One hundred teenage girls from high schools in Malawi recently attended a "Girls in Science" camp at the Malawi University of Science and Technology, known as MUST. The yearly camp, which has taken place since 2016, aims to develop their interest in fields long considered male-dominated.
The nine-day camp is part of the country’s initiative to nurture and encourage future female scientists.
Davies Mweta chairs the committee which organized this year's camp.
“The science camp has been organized in the background that in Malawi we have a lot of girls. Actually when we go to the population, 52 percent of Malawi population is female, but when we go through the landscape of science and technologies and innovation, you find that the number of females is lower,” Mweta said.
During this period, female science students and other role models at the university shared their experiences with the campers.
Rachael Nyanda is an engineering student at the Malawi University of Science and Technology.
“What I can say to those ladies in that if you believe that you can be an engineer, if you believe that you can be a scientist, just do what you believe, no mind about how the society describes us, get out of that space that they put us in and be what you want to be,” Nyanda said.
The campers developed skills in water resource management, making traffic robots, manufacturing and computer applications.
Grace Juma was one of the campers.
“Even if I go home now, I know how to program an app, as if I see any other problems I am pretty sure I am able to able to find some solutions to it and create more apps and help a lot of people in Malawi,” Juma said.
Another camper Patience Sipyagule recounts what she learned.
“We have learned about ecology, like they have taught us how to catch mammals so that we can make some other experiments, let’s say, test their blood sample like to find out the diseases that affect birds…” Sipyagule said.
Critics have questioned the effectiveness of the camps, saying the period given to the youngsters is too short for such complicated subjects. This year's camp lasted just over a week.
But science lecturers say the camp is an inspiration to the girls.
Thoko Mtewa is a lecturer at the school.
“An inspiration can just be for 30 minutes. So what we do is not to make them experts in science but to stimulate that interest in science. So that’s why we have a combination of different science programs,” Thoko said.
The education minister, William Susuwele-Banda, says he is impressed with the camp.
“Honesty speaking, I was very fascinated to see the sort of projects which the girls have come up with and the way they were explaining the concepts themselves, the terminologies like they were using, is very amazing. I think as Malawi we want to continue encouraging these girls,” Banda said.
Organizers say funds are available and they will start follow-ups to assess and monitor the performance of campers in their various schools.