11/07/2017: St Joseph

Today was a first – giving our workshops in a basketball court! St Joseph is a technical school, hence the hard hats. We started the day in shade but very quickly ended up completely exposed to the morning sun – as you can imagine, we were struggling a lot more than our Rwandan teammates, but had a large number of children turn up. Approximately 150 boys and girls roamed around our stands, with some gathering more interest than others. At the Biomedical Eng stand, there seemed to be a great deal of inquiry into exactly how did the pregnancy test work – only from boys!

Upon returning from this visit, we were called from the school director as he was really grateful for us to go and speak with them. Apparently they don’t have many visitors (potentially due to their more practical nature) and they very much enjoyed us taking an interest in them. We may have to pay them a second visit!

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In the afternoon, Jumai held a CV-writing session with all of us, so we could help one another and offer some advice to the girls which hadn’t written one before. The high school team especially enjoyed it and were very inquisitive!

Tomorrow we visit Muhanga to see Zipline and the Bridges to Prosperity site. It will be a long day of driving but we are looking forward to it!

 

 

10/07/2017: Lycèe de Kigali

After a restful Sunday, the FIR team got back to work. Sadly, we were still without a working minibus today and ended up taking a cross-country hike to our first school of the day, Lycée de Kigali. It was also coincidentally the hottest day since we have arrived, so we were all slightly red-faced by the time we arrived; thankfully only one grazed knee was obtained.

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Some of the Rwandan team members went to this school themselves, so they were really happy to be able to go and visit. As one of the better schools in this region, we had a very different experience compared with the previous two we visited last week. Many of the children were already driven to study engineering and go abroad to do so, which indicates that it is common that alumni from the school were likely given information and encouragement already about this. However, there were still many questions and gaps in their knowledge about the engineering and science concepts we present in our workshops; in some ways, they could appreciate the concepts even further!

Today we tried running all of our workshops simultaneously, creating our “science fair”. This allowed a varied mixture of activities to be side-by-side, some which took longer and some which could be explained in five minutes. It felt very relaxed and allowed pupils to stay for whatever time they wanted at each station. Overall we saw over 60 people in about one hour!

Afterwards, Jumai took down contact details of pupils who wanted further information – many had asked about specific things like scholarships and degree programmes they were interested in. As we were with a fairly senior cohort, a large number of the students knew what they would like to study already – however, there’s nothing wrong with showing them something different!

We sadly had to cancel the visit to our second school today as we were unable to get there without a working bus; we are confident we will be able to visit later in the week. However, this meant Jumai could run her first careers session with the Rwandan teams and gave the rest of us some time to tie up loose ends in our workshops and tidy up our messy studio! Jumai tells us more about how it went:

“We spent the session focusing on the social responsibility compelled on our generation of Africans and how we can fully embrace that. A TED talk on architecture by Diebedo Francis Kere (building with clay and community) got us all reflecting on how technology and education can enhance how we collaborate with our communities on giving back. The Rwandan team also spent good time analyzing the Rwandan terrain, looking at issues such as unemployment, improper land use, population boom and illiteracy. They came up with unique solutions and ideas on how to deal with these issues. After this, we ran the Myers Briggs indicator test individually to allow us track our natural tendencies and personalities. It was a great first session and the team members did say they felt empowered and recharged even though it was a long grueling day.”

Tomorrow we have a painfully early start, visiting a nearby school at 8am – but we are excited all the same! The minibus was fixed this afternoon too and will be available for the rest of our time here, with our much loved driver from 2016, Gratien, who makes the long journeys a lot better!

8/7/2017: St Andre

We weren’t sure what to expect after yesterday’s school visit – where we were overcrowded with too many students and too little space – but our visit to St Andre high school was a completely different story.

Thanks to a technical fault with the campus minibus, we were forced to take individual mototaxis with our workshop materials in hand (including three models of bridges, 3D architectural landscapes, 10+ posters and a life-size drawing of a set of lungs). Our Rwandan team were super helpful with coordinating 23 motorbikes at the one time, although we did end up looking like a very tame motorcycle gang.

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Upon arrival at the school, we were directed to a huge assembly hall with a large stage and a PA system, which gave us the space to set up 6 workshops simultaneously. The room gradually filled with pupils, a mixture of boys and girls, to the point we were getting a little concerned that we wouldn’t be able to host all of them in the 90 minutes we had been allocated.

