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Astro UWC Outreach Event wins the IAU100 Women and Girls International Day Events Competition

Author: Nicklaus Kruger

The UWC-sponsored Astro Molo Mhlaba Programme is dedicated to igniting the imagination of young South African women through astronomy - and its outreach efforts recently won the IAU100 Women and Girls International Day events competition.

(Published - 16 September 2019)

The University of the Western Cape and Molo Mhlaba are proud to announce that their "IAU100 Women & Girls in Astronomy @ Molo Mhlaba" event has been selected as the winner of the IAU100 Women and Girls in Astronomy events competition.

The event, which took place In February 2019, marked the celebration of the International Astronomical Union (IAU) IAU100 International Day of Women and Girls in Astronomy with a day of astronomy outreach activities at the Khayelitsha-based school for girls, Molo Mhlaba.

As winners of the Women and GIrls in Astronomy events competitions, the organisers received a EUR1,500 travel grant from the IAU to attend the IAU's Symposium on “Astronomy for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion”, which will take place this November in Tokyo, Japan.

Thanks to the efforts of 13 female astronomers from the University of the Western Cape, the University of Cape Town, the South African Astronomical Observatory, the South African Radio Astronomical Observatory as well as a visitor from Queen Mary University in London, 105 girls from grades pre-R, R 1, and 8 were able to learn about astronomy through fun and interactive activities. 

The pupils learned about the planets, stars, galaxies, the Hubble space station, and more. They crafted origami space shuttles, made their own solar systems out of rope, paper and cardboard, and sang their own Universe songs. The day also included a visit from NASA Astronaut Dr. Ellen Baker, and representatives from the Department of Science and Technology. 

The collaboration between Molo Mhlaba and UWC goes well beyond a one-off event. The day in fact also kicked off the UWC- and Office of Astronomy for Development-sponsored Astro Molo Mhlaba project, which organises weekly astronomy activities in four primary schools and two high-schools in Khayelitsha and Philippi.

“This event wouldn't have been possible without the participation of our fantastic volunteers: Ros Skelton, Danièl Groenewald, Lucia Marchetti, Marisa Gyr, Sarah White, Julia Healy, Tshiamiso Neo Makwela, Imogen Whittam, Eline Maaike De Weerd, Nidhi Pant, Aycha Rajohnson, and the support of the UWC Astrophysics Group,” said Dr. Margherita Molaro, an astrophysics postdoctoral researcher in UWC’s Astrophysics Group, and coordinator of the event and of Astro Molo Mhlaba. “We're immensely proud to have shown the IAU what the South African astronomy community is capable of in its outreach efforts.”

Molo Mhlaba’s school director, Dr. Rethabile Sonibare, said of the day: “We want young girls to be excited about astronomy. We want to have young, black girls doing this and one day perhaps end up being astronomers themselves.”

The school has a radical new approach to schooling in South Africa, providing these girls with access to quality STEM education and career orientation through local, low-fee, independent schools. It provides a holistic approach to tackle the complex challenges that prevent these girls from achieving their potential, and accessing the opportunities studying science opens up in the age of the 4th Industrial Revolution.

“Exposure to astronomy easily captures the imagination of students of all ages, making it the ideal subject to encourage them to pursue STEM careers,” Dr Molaro explained: “The programme reaches groups traditionally-excluded from astronomy, while projecting a positive image of women in positions of leadership.”

Find out more about Astro Molo Mhlaba at www.astromolomhlaba.org


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