plastic bottle, cloth filter and (the magic ingredient) activated charcoal. They were excited to find that it really works! After a few minutes, clean water started to appear at the bottom of the bottle. Not only does the cloth filter out big particles but the charcoal acts as a coagulant for the smaller particles, making they stick together in lumps. This process is very similar to the methods used in real-life water treatment works – places that these students could work in future as water chemists or engineers.

The MAGSTEM volunteers concluded with an inspiring talk about career options and promised to return with more information. As a team, we were very impressed by the bright sparks we met at Naisi and Pirimiti Secondary Schools and encouraged them to work hard for their exams. Several students said they were keen to study at university in future, in subjects like medicine, chemistry or maths. We hope to welcome them soon!

In his concluding remarks, the Naisi head teacher wrapped it all:

‘We appreciate your effort of showing the students that science is fun and that students can be innovative and resourceful by using locally available resources to better their lives. Your talk has cleared the myths and stereotypes among our rural learners especially girls that science is tough ’.

Photo credits: Naomi Oates, Fiskani Kondowe, and Evance Mwathunga

Meeting Kenyan girls’ thirst for groundwater knowledge through ‘Water Clubs’

by Nancy Gladstone and Saskia Nowicki, Gro for GooD project, November 2017

Red dye spreading through a model ‘aquifer’ helps girls from Kingwede School in Kwale County, Kenya understand how pollutants travel in groundwater. The students are part of a school water club supported by the Gro for GooD project in partnership with mining company Base Titanium Ltd. Maji (water in Swahili) clubs  at 3 secondary schools within the Gro for GooD study area are proving to be an effective outreach mechanism for the groundwater research project. Almost 100 students are involved and over half of them are girls. The focus is on learning through activities, which have included hands-on sessions about groundwater recharge, storage and pollution using aquifer kits; practical experiments using water quality tests to demonstrate simple water filters and safe water storage; installing and gathering data from rain gauges; and field trips to see industrial water use and borehole drilling.

We asked the girls at Kingwede Maji to write a short paragraph on why they signed up to the club. Their responses indicated just how aware they are of the problems associated with inadequate water management – the risk of disease, time-consuming treks to waterpoints, seasonal water scarcity — and just how motivated they are to find solutions.

collecting samples
Students at Mivumoni School collecting samples for water quality testing during a club activity led by Geofrey Wekesa (teacher and researcher, also pictured above)

 

“Where I live we have rivers and also other sources of water. Our water get polluted especially the river water mainly from animal waste. I am in this club so that I can know how to treat the water so that it can be safe for use.” Munirah R.

“I am so eager to know how that water from the river may reach nearer where we can easily get it. Reason being that from our homes to the river is quite a long distance and it usually takes us almost a whole day looking for the water. Which is time wasting and also tiresome.” Jackline K.

“The reason as to why I am interested in this water project is to know why some of the areas in Kwale County and all other parts in our country have scarce water supply? And what causes this? And what are the things which we can do to avoid this?” Halimah A.

The clubs are now working on group projects with remote support (via WhatsApp groups!) from staff and students at the University of Oxford. Meanwhile, Gro for GooD researchers and the clubs’ champion teachers are preparing material for a resource package that will capture the learning from the programme. We are also working on developing partnerships and networks for wider dissemination of the resources in Kenya.

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Students from Kingwede Girls School learning about industrial water use on a trip to Base Titanium mine. A major goal of the initiative is showcasing career options and pathways in environmental science and management.

It is inspiring how much these students want to deepen and share their understanding of water. Whether they decide to pursue careers in water management or simply become better-informed members of groundwater-reliant communities, the knowledge they gain through the water clubs will help them have a positive impact.

“When the club was introduced to my school I saw it as a big opportunity and decided to join it because I knew I would get ideas that would help back at home. My hope is that I will learn several ways to purify water which will bring an impact back to my home county.” Fatma M.

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