Partial Eclipse, Totally Awesome!

So about a month and a half ago I heard of this really cool program through Astronomers Without Borders, where they were campaigning to send solar glasses to schools across Africa for students to safely view the annular/partial eclipse on the 1st of September.  I contacted them and asked if it would be possible to be a part of this, as I just so happen to work at a school within the path of the eclipse.  Over the course of the next month I did a mini project with my students where I asked them why they chose to continue studying science (physics and chemistry are optional after their 2nd year of secondary school). I shared photos of them with AWB to help fundraise. I also did a couple of email interviews to help raise awareness of the project, and was quoted in online articles with both Sky and Telescope and National Geographic. Each of them wanted to highlight the eclipse to help get the project funded, and they wanted to talk to someone on the ground, who would be receiving the glasses and teaching about astronomy. Really, they wanted to know why I thought it was important to teach students in rural area about science. You can check out both of the articles in the above links. It was fun for me to see my name in articles from two amazing magazines! Thanks for such a neat opportunity!

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-Here is one of my students showing that she wants to be a doctor when she finishes school. I’m not sure if you can read it… It says “I want to save life of people.” Just the sweetest thing.

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– All my form 4 students holding up signs about why they study science and what they want to do after secondary school.

After the campaign ended, AWB was quite short of their goal. However, every dollar earned is still good for one pair of glasses, so many people still got to enjoy the eclipse! I got word that I would officially be receiving the solar glasses and started casually telling my students about eclipses to get them excited. About a week before the eclipse I still didn’t have them in my possession and was getting concerned. It turns our that they had arrived in Dar es Salaam but were being held at customs in the post office. They would not let the package be claimed. This makes me so mad, but that’s not what this story is about. My friends from Astronomers Without Borders worked with another amazing organization called UNAWE Tanzania, who contacted yet another organization on my behalf. A group called Travelling Telescope said they could share some of their solar glasses for my school. I was so excited that another way to get these teaching aids had been found so quickly, but hesitant because of how close it was to the eclipse. I still didn’t want to announce to all the students that we would be getting these awesome things to view the sun with, in case it didn’t happen. No sense in getting their hopes up. 

Since I was still unsure of the solar filters and I wasn’t simply going to let such an opportunity slip away, I needed to find something to do. The day before the eclipse I went to all 8 classes at my school, briefly taught them about eclipses and told them there would be one tomorrow. We all went outside and I demonstrated my pinhole hole projector I built as an alternative method of viewing the eclipse. The students were then free to come to my evening session is they felt like making one as well. About 20 students showed up and we made simple pinhole projectors out of card board boxes. It is just a card board box minus one side, and then you poke a hole in the end so light can shine inside the box and project an image on the opposite wall. As the moon eclipses the sun, the image inside the box also becomes eclipsed.

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– Students building pinhole projectors to safely view the eclipse.

My contact at UNAWE Tanzania told me that the solar glasses would be put on buses and sent to my school. It’s a system that works surprisingly well, and faster than the mail if you live close to a main road. The group from Travelling Telescope was coming from Kenya to be within the narrow path of the annular eclipse, and they sent the glasses ahead on a bus. They miraculously made it to Mbeya, about 5 hours away from me, the night before the eclipse around 10 pm. They were put on another bus set to pass my village late that night. I set my alarm for 2 am, and woke up to no new information. Around 6 am on the day of the eclipse I got a call that they were delayed further and were about to pass my school. At 8 o’clock the bus came around the corner into view… And it didn’t stop at my bus stand. I started running after the bus as I called the driver on the phone. In my panic, I tried to tell him in broken Swahili to stop, and that he passed me. He figured out what I meant, stopped and I ran through my village like a crazy person to get the solar glasses. And I got them! And I cried. I was sooo happy to actually have them in my hand, after a month of trying to get them, and just 2 hours before the eclipse started. It was just amazing timing!

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-The 53 solar glasses donated to my school. Thank you so much Travelling Telescope!

Due to the uncertainty of getting the glasses, I hadn’t really pitched it to the other teachers at my school. I wasn’t sure if all my students would be in class or if they would be free to watch the eclipse with me. Luckily for us all, the eclipse started just as our chai break began. I gave a pair of glasses to each of the three teachers standing next to me, and their reaction of excitement set the standard for the rest of the day. The head master of my school came over to look and he loved it too. All the students were allowed the next two and a half hours to come to the football field with me to watch the eclipse. All the teachers came, students from the primary school came flocking over and anyone who happened to be passing by stopped to see what was going on.

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– Some primary school students stopped by to see what all the commotion was about.

I spent significantly more time taking pictures of my eager students than watching the eclipse, so here are some of those:

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– Some of the other teachers and even students helped the younger ones enjoy the eclipse too!

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The pinhole projectors were also a success:

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Here I pose with my head master and second master as the show off how proud they are of the solar glasses:

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And some shots I took of the eclipse through a solar filter:

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Shortly after maximum eclipse, my students had to return to their classrooms. I took this opportunity to watch a bit of the eclipse for myself and then I brought a few pairs of solar glasses around the village to show random people the eclipse. Most of them said they noticed it get colder and darker, but didn’t really know what was going on. I heard some very interesting ideas from around the village. Some people thought it was witchcraft but I think they were mostly joking. Very seriously a few people thought it was Judgement Day, and that the world was coming to an end. I even had one person ask me who won, between the sun and the moon. After some explanation of what he was asking me, I understand that he was under the impression that the sun and moon had collided, and wanted to know which one survived the collision. I heard some all kinds of explanations, and am very glad I went out to teach people other than my students. They also all seemed to enjoy the glasses very much:

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At the end of the day, I was exhausted. It was one of my best days in Tanzania so far, both for the eclipse itself and the fact that I got to share it with so many of my curious students and friends. I want to give a huge thank you to everyone at Astronomers Without Borders, all the donors who supported their campaign, UNAWE Tanzania, and Travelling Telescope for all the support. This day would not have been possible if even one of these groups did not help me immensely. I cannot tell you how much I appreciate all of the support. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Thanks for reading,

Ryan

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