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Under African Skies: Zambia 2004


In June 2004, Cosmos Education volunteers from three national branches met in Lusaka, Zambia. They spent two weeks visiting schools presenting material on Water, Health and the Environment. Each of ten schools received two visits totalling six hours per school. The thousand odd students we met and worked with had the opportunity to try experiments and ask questions about these essential areas of understanding.

Below are some journal entries written by our volunteers while they were in Lusaka.

We also present a photo gallery

Journal Entries

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June 25, 2004

Hello Friends of Cosmos!

Thank you for all your support, we are in Lusaka, Zambia right now and everything is going very well. Our national branch, Cosmos Education Zambia, is very strong. Nicolas Kasoma, president of CE Zambia, has assembled an amazing team and it has been fantastic getting to know everyone.

I arrived last Friday and we spent the weekend working through this year's curriculum with the team. Carol and Damian from CE UK were already here and they had done a great job making sure all the planning and scheduling was in place for the upcoming weeks. On Saturday morning we all met on the grounds of the University of Zambia to rehearse the curriculum and to do some team building activities. I was so excited to see a huge group of nearly twenty team members ready and waiting. As we all got to know each other I soon realized that we had quite a cast of characters. We will try to rotate the updates so that you get to hear their voices.

The curriculum training sessions over the weekend went very well, but the first school always has me a bit nervous. How will the team do? Can they keep the students engaged and excited? Will they get the material right? Luckily, my concerns were soon put to rest as our team proved incredibly skilled both in their ability to communicate with the students and in getting the material right (for the most part, still a few facts to nail down here and there).

Our 3-hour curriculum this year focuses on water, health, and the environment. After an introduction where we focus on Earth as our collective Home and the need to take care of our Home for our generation and future generations, we then brake into pairs and each pair takes a group of roughly 20-30 students. Each group has a large bucket and from that bucket our team members pull out everyday items (remember, this is everyday items in Africa!) and perform simple but effective and fun science experiments. The students then replicate the experiments and ask any questions they may have. Along with the experiments we have several activities in which the students pretend they are water molecules, or soap molecules, or carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

For example, one set of experiments and activities that has been a big hit so far is the part of our curriculum where we explain how soap works. The students do a few experiments exploring the properties of water and then we do a demo of how a mixture of oil and water doesn't mix. This leads to the question: How do you clean something if oil and water don't like to mix? The students say, Add soap! But then we say, Why? And then they look puzzled. We then add soap to the mixture, shake the bottle, and sure enough soap makes it possible for oil and water to mix. We then have some of the students enter a circle of rope and tell them that they represent water. They must make a 'W' shape with their arms and as they moves around the circle the are to shake hands whenever possible. We then add some more students and tell them that they are oil. They must hold their hands low and make an 'L' shape. They too are instructed to shake hands whenever possible. Lo and behold the water and oil don't shake hands, i.e. they don't mix.

We next instruct some students to hold one hand high and one hand low: these students are the soap molecules. We go into some detail about hydrophobic and hydrophilic ends of the soap molecule and we also connect this back to some of the experiments on the polarity of water. We then have the water, oil, and soap people all dance around the circle. When we say 'Freeze', sure enough the soap molecule people are found to be holding onto water AND oil, thus making it possible for the two to mix. The students really enjoy this one, and given that soap is so fundamental to the basics of health, we are quite pleased to see them so excited about something so important.

Okay, that's it for now. I'll leave you with a few pictures from the various schools (see below). Its now Tuesday night in Lusaka and we have visited four schools: Kabulonga Boys Secondary School, Kabulonga Girls Secondary School, Lusaka Girls Secondary, and Metero Girls Secondary. We have spent three hours at each school and we will be visiting these schools again next week. The students are very excited about starting 'Cosmos Clubs' so they can continue learning more and continue having fun with their education in science. The team is doing fantastic, in fact today Damian, Dana and I were walking around trying to be useful to the various teams, but we found that all five teams had everything under control and they really had no need for us to help them out with any of the material.

Again thanks for your support and keep posted for more stories to come!

Kevin Hand
President, CE Global

The Team in Zambia

Group picture of our team in Zambia

Studying Surface Tension

Students at Kabulonga Girls and CE Zambia team member Judy M'hango experiment with the surface tension of water

A student studies Oil, Water and Soap

A student experiments with oil, water, and soap

Students play at being molecules!

'Molecules in Motion!' - students at Matero Girls pretend to be oil, water, and soap molecules.

