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Planet-making and stargazing in Kathmandu

Planet-making and stargazing in Kathmandu

By Farrah Nazir

After a crazy few months of planning and seeing through the British Science Festival in 2012, I decided to take a well-deserved break to Nepal, where I volunteered at an orphanage in Kathmandu. The orphanage is home to 26 children, ranging from age five to 17, and is supported by a UK based charity, Namaste - Children’s Homes Nepal. Organised by a couple of friends, Sarah Lawton and Dave Kerr, the charity pays the food bill for all 26 children, which is around £300 a month.

The limited science resources at the school Image credit: Farrah NazirMuch of my time at the orphanage involved playing games, running activities and helping with the children’s homework. Even though the school’s resources were very limited, the children are really keen to learn about the sciences, so this was a great opportunity for me to pull out my best science communication skills.

Making planets

Thanks to the British Science Association, I arrived at the orphanage with a massive backpack filled with a set of science books, activities and modelling clay, donated by the National Science & Engineering Week team. Similar to Play Doh, the clay’s brightly coloured, and great for making different shapes and objects. However, instead of staying squishy and malleable, it dries hard, and the colours can be mixed to create new ones. This not only makes it a fantastic tool to explore colour mixing, but also allows the children to make objects that they can keep.

The kids get creative when creating their planets Image credit: Farrah NazirThe Association first used the modelling material at the 2010 Festival in Bradford, which had the theme ‘Exploring new worlds’. Members of the public were invited to create their own planets with the clay, which they could then take home as a souvenir. I thought this would be a great way to get the Nepalese children engaged and interacting with science one sunny Saturday afternoon at the orphanage. Once divided into small groups, the children went about creating their own planets - the younger ones were fascinated by what new colours they could create, and the older children got talking about the characteristics of the different planets within our solar system.

Enjoying mo-mos Image credit: Farrah NazirThe day’s activity ended with drinks, dancing and a Nepalese speciality: Mo Mos. These delicious handmade dumplings are filled with either vegetables, chicken or buffalo meat. They’re a great snack, especially when served with a chilli sauce, which went down a treat with the kids after a long day of science.

Stargazing

Image credit: Farrah NazirOn my last night with the kids, we decided to sit outside and do some stargazing. Due to the lack of electricity in Nepal, there is very little light pollution from Kathmandu, so the night sky was filled with an incredible number of stars. Jupiter was bright; winter constellations, such as Orion, stood out magnificently; and it was the night of a new moon – perfect star gazing conditions, and a perfect way to end my visit.  

For more information about the orphanage, please visit www.childrenshomesnepal.org

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