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After an introductory speech from Jumai covering engineering as a whole, we brought groups of pupils up to the stage in groups to start taking part in the workshops. It ended up being more like a science fair, with pupils walking around and asking questions alongside the set activities and presentations we had prepared. This made for a more relaxed feeling, and allowed the children to have a look at all the different themes instead of being limited to the workshops they were standing at first.

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Although it was a little mad at times – with some workshops being completely swamped to the point we couldn’t see the people running – but we had so many questions from interested individuals about different subjects, career options and enquiring about what we do. This was really fun for all of the team, getting the chance to pass on advice and having children becoming interested in their degree subject thanks to the workshops. Even the people who weren’t able to fit on the stage at the

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We also had an insightful conversation with the accompanying staff member, and he explained that they would appreciate some form of follow-up after we leave. Once we returned back to campus, we all sat round and discussed the feedback we received during our school session:

  • Firstly, acknowledging the desire for follow-up, we were brainstorming how to provide information that is useful for the children visiting the workshops. Common questions revolved around the subject combinations suitable for particular degrees – the Rwandan system fixes children from an early age into three distinct subjects, which can be really limiting later on. We were asked a lot about scholarships too, and how they could get to study in the UK.
    • Therefore, we talked about the possibility of creating a website which would be a hub of information for the children and teachers we meet with. This could contain all the answers to their questions alongside other functionalities.
  • Secondly, many of the children we met wanted to get involved with FemEng as well. The Dean of Discipline suggested we help them to start a club within the school which would be focused on STEM.
    • This encouraged us to think of how we could facilitate this; or more appropriately, how the Rwandan team would be able to work with these ideas.
  • Finally, we were reminded by one of our Rwandan team, Alexia (Mining), that we must realise that many of the schools in the city are fairly privileged, and already know about science and the possibilities for their futures. She wants us to also visit rural areas to ensure we are opening up opportunities to everyone.
    • This led onto a great discussion about the Rwandan team’s plans for how to self-sustain this initiative when we leave. Olga (Architecture) was passionate about the continuation of this work and they have planned to meet over the weekend to discuss how they will move forward.

It is super exciting to see how we have facilitated these young women to be leaders and teachers in their own schools and their own country; most of the time we were able to sit back and let them run the workshops with little input from ourselves. We are confident that this group will visit schools when we leave, and they are prepared and willing to do so.

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Now it’s the weekend, we are all taking a break to recuperate and rethink how to improve the workshops. Monday and Tuesday will encompass another two schools, and on Wednesday we get to visit Muahanga to visit both Zipline and Bridges to Prosperity sites. Our Aero and Civil Engineers are particularly excited!

7/7/2017: EP St Michel

Over the past few days, we have been sharing with you about the design and preparation of our workshops as well as the integration of our three teams.

Well, preparation peaked today as our morning was spent doing trial runs of our workshops in batches. In the midst of triumphs and troubles, laughter and chuckles, we managed to put final touches and elements on the workshop presentations while ensuring different aspects were timed and clearly delivered.

Meanwhile, Ellen was off visiting the manager of Bridges to Prosperity in Rwanda, an NGO which enable communities to build footbridges to enhance the trade within their areas (https://www.bridgestoprosperity.org). They are keen to take on interns within their organisation and to establish partnerships within the University of Rwanda, so we have planned to pay a few visits to their bridges (both finished ones and those under construction) in addition to having an information session with UR students.

After lunch, we visited our first school, GS EPA/St Michel. There, we learnt that St Michel is one of the schools in Kigali that largely accepts students who failed the Primary 6 exams. Starting out with such a school definitely gives a strong sense of purpose to us.

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Although we had a few challenges in having only a short time with the students and a very small classroom to work in, we presented across 4 workshop stations to over 70 students. We covered biomedical engineering (light in diagnostics), and explored mechanical engineering (cooling), mining engineering and civil engineering (bridges).

Our Rwandan high school team members took the lead along with us and UR students in delivering workshops in a mix of Ikinyarwanda and English language. It was exciting watching them own fields of studies and activities some of them have only come to know in just about a week or so.

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We also managed to reach out to some students we couldn’t fit into the classroom where the workshops were being delivered. We had career chats and interesting conversations with them and although it was the end of the day, the students were very keen about still trying to get in.