Journal Entries

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June 30, 2004

Hello again -

We are now in week two of teaching and so far our new format of 3-hours per school for two consecutive weeks seems to be working quite well. Not only are the students excited to see us again, but they are also excited to demonstrate that they learned something during last week's session. One of our themes during week one of the curriculum was exponential growth - from virus replication, to paper folding, to the Towers of Hanoi game, to population and pollution growing exponentially, we covered the concept from many different angles. This week, the students have been eager to point out any example they can of exponential growth. It's been great to see them so excited about math!

I'm now handing the email update over to CE Zambia team member, Linda Nakana. She'll tell you a bit more about some of the work we've been doing in schools.

Kevin Hand

Hello! I am Linda, a member of Cosmos Education Zambia.

I am 23 years old and studying my accountancy course at Zambia Centre for Accountancy Studies (ZCAS). I am pursuing ACCA PII program. Though I am studying accountancy, I really like science. I like science very much because my father inspired me into this when I was young. My father is a lecturer of environmental health at Evelyn Hone College in Lusaka. I like to take care of the environment and I heard the news about Cosmos Education from my brother, Humphrey. He is Director of Education for Cosmos Zambia. I was really looking forward to join and this is when we started our teaching empowering young people in sciences and technology by visiting different schools around Lusaka town.

So far I like teaching about the Greenhouse Effect the most. I learned how it works through the Cosmos team and now I like to teach it. Just the way it is, like we all know that CO2 is an air pollutant, but it also helps us. I can say for life on earth to go on, as one of the green house gasses, it retains heat energy making the earth a better place to live.

Now to the students, lets consider the CO2 as I've mentioned. It is one of the air pollutants. CO2 is released when we burn fossil fuels like gas, coal, petrol etc. and it is released when trees are burned down, i.e. deforestation.

Over the past 200 years or so, CO2 in the atmosphere has been increasing due to human activities. It has increased from about 280 parts per million to about 360 parts per million. The climate on planet earth is changing; some places are getting hotter and some are getting colder. The global climate is changing in many different ways and life on earth is experiencing this change. It is difficult to know why these changes are occurring but one significantly measured change that may be contributing significantly to global climate change is the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. The CO2 molecule is good at retaining heat energy. As a result CO2 in the atmosphere makes the atmosphere a better insulator of planet earth so if you think of the atmosphere of a blanket around planet earth then adding more CO2 to the atmosphere makes it a warmer blanket.

Now to the students I tell them about visible light energy and heat energy. The atmosphere lets the sun's rays pass to the ground (visible) but the ground sends it back (re-emits) as heat energy. CO2 is very good at retaining heat energy and as a result the atmosphere of planet earth becomes warmer. This effect is given the name "The Greenhouse Effect." So adding CO2 to the atmosphere increases the Greenhouse Effect, CO2 is then called a greenhouse gas. Other greenhouse gases include water H2O, methane CH4, and ammonia NH3.

So the Greenhouse Effect activity, how does it work? Then I introduced the Greenhouse Effect activity to the pupils which delighted them very much and they really cooperated with me. I can say they really had fun as one of the rules per Cosmos Education, i.e. rule #3 "have fun." So to allow the pupils to get a physical sense of how the Greenhouse Effect works we do this activity. I make a large rectangle shape with a rope on the ground, then I took straws of two different colors and let one person stand on one side of the rectangle and act as energy from the sun. Then I stand on the other side to act as the ground of the earth. Then pupils in the rectangle shape act as air molecules in the atmosphere. Then when I say "molecules in motion" pupils jump around and those who pass near the top of the atmosphere will be passed with the red straws which is energy from the sun and then pass it straight to the ground of the earth an exchange with green straws which represents the reemitted heat. They quickly pass the green straws to the person who is on top of the atmosphere. The I explain to the pupils that this is what would happen if there was no greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Now ask now students to be CO2 and H2O and then tell them that if they got the reemitted heat energy they keep it. So we repeat the procedure and after this I ask to see those with CO2 and H2O to raise the green straws up and I say, "look, now some energy is trapped because of the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere." The atmosphere then acts as a blanket, helping to keep the earth warm enough for life on planet earth. Now ask more of the pupils to be CO2 . I repeat the procedure and tell the pupils to notice that more of the green straws were trapped in the atmosphere.

This shows how CO2 pollution increases the Greenhouse Effect. Then I conclude to say that more heat energy is trapped as more CO2 is added, the atmosphere can become even warmer.

The students enjoy this activity very much. I ask them is they have followed rule #3, to "have fun," and they yell, "YES!"

