Fulufhelo Tambani, NSCF Hub

How learners were introduced to natural science collections at a science outreach event in rural South Africa.

The NSCF team, consisting of myself (Fulufhelo Tambani), Grace Kwinda from the ARC, Siphamandla Mceleli from SAIAB and Phistos Shoroma, Precious Dama and Tshifularo Ramabulana from SANBI Thohoyandou, was invited to take part in the science outreach hosted by the University of Venda and Nelson Mandela University this past week, in Vhembe, Limpopo. This was a four-day (3-6 May 2022) event that involved us driving 76km from Thohoyandou to Niani on day 1 and 120km from Thohoyandou to Maebani on day 3. 

Curious minds

Learners from different schools in the surrounding areas came to our stalls in small groups. As they laid their eyes on the table where we had displayed different kinds of natural science collections specimens, I could see their faces expressing curiosity. 

Anything for a freebie

After we shared information about the collections; what natural collections are, why they matter, how they are kept and preserved, what they are used for, etc. we gave learners the opportunity to ask questions. As an incentive, we offered them an NSCF-branded notebook, should they ask a question.

They asked so many questions, to a point where time ran out and they had to move to other stalls. Learners left our stall complaining because they still wanted to ask questions so they could get the freebie. On some instances, I could spot a few learners racking their brains trying to remember what they heard so they could ask questions. 

“How much will I earn?”

One of the most frequently asked questions was “how much will I earn if I choose a career in the natural science collections field?”. This was a difficult question to answer because this field is not competitive when it comes to salaries. And their asking shows that they don’t want a low-pay career. Which is fair, considering that they are coming from a disadvantaged background. 

“You don’t have to be a scientist to work in science!”

This message was preached by Siphamandla when he addressed learners. This was to get rid of the limiting belief which many learners that are intimidated by science suffer from. Siphamandla narrated his own career story and the importance of the curation work that he does in SAIAB. He also shared some different careers in the natural science collections world. In all this, he expressed how science is not just about wearing a lab coat and working in a lab.

Vernacular connects

Being Tshivenda-speaking and addressing a Tshivenda-speaking audience, Grace connected with those learners on a deeper level. Not only that, but when she spoke, she used examples from their everyday life. Her message was “you can come from a small village in Venda and go on to be a successful scientist out there in the world!”. These learners saw Grace as a mentor.

From this experience, we identified that there is great need for talks about natural science collections in the rural areas. People need to learn what they are, why they matter and why they are kept.

Join us on the next outreach event and help us make an impact on young minds. Keep an eye out for the call.