Astronomy for Equity: Building Hope Across the Night Sky

Astronomy for Equity: Building Hope Across the Night Sky

Have you ever attended a star party, where amateur astronomers set up telescopes and invite the public to take a look at the night sky? If so, then you understand and appreciate how much these part-time but incredibly enthusiastic astronomers enjoy sharing the wonders of our universe with others.

This kind of passion and generosity of heart is the foundation of a new organization that hopes to harness astronomy’s proven ability to bring hope, wonder and science to marginalized and isolated students and communities around the world. entire.

Astronomy For Equity (A4E) seeks to bring together existing resources within communities in war-torn or developing countries, and provide the tools and resources to support volunteers and experienced teachers for public education programs which are already in place. Their first initiative will help provide telescopes to astronomy students in Libya.

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“Astronomy clubs in every country are committed to raising public awareness, educating people while sharing their passion for the cosmos,” said Astronomy For Equity founder Mike Simmons. “But in developing countries, volunteer programs often reach the limit of what local organizers can accomplish because most groups lack telescopes and books.”

If Simmons’ name sounds familiar to you, it’s no wonder. He has been an integral part of the amateur astronomy community for over 50 years and founded Astronomers Without Borders (AWB) in 2006 to unite astronomy and space enthusiasts around the world around their common interests.

“Meeting people through Astronomers Without Borders, I discovered that astronomers from Europe, the United States and other developed countries were really friendly and supportive of their compatriots in other countries who couldn’t get from telescopes and other astronomy tools,” Simmons said in an interview with Universe Today. “And it didn’t matter where those countries were geopolitically, because they were people who were passionate about the same thing they were – astronomy – and sharing it with others.”

Simmons said that in his time with AWB, he often received requests from groups of amateur astronomers in less fortunate parts of the world, asking for help in obtaining a single telescope, a pair of binoculars or other equipment. or simple resources. Seeing the need to coordinate and organize applications, as well as direct fundraising, Simmons started a new non-profit organization, Astronomy For Equity. Given Simmons’ experiences with amateur astronomers around the world, Astronomy for Equity is able to review applications and use its reputation and access to Western audiences to fund or find other ways to support these groups widely. scattered.

The Libyan Ministry of Education visited astronomy students to ask them why the students cared about astronomy. “I love space science because our universe is big,” said one student. “And there are a lot of mysteries that we don’t know yet.”

For the organization’s first fundraising initiative, A4E is working to provide four telescopes to a national astronomy organization in Libya that is establishing astronomy clubs in colleges in five cities across the country. Simmons said that after years of conflict and unrest in Libya, scientific resources are badly needed.

“We are supporting a great national amateur astronomy association that is already doing great work and has the country’s Department of Education behind it,” Simmons explained. “They go to schools, have workshops and they already do so many wonderful things, but they can’t get telescopes. Telescopes are simply not available in Libya. So there is this keystone that is necessary to really make a difference for this group and for the students.

A young Libyan girl stands in her war-damaged classroom. Image courtesy A4E.

In this fundraising effort for the Libyan astronomy club, A4E hopes to raise $2,500, which covers the costs of four 6-inch Dobsonian telescopes ($350 each) and shipping; to date, $320 has been donated. Ultimately, the group would like to get four telescopes for each club, for a total of 20. This will allow them to share with other schools, use the telescopes more, and bring more students into astronomy. .

Donations can be made through Fundrazr.

The group of Libyan amateur astronomers is Roaya Astronomy. Proof of the notoriety and dissemination of their work, they have more than 720,000 subscribers on their Facebook page, in a region of North Africa where Internet access is not always available.

Simmons said Libyan students are already passionate about astronomy thanks to Roaya’s work, but have never had the experience of looking through a telescope.

“You probably remember the first time you looked through a telescope; for those of us who had this inspiring experience, we never forget it and often times it turns out to be a big moment in people’s lives,” Simmons said. “So getting telescopes for his group would be a great thing. But it’s a small thing for people to help provide a spark of inspiration that will keep these students on the path to the science dreams they now have.

Girls in Libya study astronomy during a presentation on the solar system. Image courtesy A4E.

In addition to obtaining telescopes, A4E will also help create STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) education programs, programs specifically designed to encourage students and others in marginalized and isolated communities who lack representation. and opportunities in STEM fields.

As Simmons saw with AWB, he knows that these school astronomy clubs will become the nucleus of a growing group that will bring their telescopes to the next school and encourage them.

“And that’s another big piece of the puzzle,” he said, “it’s not just giving telescopes to schools, but giving them to people who will learn to use them, and know what that they can observe and then share their enthusiasm.”

Simmons said a few telescopes for an astronomy club and books and other materials for a school yield hours of ongoing public education programs that promote scientific understanding and awareness, as well as support for programs and to science education. Once empowered, individuals and voluntary organizations tend to expand beyond their initial plans, reaping additional return on investment.

But right now the basics of astronomy – telescopes – are simply not available.

“People often don’t understand the degree of difficulty that poses,” Simmons said. “I’ve had people say, ‘They can just order it online.’ Well, even if they had the money, they don’t have the ability to order or even have it delivered safely. It’s not that simple. We’d take care of it. And that’s why these small gestures from the outside can have such a big impact. That’s why I call it fairness, because fairness is not about equality. It’s not about giving everyone the same thing. It gives everyone the same chance.

Astronaut Nicole Stott spoke with astronomy students in Libya.

Future fundraising initiatives are already pending, such as astronomy camps for girls in Nigeria, and the creation and distribution of astronomy resources for the blind.

“When you’re in a situation where you don’t know what the next day holds, even if you have an idea or a goal to inspire and educate, you may not be able to see the path to your goal,” Simmons said. “What is missing is hope. So these little things we can do give hope.

You can help give hope to these enthusiastic astronomy students on this Fundrazr page.

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