Next we talk about the solution to pollution and how the students can be a part of making a good change on planet earth. Our home.

Ok, bye for now,

Linda Nakana

Linda Nakana

Acting out the greenhouse effect.

In an activity demonstrating the Greenhouse Effect, Miriam Nakana hands out reflected heat energy (straws) to students behaving like air molecules.

Groups of students on a soccer field

Clusters of Cosmos Ed groups working on a soccer field at Kamwala Secondary School in Lusaka, Zambia.

Journal Entries

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July 10, 2004

Hello again from the Cosmos team!

Work in Zambia is going very well and, as I mentioned in a previous email, I am very excited about the strength of our team here in Zambia. As our organization continues to grow I am confident that our teams in Zambia and Kenya will soon be able to run year round programs in the schools we visit. Our team members are fantastic role models for the students they reach and it is great to watch the students bombard them with questions during the discussions we have in our curriculum. Africans teaching Africans, Africans empowering Africans, Africans inspiring Africans. This is what we believe makes us an effective organization.

So let me tell you a bit about last Friday, July 2nd. This was a particularly action packed day and it may take another installment to get through the stories.

We started out the day at Lusaka Girls Secondary School and had a fun and productive morning working with the students. Our Week 2 curriculum incorporates small group discussions on careers and HIV/AIDS and I am continually inspired when I hear the students read their career statements (this was homework assigned from Week 1). One particularly passionate young girl read her statement out loud and in it she described how she dreams of becoming a scientist that will help develop a cure for AIDS. We usually find that a decent fraction of the students aspire to become doctors/scientists or lawyers/politicians. The goals cited are usually to help fight diseases or to help fight corruption. Ultimately, for practical considerations, many of the students say that they will first pursue accounting so that they can find a job and pay for further education. Our Zambian team members have been great resources for these students as they try to map their dreams onto the difficult reality of achieving their goals.

Thinking about careers. Kawama (CE Zambia treasurer) discusses careers with students at Lusaka Girls

After Lusaka Girls, we all piled into a mini-bus and headed over to Kabulonga Boys Secondary School. A regional science fair was taking place and we had been invited to visit, talk with the students, and examine the projects. Indeed, at several of the schools we had visited during the previous week students had asked us for advice on their projects.

The projects were amazing and many were truly clever and innovative. A full account would stretch for many pages, so here I'll limit myself to just a few of my favorites.

  1. The cow-dung cooker. This was actually a project that Alex, Dana, and I had helped advise and we were pleased to later discover that the student one first prize in the 'Energy' section of the competition. In brief, the student wanted to turn cow dung into a usable fuel, replacing the need to use wood from trees. She constructed a small solar cooker using cardboard boxes and tin-foil. In it she placed the dung and after several hours of cooking she was left with a usable, burnable brick. Quite nice. Not sure what the odor will be like, but heck, she's on the right track.
  2. The DNA girl. This young student had several posters worth of fantastic drawings and information about DNA and DNA replication. She had been part of one of our school sessions and said that our section on DNA replication had helped her quite a bit. Listening to her explain her work to other students and to our team members was music to my ears. She knew the material and knew it well. I challenged her with a few questions for further study and she was excited about continuing to learn more about the subject. I think we've got the makings of a molecular biologist here.
    A student explains DNA.
    DNA project. A student explains DNA to other students and CE team members.
  3. Traffic-light boy. This student was perplexed by the workings of traffic lights and thus for his project he devised a working model of how he would design such a system. He had two sets of home-made working models of red, green, and yellow traffic lights and connected to these lights he had a motor and circuit rigged up on a piece of wood. The motor turned a belt that turned a wheel that dragged a wire across a plate of sectioned metal (a cut up tin can). As the wire moved from one section of the plate to another, the circuit for the different lights were completed and the lights shined red, yellow, and green in the appropriate order. It was quite impressive, especially considering the very limited materials he was using. I told him he had to become an inventor and he was excited that I appreciated his hard work and craftsmanship.

Okay, that's it for now. More later!
Kevin Hand

Journal Entries

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July 12, 2004

Mulibwanji! Greetings from Zambia.

We're heading into our last week of teaching here in Lusaka. It's been an exciting three weeks thus far. I've learned to introduce myself entirely in Nyanja, one of the primary languages spoken here in Lusaka, but here I'll do it in English for the sake of effective communication. My name is Dana and I'm an undergraduate at Stanford University heading into my last year before completing a degree in economics. I was involved in a class at Stanford in the spring for helping to develop the curriculum we've been implementing throughout the program here in Zambia.

