Thursday, May 29, 2014

Telescope at a madrassa and students in bombed out schools in Pakistan

by Salman Hameed

There are a number of awful news around Pakistan in the last couple of weeks - especially around the use of the Blasphemy Law (see the next post coming up). But in the midst of it, there are also some bright spots. I have noted on several occasions the rise of public astronomy in Pakistan. Umair Asim in Lahore, with the help of Lahore Astronomical Society and Khwarizimi Science Society, has been tireless in his efforts to bring telescopes to as many people as possible (just see his public outreach page here). I haven't been to Lahore in 8-9 years, but looking at these activities, I will have to take the opportunity to attend one of these telescopic sessions on my next visit to Pakistan.

I wanted to highlight Umair's latest experience of inviting madrassa students to view the Sun through a telescope. This is interesting as madrassas are often in the news usually for something bad. Furthermore, almost all madrassa students in Pakistan belong to lower socio-ecomomic and often forgotten class. This is how Umair described his experience:
This was one of the most memorable outreach session for me. The students of a Madrassa literally came running to the solar telescope as soon as they saw an odd looking machine near their mosque. 
First i gave them the solar glasses. Now just look at them smiling with these on their faces :) I gave them all the glasses i had in my car and requested  to take these to their homes and show their class fellows, siblings and parents. Next they saw the sun through the halpha telescope. Everyone just glued himself with the eyepiece; i was requesting for others' right to see the sun. 
Nothing was planned there. I actually went to see my friend and when we ordered the food, the thought came to my mind. There is a Madrassa right there so why not show the kids the wonders of the universe. Wherever i go, my halpha telescope is always in my car trunk. So there i was, showing them the 'fire' on the sun and how much they got excited is beyond the words i can write.
Here are some pictures from the event:

Then Al Jazeera English published a series of pictures of students in the north-western parts of Pakistan attending bombed out schools. These schools have been a constant target for the Taliban (most often the Pakistan Taliban - TTP), and over 450 have been bombed so far (usually - and thankfully - with no students inside). These pictures are interesting because it shows that kids still want to go to school, and it all shows the conditions of their educational environment. Here are two pictures from the collection: 


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