On observations, a chat with a S1 student called Joel who wants to be a pilot but has not been doing well in mathematics revealed that travelling a long distance to school, limited access to library resources coupled with the absence of internet infrastructure might be crippling his dreams. We also observed that lots of students only want to study medicine and we think this might be because there is a lack of knowledge about diverse career options. Trust us to get a few converts by the end of the day.

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All in all, it was a great start to our school visits. Our teams worked quite nicely together, quick on their feet to improvise where necessary and to bridge language barriers where present. We are excited about our visit to St Andre tomorrow and will let you know how that goes.

6/03/2017: First school tomorrow!

After a few long days of finalising our workshops and calling around the local high schools, we have managed to sort all our ideas into seven concise themes:

  • Civil Engineering
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Mining Engineering
  • Architecture
  • Electrical Engineering
  • Mechanical Engineering

We are incorporating a large variety of different concepts and activities: 

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Alongside our workshops we brought from home, we now have a nice assortment of workshop activities directly related to the subjects of our students from the University of Rwanda College of Science & Technology (UR CST). It has been amazing to see our teammates in their element whilst working on these activities, and we can see their enthusiasm will directly translate into their outreach. Tomorrow we will be doing a practice run of each workshop, so more pictures will follow! 

Despite not having WiFi or electricity the past couple days, we have managed to have a really productive time and our school-visit itinerary is filling up nicely. Tomorrow late afternoon we visit our first school – St Andre – who participated in our workshops last year. Then our hard work will finally be put to the test! 

03/07/2017: Workshop Demonstrations

After spending the last few days getting to know the Rwandan team members, today was spent selecting and planning the workshops which will be presented to the schools which we will visit. We tended to focus our workshops on areas of engineering which we know are studied in the University of Rwanda, such Civil Engineering, Architecture, Mining Engineering and Electrical Engineering. In addition, we showed the other team members our donated workshop resources from STAR Refrigeration, UofG Biomedical Engineering Department and the Ingenious Circuits! Project team.

Our aim was to make the workshops as interactive as possible and we were able to draw upon the experiences and previous knowledge of the UR students in order to make the information relevant to the high school students. For example, focusing the architecture workshop on efficient land use to help relieve the problem of a rapidly increasing population. Having recent high school graduates present, we were able to address questions that are likely to be asked by our participants, which helped us to gain a well-rounded impression of how our workshops would be received.

We are going to develop our ideas even further tomorrow, but the tentative list of workshops for this year are as follows:

Civil Engineering: matching types of bridge designs to their appropriate use and explaining why, followed by a competition to see which team can build the tallest and strongest tower out of straws and tape (similar to our Civil Engineering with Architecture workshop from last year, with more emphasis on the engineering side of things).

 

Electrical: learning about the importance of series and parallel circuitry, and then looking alternative ways to create electricity (e.g. solar panels, biomass)

Cooling: Comparing the difference humidity makes to air temperature, and discussing how this can be used in relevant applications (e.g. preventing food from spoiling) using STAR Refrigeration’s donated whirling thermometers and psychrometric charts.

Architecture: Discussing proper land use to promote conservation of the environment whilst providing sufficient housing, and learning how to construct different elements of an architecture model from pre-cut shapes.

Mining: discussing the importance of mining and the vast range of products which arise, as well as the stages involved in the mining process.

Sound in diagnostics: Illustrating how sound waves can be used to diagnose malaria from a blood sample, and discussing why this is an important technology (using Ingenious Circuits! prototype kit, designed by Dr. Melanie Jimenez).

Paper diagnostics: Cheap and simple methods of diagnosing diseases, including malaria. Also comparing different types of testing devices including pregnancy tests, and discussing why having reliable but low-cost de-skilled testing equipment is important in Africa.

Light in diagnostics: Based off current research in diagnosing lung problems such as infection and cancer, the workshop demonstrates how use of optical fibres can enhance imaging of lung tissue.

The whole day was really productive and we managed to get through all the workshop ideas in a fair amount of time. We have agreed to split the workshop groups into fewer and larger numbers of team members, giving each workshop more brains to develop it and more experts to be able to run the workshop. This means we are more flexible in terms of our possible workshops each time we visit a school and allows more team members to learn about each topic in depth.

