By Mayte Vasquez
As GalileoMobile continues to reach many people around the globe by organising expeditions, it has also inspired individuals to perform activities in different countries. To enjoy of some holidays after finalising my Ph.D. studies, I planned to visit part of my family in the Dominican Republic in December 2013. Since I was staying in there for about a month, I decided that I had enough time and motivation to also perform astronomical activities. GalileoMobile has not reached the Caribbean region yet, where the Dominican Republic is located. This country has very little access to astronomy programmes.
Before leaving to the Caribbean, I contacted different organisations in Europe looking for material to donate to the schools that could be useful for the continuation of the realisation of astronomical activities. Soon after this, I started to receive material from UNAWE (Earth balls), ESO (posters, postcards and stickers), and the German Aerospace Center [DLR] (posters and printed copies of the activities handbook). All those materials were sent to the country by DLR.
I visited various towns and villages during December 2013 to have the chance to share astronomy with schools and community centers located in different areas:
- Luis Terror Dias School in Bonao – 02.12.13
- Lawrence T. Phelan Center in La Caleta – 03.12.13
- Cultural Center La Nave in San Francisco – 05.12.13
- Martin Luther King School in Villa Altagracia – 06.12.13
- Supermaticas Club in Santo Domingo Este – 07.12.13
- Althus School in Santo Domingo – 09.12.13
- Community Center Padre Las Casas – 15.12.13
- Las Mercedes School in Bayaguate – 17.12.13
- Pozo Bejuco School in La Vega – 18.12.13
All these centers are located in very low income areas in the country. I traveled to all them with the company of Sebastian Gimeno and with a former friend from school, Yudith Cueto, who joined us to some of them. Two of these schools were contacted by Robert Bueno through the organisation Children International, which collaborated with the transportation to the schools along with CIPAF, GEXPAYE and Fun Science.
All the schools we visited, treated us in a really unique way. When we went to the Cultural Center La Nave in San Francisco, we did what they call a “pasacalles” by walking around the streets with an instrumental band while inviting people with a loudspeaker to join the activities. Many kids and adults followed us when passing by.
The centers we visited showed motivation and interest for astronomy. In fact, we were able to find some amazing young students that showed special interest and talent as they always tried to answer the questions we were making during the inaugural talk and activity sections. The kids were always amazed by our relative size in the universe. This was something that really impressed them when showing a photo of Earth as seen from Saturn during the inaugural talk. Their faces would even get more surprised when presenting an image of our galaxy and showing where the Solar System was located and how relatively small was the Sun.
One of the kids had great interest in setting up the telescope for the solar projection activity to look for Sunspots. He was so motivated to help that Sebastian led him point towards the Sun and adjust the telescope. He was very successful even though it was his very first time touching a telescope. After doing this, he told us about the artificial satellites showing up in the sky that he was following almost every night.
We also had the chance to come out in two local newspapers (El Nacional and Hoy). This was very important in order to motivate other locals to continue with this kind of activities. There were also two interviews for the television (one recorded inside a studio and the other in a school while conducting the activities) that were aired on the 13th and 20th of December on the news of the local channel 7. I also gave a talk at the technical university INTEC about astronomy in general and the activities that were inspired by GalileoMobile in order to also awake the interest of the students to perform similar activities at local schools.
After finalising the visits to the different centers, the group from GEXPAYE wrote me an e-mail where they explained the big interest the children we were able to reach had to visit the museum of science in the capital. They even prepared food to sell in a fair to obtain funds to cover their transportation to the museum. I was so moved by this that I spent days contacting the government’s environmental office to look for free entrance for the group. At the end, they did not only get to enter to the museum but also to the zoo and aquarium with free beverages and meals. The kids were amazingly happy as most of them never even had the chance to leave their village.
This was a very nice experience and I felt the community in general responded in a very enthusiastic way. I am hoping in the future we could make an official expedition with the rest of the members of GalileoMobile. Next time I take holidays in the Dominican Republic, I will definitely conduct more activities. This was time worthy!