I remember the day well when Mr A broke the news that we had been invited to go to South Africa for the science Olympiad focus week. Everyone was quite surprised just to hear Mr Albertyn asking about passports during the physics lesson whilst we were doing a practical. At first we did not quite get where he was going with all the questions and it seemed more like a joke when he announced the names of those who had qualified to go from the invitation email from SAASTA (South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement). By that time almost everyone had forgotten that we wrote a physical science Olympiad exam.
Everyone was extremely happy after receiving the news. I (Ryan) couldn’t wait to tell my parents so as soon as we got to the boarding house I immediately sent my mum a text message. When I got home I was quite excited but all the hype immediately turned to sadness. There was a problem – passports. None of us had a passport and so we had to rush to apply for an emergency one which is sold for $250. My parents then told me that there was no money to get an emergency passport. So when the future looked bleak Hope (one of the administrators) said we would all go for the regular passport which would come out after 6 weeks (despite only having about 3 weeks before we had to go to SA). The plan was that we would apply for them then get a letter from the ministry of education so that we could obtain them sooner. It took a long time and eventually Mr Dave West tried for the last time and to the Glory of God he succeeded in obtaining the passports just FIVE days before we had to leave for the trip for just $53.
SAASTA provided everything including our transportation, accommodation at Tshwane University and the food. For most of us it was our first time leaving the country. Truly speaking I was ecstatic! I couldn’t contain myself to such an extent that I didn’t get much sleep the night before we departed!
It is true when they say the trip to somewhere you want to be seems longer than the trip back. The day of departure arrived and we travelled by Intercape bus. It was my first time travelling on such a lovely bus with so much comfort. It was so exciting to be seeing many parts of the country and we arrived at the border around midnight. Everyone could tell we were there by the amazing lighting system of South Africa. The journey was very long – it took about 20 hours to get to Pretoria and we arrived around 9am and went straight to Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) – It was just breath-taking, immaculate in every respect. I have never before been exposed to such a diversity which I enjoyed so much. Everyone became so busy connecting with each other and if cameras could complain, they would have that day! In the evening we had an excellent opening presentation by the SAASTA members who were hosting the programme. People had come from all over SA, Nigeria, Swaziland, Lesotho and even as far as Australia. It was quite an experience getting to know most of them, their backgrounds and educational system and how each of them was unique.
The following day soon after breakfast we were split into two groups. Some of us went to Toyota factories where they assemble cars. It was very interesting to see how robots are being used to benefit mankind. We were told what factors go into making a car and how it is done. It is such an eye opener when you find out that what you thought influences the making of a car is actually incorrect! Others went to Denel in Centurion where they make missiles. It was interesting to learn how they make different types of missiles although I (Mercia) did not understand some things because they involved physics and I do not do physics at school.
In the afternoon we went to the zoo. At first we were taken around it like tourists then we actually went behind the scenes. The experts at the zoo explained to us what they are doing to monitor the animals and protect those animals which are endangered. We went to the zoo hospital where we learnt how they treat sick animals and all the tests they carry out in the lab. The clinic quarantined some animals that would have been saved from illegal sale. We saw a white tiger up close and it was really big compared to how I’d imagined it and seen on the television – its size was intimidating. How we examined the structure of the snake’s skin and other alligators was fascinating though I (Clive) was scared to get close to the snakes even though they were enclosed inside glass.
I (Ryan) was really captivated by how they regulate the kind of water that is in the tanks of marine creatures like dolphins. They taught us how different types of water have effects on human bodies and how we should not just drink it.
Again we split into two groups and some of us went to Harmony Gold mines .This was a wonderful experience where we went down 2km below the surface. Engineers at the mine explained to us about their efforts to minimise work related accidents.
The rest of us went with the other group to NECSA (Nuclear Energy Centre SA), a company that specialises in dealing with radioactive substances. It was my (Brian’s) favourite part of the trip. It helped a lot in enhancing my knowledge of nuclear physics. We learnt many things including how they carbon date bones and how nuclear energy is being used in manufacturing medicines. After a lecture they took us on a tour around the NECSA plant, during which they showed us some of the research they were doing in nuclear medicine where radioactive substances would be used to treat patients. According to their statistics they are one of four countries currently developing such medicine.
I did not believe it in textbooks when I read about stars and the moon but in the evening, we all went to Johannesburg Observatory for sky gazing. It was fantastic, I enjoyed myself immensely as I learnt about how stars are born and how they die, one of the galaxies known as Messiah 48, and we saw Saturn through a telescope. Some Astrophysicists explained about the black paths of shadow on the sun and how the galaxy is expanding. It was amazing as it was my first time to see a telescope up close and personal let alone even use it! It was very exciting as I even saw the planet Jupiter with the funny ring. I will never forget that experience because I really had a great time.
On Thursday morning we went to the botanical gardens in Silverton, we learnt the anatomy of different plants, how they are preserved for future reference and how different plants can have therapeutic uses.
At the forensic laboratories we were taught about how they are used for DNA investigations which are necessary for tracing thieves. Some of us also learnt about guns and I was in the group that went to ballistics. There someone explained what ballistics is all about, what happens when a gun fires a shot and how each guns makes its unique mark on the bullet. He explained how the police there would track down the shooter and how they could investigate from where a shot was fired from.
We went to University of Pretoria where we had a lecture about science in general. Then they did an exhibition about science and maths. It was amazing and I really enjoyed myself. After the exhibition we went around the main campus were we saw the varsity museums and contained in it, some historically rich artefacts. We also saw the rest of the town with the camera obscurer. It was really cooooooooooooooool!
We went back to TUT to prepare for the award giving ceremony, which was to be held at Midrand Conference Centre later in the evening. It was launched at a very fancy expensive hotel and was the most beautiful venue that I have ever been to plus we had exotic food served for us.
About 34 students won prizes and I (Lesleen) was one of them. I thank God because he made me do it .I also thank my ‘O’ and ‘A’ level teachers too, they played a part in me achieving this success.
When my (Ryan) name was called for a prize I had butterflies in my stomach. I was not expecting it but at the same time I was very happy. I was quite honoured when I received the award out of the many others from SADC (SA Development Community) countries who had also written the science Olympiad. I was given an award for the third best in SADC region! It is THE biggest achievement that I have accomplished so far. After the ceremony we all went back to where we were staying, then we said our sad goodbyes.
On Friday, we boarded a bus back to Zimbabwe but memories of South Africa will forever be engraved on my heart. It is one experience that I will cherish for rest of my life!
Written by: Makomborero Students. Edited by: Grace Baucher