 

 

30/06/2017 Culture Session & Workshop Proposals

We were very impressed this morning when the Rwandan students left breakfast early to prepare for their cultural session. When we arrived in the University building, they had all brought “mishanana” – traditional ceremonial Rwandan dress with bright beautiful patterns. We all got to try these on, and then listen to an amazing presentation they had prepared on Rwandan culture. We learned that you are supposed to drink milk with two hands, that it’s rude to eat in public, and that cows are very highly regarded – even the old airport building design used to imitate cow’s horns, and the traditional dancing!

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Showing off our mishanana in front of the College of Science and Technology

We then got to hear what workshop ideas the students had come up with – all the high-school graduates had their leaving ceremony today so we had a smaller group, but all the proposed ideas were really interesting! Some examples include:

Architecture: teaching children how to turn drawings into models and following the design process; also how to make architecture harmonious with the environment, as opposed to making the environment fit with the architecture. 

Solving Rwandan problems: water distribution with smart machines, electricity shortages with high-capacity generators and renewable sources, contactless payments for mototaxi transport

Efficiency with waste: making tea with avocado leaves; harvesting CO2 from agriculture for fuel

Bridge Construction: building bridge designs with small sticks to show how loading forces are determined by structure 

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Afterwards over lunch we discussed how to turn these workshop ideas into real activities, potentially trying to make each activity shorter to allow us to run a more “science fair”-type event. This would help us to cover more topics with each school group, and make the set-up of the day less like a typical classroom. 

Saturday will be spent working on our school itinerary and mapping out locations to allow us to co-ordinate our visits, and on Sunday we plan to visit the National Museum of Rwanda. On Monday, the real hard work begins – nailing down our final workshops and practising them enough in order to deliver them to hundreds of children over the next three weeks!

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The Glasgow girls admiring the Rwandan sunset over the hills

28/06/2017 Getting started

Today we got properly started on creating the workshops with the Rwandan team of university students and high school graduates.

The morning started with some fun team building games which were actually suggested by the high school girls. We were so impressed by how engaged they were from the onset!

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After a quick introduction from Ellen into what the FemEng in Rwanda project will involve, we split into groups according to the engineering discipline that we study and discussed what our courses involve, why we enjoy them and our future aspirations. We then had a competition where we attempted to “sell” our engineering discipline with a small presentation to the high school graduates, who voted on which course they wanted to study the most. This exercise was great fun as everyone was very enthusiastic and engaged well with the young girls in order to capture their interest.

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After this, we taught the girls a bit about Scotland and our culture and taught them how to ceilidh dance.

In the afternoon, we began some prototype workshop activities, looking at real life problems and how we can solve them.

The first problem was the Grenfell Tower disaster and how to best deal with the remaining unsafe tower blocks and the people who live in them. The solution that the group came up with was to put the residents into small groups and temporarily rehome them while the flats were being brought up to standard in manageable sections.

The second problem was looking into ways to help women deal effectively with disruptions to their daily life due to their menstrual cycle. The group came up with an idea for an App/Text message service called “PADDY” which women can use to access sanitary towels and painkillers when they don’t have any. The app would use location data to send out alerts to other women in the area who could help out other women in “emergency” situations when they don’t have easy access to sanitation products. The team then developed this idea to include a text service which would provide these benefits to those who don’t own smartphones.

The third problem was discovering ways to improve water sanitation and clean water availability. The group proposed to design a solar powered water pump that has a sensor mechanism that can be triggered when a jerry can is placed under the tap. This would reduce water waste and power consumption.

The last problem was looking at how to improve the internet in Rwanda. The team focused on how the internet can improve society. Their solution was creating an online database of the medical history of people in Rwanda, so that in an emergency, doctors could have immediate access to a patient’s blood type, allergy information, pre-existing medical conditions etc.

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It was a fantastic start to the project and we had a great time getting to know the Rwandan team! We are very excited to work with the girls in the upcoming weeks.

 

 

Workshop Preparations

We have had a busy few weeks visiting our sponsors and collecting resources to use in our workshops. It’s been very interesting to learn new things for ourselves and be able to see how others have found ways to communicate these concepts in interactive ways.

STAR Refrigeration

Engineers at STAR got to be our dummy schoolchildren for the workshop ideas imagined by their director Dr Andy Pearson. Using simple materials such as glasses of water, a thermometer and a fan, you can easily demonstrate basic cooling principles. These simple ideas are ideal as they can be used in all sorts of environments and in limited-resource settings.

