The Inharrime District Science Fair was today and it was a HUGE success. Unlike last year, the Inharrime District Delegate of Science and Technology organized everything for the fair, rather than me organizing everything—and for that reason it was much better. She was able to get to the other two schools in Inharrime (the professional school across the street and Erin’s school) more often than I had been last year, so I was hoping that this would increase participation from these two schools, but unfortunately each of these two schools had only two participants. My school, on the other hand, had 10 participants! Having a grown Mozambican woman in charge was better because she was able to do things I couldn’t—convince the district government to supply the students with paper and markers for their presentations, convince the district administration to allow us to use the town hall-type room, and get incredibly important people to come. Often the VIPs here don’t have the time or interest in things at the commoner level. When she told me that the Administrator of Inharrime was coming I didn’t believe it—but he did come, he walked around to every single presentation and listened to the students present their projects, and he stayed the entire five hours. Also, she somehow got the Provincial Delegate of Science and Technology to come! (Mozambique has provinces that are like states in the US, and districts could be compared to counties. So we had the equivalent of the town mayor and the State, let’s say, Attorney General.) It made me happy that these two incredibly important men came and showed genuine interest in the students and their projects, because these students don’t get that kind of attention often. Additionally, we had three judges: the Inharrime Chief of Police, the Inharrime Doctor (both of whom spoke at the Women’s Day Celebration on April 7th), and Irmã Albertina, the director of my school. A number of other local VIPs were invited and four of them came, most notably the Inharrime Director of Education (last year his predecessor stopped by for only 5 minutes). Last year, not a single teacher (other than my two colleagues who helped me organize the fair) from any of the three schools showed up. I was incredibly upset and frustrated—how are these students supposed to believe in themselves when their teachers and mentors don’t even care about them? I voiced this opinion to Irmã Albertina and when she agreed with me, I asked her to encourage the teachers from our school to go to the fair, since they would listen to her more than me. In the days leading up to the fair, anytime there were more than a couple teachers in the faculty room, I would go in and make an announcement reminding them how important it is for us, as educators, to show the students that we believe in them and support them and to show this support by going to the science fair. I think a couple of them wanted to kill me after the third announcement or so. But four of my colleagues (in addition to the one who helped me prepare the students) showed up yesterday! This isn’t a huge accomplishment, but it’s progress. Also, Erin had one colleague come and one teacher from the professional school came.
When one talks about a science fair in Mozambique, the definition of what constitutes as “science” or an “experiment” is very different from in America. Here, science is about creating things, or manipulating everyday things and there is a huge emphasis on practicality or usability. For example, a few of the projects that an American might find puzzling were: building a bench from local wood and woven local reeds, making shoes from local reeds, making cooking oil from coconuts or another local plant, making a candle from a local plant, and making black paint from local resources. And these projects tend to fare better with the crowds than your traditional science experiment, because people here are more interested in how they could cheaply home-make a candle from local and waste materials. Largely due to my tracking down every single participant in the weeks prior to the fair and pounding the principles of the Scientific Method into their heads and demanding that they use this structure to present their experiment, the students from my school generally had clearer and better prepared presentations. Students from our school ended up winning first, second, and third place! And the third place winner is a member of both my English club and English Theater group and my student.
Per usual, the fair started 2 hours and 20 minutes late. Perhaps a somewhat good thing because one participant showed up 2 hours and 18 minutes late. The fair began when the administrator arrived, walking from his house across the street. The schedule was read and then the coordinator gave a short explanation as to what a science fair is. After, the administrator gave a short speech and then people began to walk around and look at the presentations. The administrator, provincial delegate, and other VIPs walked around and looked at every single project and talked to every single student which was great to see. And the three judges moved from project to project intolerably slowly (in a good way) asking tons of questions and forcing the students to think critically and respond intelligently. After they had written evaluations about each project, the judges sat down to run their numbers and deliberate, while the girls from the orphanage danced. The three winners were then called up to address everyone present and give a short summary of their project.
The fair really couldn’t have gone better for so many reasons, but the biggest to me was how little I did and how much it felt like a community event. Science fair was first introduced to Mozambique through the PCVs and PEPFAR funding from the US Embassy in Maputo. But now we are trying to hand it over to the Mozambican government and, at least in Inharrime, we were completely successful in doing this. I could have done without some of the pomp and circumstance that comes with having the administrator and other VIPs present, but the fact is that this made it a wholly Mozambican event. And it truly did feel like any other Mozambican celebration—from the late start time, to the awkward waiting around, to the formal introductions and speeches.