It's been exciting to see the curriculum in action, but even more exciting to see the team in action. Our Zambian team members are able to bring the curriculum alive and make it relevant to the students in a way that no one else could. O'Brien, for example, inspires even me when he converses with students about careers, encouraging them to think beyond the way things are towards the way the students, as youth, can shape things to become. Ernest and Humphrey really know how to captivate and rejuvenate a group with their "mosquito clap." This round of applause depicts a nighttime struggle between human and mosquito, involving multiple body slaps and culminating in a successful capture of the mosquito. Each audience member then throws his or her captured mosquito into the center, at the leader, who falls to the ground from the force of the mosquitoes flying from every direction. Maybe you have to be there to see it, but take my word for it that the students become truly animated. Now let me share just a few of my most compelling personal experiences.

Having spent 5 months in rural Kenya and now 3 weeks here in Zambia, by now I'm more than used to shouts of "Mzungu! Mzungu!" from young children as I pass. But nothing makes me happier than to go from being "mzungu" to being "Dana" (or "Dina" or "Diana"). The other weekend our team visited a youth center, African Directions, and we had a chance to share a few experiments and play with the large group of kids hanging out at the center. Many of them didn't speak much English, so I tried to get creative with my rudimentary Nyanja, but mostly words weren't necessary. I befriended two eight-year-old boys, Thomas and Dickson, who started a lengthy game of "copy cat," which involved a ring of 10 young boys copying every move I made. I exhausted my entire stretching and funny faces repertoire and the boys still weren't tired!

Our global team has been welcomed in so many places and so many ways here in Zambia. Perhaps no incident illustrates this better than one evening a couple of weeks ago at the Alliance Francaise. We had gone to meet with a friend of a friend and watch some Burundian refugees perform traditional drumming at the opening for a new art and culture society. Kevin, Jess, Alex, and I were chatting innocently with our new acquaintances at the table over some beers when the Burundian drummers showed up and Kevin went outside to meet them. As we took our seats in the audience, I had hardly yet processed that Kevin was missing when in came the Burundian drummers, costumed in green and red toga-like outfits, and among them was our very own: Kevin! In a matter of minutes after meeting Kevin the group had convinced him to participate in the show, had put him in full costume, and sent him onto stage. I won't pretend that in that same matter of minutes Kevin had somehow miraculously learned how to drum or dance (sorry, Kevin), but the show was spectacular nonetheless. The drumming involved an incredible amount of movement, energy, yelling, dancing, rhythm, and excitement. And Kevin got to be part of it all. I still think the four-year-old boy stole the show with his hip thrusts in the dancing, though.

I can't believe that after 3 weeks and 28 school visits the team is still going strong. Today we had an enthusiastic group of 5th, 6th, and 7th grade students at Veri Chiluba who made some bright hypothesis for our experiments on water and were able to explain surface tension and polarity better than some of the 12th graders we've worked with! I have only one more full day to enjoy here in Zambia, so let me not spend my last moments on the internet!

All the best,

Two CE volunteers and a student

Peter Kanja (CE Kenya and ApproTEC), a student at Munali Girls Secondary School, and Dana Schmidt (CE USA).

Kevin Hand dances with Burundian Children

Kevin: "Here's a picture of me and a few of the young Burundian kids who taught me, or at least attempted to teach me, how to dance. Yes, I'm attempting to dance in this picture. Maybe that's why the kid is laughing. Most of the other pictures just show a white blur."

Journal Entries

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July 30, 2004

Kevin Hand writes:

Ok, here's an update from the voice of Ernest Ngoliya of Cosmos Zambia. When I first met Ernest he said with a broad smile that he wanted to be an inventor because he constantly gets ideas for making things better.

Not a bad vision! Along with ideas for inventions, he's also quite the singer and he's always a huge hit with the students in the classroom. He and Timothy Banda (CE Zambia) made quite the duo in the schools...mildly reminiscent of Abbot and Castello....but, Abbot and Castello doing sex ed.

I asked Ernest and Timothy to write up a description of their experience teaching the HIV/AIDS and health module in the Matero Girls secondary school. What follows is both interesting, humorous, and a bit eye-opening. I've tried not to alter his hand written notes much but if you see brackets [ ], those are my words added for clarity.

