“So many of us fear science.” So says unique Malawian female science blogger Muza Gondwe who blogs from Perth, Australia. She is currently doing her PhD project at the University of Western Australia looking at science and culture in Indigenous and multicultural school groups in Malawi and Australia.
Is it true that very few Malawians think about science in their every day lives? And why did she start a science blog? Below is the interview I conducted with Muza about her blog, Afrisciheroes.
Q: How did Afrisciheroes start?
In October 2009, I travelled to UK as part of a six month fellowship on the Public Understanding of Science in Africa at the Centre of African Studies, University of Cambridge. I had chosen two projects to work on. One – African Science Heroes where I would document and present in film, book and poster Africans who had made overcome hardships and made significant contributions to science. The second project, I called science engagement tourism, where I would travel to various public engagement organizations (e.g. Naked Scientists, Science Museum) and learn about how they develop, fund and evaluate their science engagement programs in an effort to develop science communication programs in Malawi. I thought it would be a good idea to share my experiences both from African Science Heroes and science engagement tourism as a blog. I have since finished my fellowship and now blog about various scientific issues with an African slant.
Q: How helpful is it to Malawians in particular?
I would like to think it opens Malawians and other readers to the wonders of science. So many of us fear science. We see it as that that very difficult thing we did at school with the teacher. Very few Malawians think about science in their every day lives; we can actively and happily engage with science and use it to inform our lives. For example I wrote a blog post about the use of transformer oil in chiwaya chips
Q: What one success would you like to share?
Frederick Msiska. I wrote a blog post about this amazing innovative farmer and posted a video of an interview with him. This got picked by France24, an Italian newspaper and then an Italian organization contacted me as they wanted to get in touch with Fred. They invited Fred to Italy to participate in the Terra Madre conference 2010. I was so glad to see Fred getting recognized for his talents.
Q: What are the biggest obstacles to your success? If any, how do you plan on overcoming those obstacles?
I wish I could have more time to cover stories about people like Fred. It almost seems unfair that I am blogging about such things when I don’t live in Malawi. I wish I could spend more time in Malawi and Africa filming and writing about science heroes. I try and do interviews whenever I get the chance to when I am home but I hope once I am done with my PhD, I can showcase widely African Science Heroes as mentors and role models for young Africans.
Q: What are some of the highlights of your blog?
I write about science and science that relates to African issues. One of my favourite things was running the experiment on Fanta.
Q: You are running a special site indeed on rare topic in Africa and Malawi in particular. What motivates you?
I want people to engage with science and realize that science is important, interesting and fun. Science has solved (also caused) problems around the world. Our African leaders are always talking about investing in science but they do nothing but lip service at conferences. If we really want to leap frog and develop sustainably, we need to employ innovative scientific solutions for our environment. This is my way of getting people (Malawians and Africans) both young and old to be more supportive and interested in science.
Q: How do you think the project promotes Malawi as a country?
Certainly Fred has become an ambassador for innovation for Malawi alongside the likes of William Kamkwamba.
Q: How does the information published on your website turn into offline change?
People talk about the blog amongst themselves when they read it. It starts by having conversations and getting the word out, the more people talk and engage with science, more people get informed and interested. I have also received comments about the posters on my blog being useful for students.
Q: How many hours in a week do you personally spend on the project?
Not enough. It ranges. I have a friend who is a consultant in online media. And she says I need to post more. I should see blogging not as work but a fun past time. I need to find better ways of interrogating my blog into my everyday work and PhD research.
Q: What are the most time consuming tasks?
Researching. I like to use credible, up to date information and link to the best source so that takes time.
Q: What do you find unique about Afrisciheroes??
That I am probably the only Malawian blogging about science for an African audience.
Q: Where is content re-posted?
I have had some content re-posted on Nyasa Times and published in a local newspaper – The Nation.