Telescopes to Tanzania brings science and math to East Africa

Posted by Karri Ferron
on Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Credit: Chuck and Susan Ruehle
Back in October, Associate Editor Bill Andrews introduced us to Chuck and Susan Ruehle and Telescopes to Tanzania, a program that aims to build instructor and student capacity in many of the disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and math. At that time, the pair was just preparing to depart Wisconsin for a trip to Tanzania, one of the poorest countries in the world, as part of the project. And last week, I received an update from Chuck and Susan on their workshops in East Africa:

Have you ever seen the Sun? She glows with pride when she demonstrates how light brightens the world around her.

That’s just one of our favorite photos from our time in Tanzania last November. Every time we see it, we’re taken back to our classroom at the Mwangaza Center in Arusha. Our two 5-day workshops were a fantastic learning experience and another step forward in supporting the work of teachers and leaders in science, technology, and math in Tanzania.

We also recall when, on the second morning of one of the workshops, a teacher asked if we were really saying that our Sun is just an ordinary star. Imagine what a difference this one piece of information will make in her teaching of the solar system from now on!

As we think about the outcomes of our most recent Telescopes to Tanzania event, we find that measuring success is a very Western concept. In terms of our work in Tanzania, it was not about measuring anything, but about relationships that were being built and trust that develops over time.

Our love for astronomy was an important motivator for teachers — at least as important as our teaching skills or the many resource materials we left behind. We were measured and received based on our passion and love for the participants and the vision of the universe that we shared.

Now, 17 more telescopes are being used in classrooms that have teachers equipped to teach with them. Now, 45 teachers know how to use astronomy software and appreciate the benefits of distance learning. Now, posters from NASA and the European Southern Observatory adorn classrooms walls. Now, materials from rulers to light benches, lenses to sky-wheels are being used as teaching tools in schools throughout Tanzania. And now, with a Tanzanian-designed and -built mount, more than a dozen Galileoscopes that had been sitting on shelves unused since the International Year of Astronomy have sturdy mounts and teachers who know how to use them.

We are grateful to all who have supported the Telescopes to Tanzania program. Your gifts of money, resources, and time have made a difference in the lives of teachers and students in Tanzania.

And now, our Africa-based teaching team is planning the next round of teaching activities in East Africa — and we're starting to think about building a science center and observatory to provide ongoing support for the teachers and students. Chuck heads back to Tanzania in mid-April to do some conversation about dark-sky locations.

Telescopes to Tanzania is a project of Astronomers Without Borders. The project also works with the Galileo Teacher Training Program, Global Hands-On Universe, and Universe Awareness for Young Children. In addition, the program also has received support from the Office of Astronomy for Development of the International Astronomical Union, Canadian Telescope, Celestron Telescope, Yerkes Observatory, Racine Rotary and Optimist Clubs, The Astronomical League, various local astronomy societies, religious groups, and countless individuals.

Thanks for the update, Chuck and Susan! To learn more about the program, check out the project at AstronomersWithoutBorders.org and Facebook or contact the pair at chuck.ruehle@yahoo.com.

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