Matero Girls HIV/AIDS Discussion

As team members of Cosmos Education Zambia, during week 2 of the Under African Skies program, we ventured on the discussion [of HIV/AIDS] with an applause of the previous topic, the DNA dance. We asked them on the methods of stopping the exponential growth of the HIV within the human population. They (students) quickly expressed their knowledge of abstinence as the most efficient and appropriate way. I asked them if it was possible for somebody to completely abstain and they gave a "YES" answer. Timothy expressed himself by putting himself as somebody who was sexually active and couldn't easily abstain. There was a number of responses from the students.

The older girls somewhat supported his being sexually active and their views were:

  • If you've had sex before, it was not easy to abstain
  • If you want to completely abstain as a girl, you needed to have a wide vision for your future
  • Men can just extinguish their sexual appetites by just having a cold shower if they discover that they are on heat
  • Even if you abstain, you could still get the virus in some other ways

* Note: From our discussion, It seemed that most of them have had experience with sex before.

The younger girls stood firm saying anybody could abstain no matter what the circumstances. They asked the questions "Why do men always pester or bother girls too much?" They are the ones who force young girls to fail to completely abstain, that at one time a girl is forced to have sex with one who she thinks is Mr. Right. Unfortunately, girls could easily get the virus like that.

We asked them if they (girls) have been having unprotected sex in such instances. Most of them said no one would allow casual sex with the present AIDS situation.

We asked, "What if you can't abstain?" They said "Use a condom!"

We asked, "Is a condom safe? Up to 97%."

The students had the following questions:

  • Then if it's not safe, why don't the ban them and make some which are at least 99.9% safe?
  • Is it okay to use two condoms at the same time?
  • Can't water pass through the pores of a condom?
  • Why was the condom made if they knew that it was not 100% safe?
  • Where did AIDS come from? (They wanted a scientific and a Biblical part of it.)
  • Isn't it okay to take all AIDS patients to a camp so as to reduce infection of HIV negative people?
  • If there are a hundred viruses of HIV, it means that 3 will pass through the condom?
  • Can married people use condoms? If yes, then why did they get married?
  • What are the chemicals that make the lubrication of the condom?

Here are some views from the students:

  • The condom should be abolished because it promotes immorality
  • AIDS is a punishment from God
  • It's wrong to have a boyfriend when you are still in school because they pressure girls into sex.

We started talking about relationships between boys and girls and how intimate relationships eventually lead to unprotected sex. Students reminded us that if you can't abstain, be faithful. We asked them if it was possible to be completely faithful. If it was safe to be faithful to someone who is not faithful to you.

More views:

Someone could be faithful to five or six wives (polygamists) yet if he had HIV, he would easily infect six people.

We put water in a condom to see if water would come out. The students had a chance to laugh at the shape of water in a condom.

Student question: How can you avoid a boys con?

Then a little while later while discussing, Kevin came along and the students stated how easy it was for some of them to be lured into an affair easily by a white man. We advised them not to trust anybody, not me, not Kevin, not any mzungu (white man) or anybody.

The students were advised on going for VCT, Voluntary Counseling and Testing, to be aware of future action. We advised them to be stigma free to HIV patients and allow room for long life. We asked them how one would feel when their friends would be found HIV positive. The response as usual was discriminatory. We discussed stigma in detail.

In conclusion we asked what modes of HIV prevention was the most ideal to the least. Abstinence was first, then followed by being faithful and condomising respectively. AIDS shouldn't be a barrier from attaining future careers.


CE volunteers discuss HIV with students.

Timothy Banda (Left) and Ernest Ngoliya (Right) work their magic of making students feel comfortable and confident discussing critical issues related to HIV/AIDS and health.

DNA replication played by students.

Linda Nakana (Left, blue), Chansi Musonda (R of Linda in green), and Ripedah Nakana (center, in green) work with students at Jacaranda Basic School on the 'DNA Dance'. During this module, student form a double stranded human chain to represent DNA. The strand is then split by an enzyme (Ripedah in this case) and additional nucleobases (more students) are paired with the strands to simulate the replication process. Students are given cardboard cut-outs representing the bases guanine (G), cytosine (C), thymine (T), and adenine (A). The cardboard pieces only fit together with their complimentary pair (G and C, A and T).

Journal Entries

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In Kenya, Cosmos Education Kenya is Registered Society No. 26710.
In the United States, Cosmos Education is a Project of The Tides Center, a 501(c)3 non‑profit organisation.
In England and Wales, Cosmos Education UK is Registered Charity No. 1100278
Cosmos Education Zambia is registered under the Societies Act in the Republic of Zambia, Registration No. ORS/102/35/3017.