SciTrek: Trekking for Rural Science Outreach in Nepal

SciTrek Team.
Photo Blog [Scroll Down].
When Alyce Nehme, an Australian, completed the Everest Base Camp Trek in June 2016, she had only one goal in mind.
"I wanted to do a few days of volunteer work doing science workshops for teachers in schools to give them ideas on how to do science in classrooms with cheap, everyday materials. I was put in contact with Pravin [Raj Joshi]'s school [Brihaspati School] and after conducting a workshop at his school, we decided to collaborate to create a unique science outreach program for the most remote and disadvantaged government schools in Nepal." 
Alyce's background -a degree in advanced biotechnology and a two year stint as a cancer researcher- helped fuel her interest in science education. While doing her Masters in Science Communication Outreach at the Australian National University, she participated in the 2015 Shell Questacon Science Circus, a national touring science outreach program that reached regional and remote communities to conduct science workshops and shows. 

Pravin Raj Joshi, her contact in Nepal, is the Director and Academic Coordinator of Brihaspati Vidhyasadhan School. Also the COO of Rooster Logic, Pravin has been active in teaching practical science to students, including organizing free training on prototyping platform Raspberry Pi at his office. Since Pravin and Alyce were both interested in science education in general, especially in the rural part of Nepal, it made sense to collaborate and plan a trek to teach science. The program naturally took the name of SciTrek. 
"The aim of SciTrek is to engage primary school (Grades1-6) students with science and innovation using cheap everyday materials. The workshops also give teachers ideas of how to incorporate and apply scientific methods in the classroom using these principles."
While she was back in Australia, she wrote the program contents and trained ten student volunteers from Brihaspati through Skype. These students then went on to organize workshops in different schools in the valley. The feedback they received from the institution's students and teachers were extremely positive. That pushed Alyce to launch a GoFundMe crowd funding campaign.
"I started a crowd funding campaign on GoFundMe to fund the first remote tour around Kavre and Dolakha in early December 2016. The money has been used for running the workshops, travel expenditures, lodging and fooding."
The backstory is that SciTrek was supposed to go to rural parts of Surkhet and make their way up to Achham. However, as it is with Nepal, the bandhs (closure of roads)  in the mid-western region (where Surkhet and Achham lie) forced SciTrek team to re-plan. The districts of Kavre and Dolakha were thus selected. 

As for me, I was there to cover and participate in SciTrek's program in Kavre district from 25th-29th December, 2016. An estimated 300 government students from over eight primary, secondary and higher secondary schools benefited directly from the team that Alyce lead. Besides organizing the workshop, SciTrek also donated materials including instruction manual in both Nepalese and English for schools to independently conduct such programs in the future. Although I seriously doubt that such activities will take place, SciTrek did manage to inspire students to think of science outside their usual textbooks and understand that learning can be fun at times. The experiments showed students that it's possible to use knowledge to control, manipulate and structure the environment around them. Their excitement and fascination is palpable as I have documented down below. 

Photos from Kavre, taken for SciTrek

SciTrek Volunteers from Brihaspati do the Dab on the day we arrive at Aklokhet, Kavre

Alyce jumps to pick up an orange

The host family cooks cauliflower curry on firewood

Next morning. Wake up, brush, pick up an orange and take in the view

First day of workshop. Workshops always began with an intro experiment, in this case, the slim.

Each member of SciTrek were assigned tables where an experiment was shown

All smiles

The students, grouped up, would go on to a booth where volunteers would show them experiments

Perspective from outdoors

Students look on as volunteers explain 

A student explaining science to volunteers instead

Hello?

At the end of the workshop, the students were each given newspapers to build something on their own

Alyce gives SciTrek volunteers feedback

Meal well deserved

Day 2 begins
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can you break that egg?
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nervy
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curiosity gets the best out of students
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SLIME
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Static charge
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Straw tower building challenge
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They look happy
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Day 3, trek, setup, repeat.
My picture?
How's your day so far?

the locals chip in

Focus

Typical workshop setup

More locals join in 

That doesn't seem right..
SLIME was quite popular



Which one looks bigger?

That one


Your turn
Cheers?

Uff this is too much

Students compete on the straw tower challenge

Guys, you have one minute left!

Team gathers with the kids
[After Day 1, the team were split into two to cover more ground]

Trek to another school

Day 4, workshop introduction

Who wants to come up?
Me!

Raise hands guys

This is fun

SLIME intro as students and teachers look on

Smiles

More smiles

The balloon EXPLODES!

This is dope. No really.

LOL moment

Don't think I want to try

Can I have that balloon after?

The camera looks more inviting

SLIME 

Volunteer explains how the string phone works

Students gather around volunteers at a booth

Try listening in, it works

No classes? Oh yeah.
The SciTrek team. Alyce seen on the left

Time out: the team gets a bit of breathing space at the local monastery

Back to work
A word of appreciation for SciTrek team and the host family for letting me tag along. Didn't get to say goodbye properly to the volunteers but there's always next time.

In case you are interested in contacting the organizers or the blog, here are the contact information:

Alyce Nehme: alyce.nehme@gmail.com
Pravin Raj Joshi: pravenj@gmail.com
Author/Photographer: editor@madeinepal.com

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