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STAR Engineers measuring the change in temperature of glasses of water in different conditions

We have also been given some whirling thermometers which can be used to work out the humidity of the surrounding air. By “whirling” this device around, you can see the influence of air on the temperature measured by a thermometer which has a damp piece of cloth attached to its bulb (the “wet” thermometer). Comparing this with the “dry” thermometer, you can extrapolate the values and determine the relative humidity of the air. They take a bit of elbow grease to get them going so we think it will be a really fun thing for the kids to play with, and also an interesting way for them to learn about the technology behind air conditioning!

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Another STAR engineer with the whirling thermometer in motion!

A big thanks to Andy and the Engineer’s Club at STAR for providing us with this workshop, the materials, their time and for sponsoring us again this year!

Ingenious Circuits!

Last week, a few of us went to Edinburgh University to meet the Ingenious Circuits team so we could trial prototypes of workshops they designed for us to take to Rwanda.

Once we arrived we shared our opinions on what public engagement means to us. then gave a presentation to the group introducing what FemEng is about and our goals for supporting engineering engagement in Rwanda, linking to how we aim to use the Circuits connection to achieve them.

Following our presentation, we had the chance to listen to the Proteus engineers tell us about the incredible research they are doing and learn about their work on creating a new, improved method of diagnosing lung diseases and infections. Having learned about the concept of the Proteus engineers work, we tried out the workshop they designed which links to their research. The workshop involved using a Borescope camera to see into a plastic set of lungs, where we identified different coloured small balls representing different types of bacteria.

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Some of the kit used for the Proteus workshop around diagnosis of lung diseases in new ways

Afterwards, Glasgow University’s Dr. Melanie Jimenez provided us with an overview of her research into using sound technology to diagnose malaria in blood cells and subsequently showed us the interactive workshop she created relating to this research. We learned that the difference in density of healthy blood cells in comparison to infected cells means that they will react to different sound frequencies, allowing them to be separated when a sample is being tested.

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Testing out Dr. Jimenez’s workshop around blood cells and sound technologies

Our final afternoon activity, Story Mapping, required us to identify the teaching tools that could be used to present these workshops to students. We did this by mapping out the different parts of the technologies, thinking of the different elements coming together as a whole.

The whole day was a great experience for us as it was informative and engaging and we can’t wait to test the new workshops in Rwanda! We are extremely grateful to Helen Szoor-McElhinney and Dr Melanie Jimenez for organising this event for us and giving us such great resources.

 

Low-Cost High-Specificity Diagnostics

Finally, we have been introduced to the new version of the low-cost paper diagnostic test that we took with us to Rwanda last year, courtesy of Dr. Julien Reboud from the University of Glasgow. These testing devices are designed to be very simple to manufacture and use, taking advantage of complex mechanisms and reagents to give specific results for diseases such as malaria. Devices such as these can then be used by non-expert staff, can be disposed of safely, and can give accurate results which determine exactly the types of medicine which should be used for the patient. In malaria-rife cities in Africa, there are many different breeds of mosquito flying around, which host a number of varieties of malaria parasites – these require different medicines to treat the resulting illness.

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Version 1 from 2016

Version 1 of this test was just a strip of wax paper with filter paper gaps, designed to separate the DNA from the sample and mix with the reagents in such a way that the last square of paper will reveal a colour result that determines the breed of malaria parasite present.

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Version 2 showing the paper element similar to version 1, alongside the new casing containing indication strips

Version 2 incorporates a new casing element, allowing for a control test to be triggered simultaneously, alongside a simple “positive/negative” result (for the presence of any parasite) and then a specific result depending on the breed of parasite. This can be altered depending on the disease being tested for, and looks similar to a basic pregnancy test, very like those you would typically find in Rwanda.

The addition of these different elements onto the standard paper design allows for the result to be more readable and definite, as well as giving a flexibility in terms of the possible diseases that can be diagnosed from it (e.g. if a disease has 5 different forms, there could be 5 different results presented by just adding more strips into the design).

Although we obviously aren’t going to be testing real human DNA, Julien and his colleagues are hoping to be able to set up these devices to allow different results to be displayed using dummy chemicals; this should add a very interesting element as we are then able to get the participating children to process the results of their “test”.

Big thanks again to Julien for making up these devices for us and taking the time to familiarise us with the technology.

Watch this space – soon these donated resources will be put to good use!