The UNESCO supported International Year of Astronomy 2009 is a global tribute which celebrates the 400th anniversary of the first use of an astronomical telescope by Galileo Galilei. The central theme of the year long program is The Universe, Yours to Discover. A former student of mine from the National Institute of Design in India, Kathan Kothari, was involved in a brilliant local initiative last month for the 100 Hours of Astronomy project which was observed simultaneously by countries across the globe.
He co-developed a mobile camel cart exhibition on Astronomy which visited villages, slums and local neighbourhoods in and around Ahmedabad, Gujarat. He was happy to report the enthusiastic reception by locals, especially children, for many of whom it was their first exposure to topics such the solar system, eclipses and celebrated Indian astronomers. Hands-on activity was encouraged with 5000 solar viewers being distributed so that people could view the sun safely while being told about its various characteristics by a team of volunteer guides.
The cart and crew stayed overnight in villages during the 100 hours and held telescopic star-gazing sessions with enthralled locals. The initiative was accompanied by a radio broadcast which included activities that guided listeners to make basic astronomical instruments like a pinhole camera and a simple telescope. The project was later extended to further Gujarati locations and included quiz sessions and drawing competitions.
Kathan works alongside his inspirational father, Abhay Kothari and a dedicated team at the Manthan Educational Programme Society which focuses on popularising science in India through folk and local mediums like toys, puppet shows and plays. For their 100 Hours of Astronomy project they settled on the camel cart exhibition concept due to cost, mobility and the added bonus that no food had to be provided for the camels as they snack on the foliage of local trees. (and I’m guessing their carbon footprint isn’t too bad either!)
Having extensive experience in the field of street science education, Manthan are continually exploring new avenues for educating and engaging young minds. Kathan reports that they are keen to look into promoting further scientific topics that make use of camel carts to access common people in their local communities. I was thrilled that one of the most popular destinations for the exhibition was the slum at Gulbai Tekra where I have photographed extensively and enjoyed many festivals from Uttarayan to Diwali.
Kathan was invaluable when I was living in Ahmedabad, patiently translating for me on projects such as my Indo-centric Typo-centric and Glocal Cola research plus my collaborative exhibition endeavours with Indian street painters. Every time I learn more about the uplifting and significant projects carried out by Manthan I hope that one day that it will be me that has the honour of assisting him and his father in some small way in their incredibly meaningful and highly relevant work.