SAAO - South African Astronomical Observatory

Activities: 2006

General

  • Presentations on the revised SCBP strategy made to the SALT Board. Currently exploring ways of establishing a trust for fund-raising purposes
  • First “Resource Day” held with the department – basically a day set aside to evaluate status and decide on future direction of all education and outreach resources.
  • Discussions held with various parties in the KAT/SKA projects regarding closer collaboration and the development of a department similar to that of the SALT Collateral Benefits Programme.
  • Following discussions with the Karoo-Hoogland Council regarding the light pollution, a draft policy has been circulated amongst the SAAO exec for comments before implementation.

Education

  • Ongoing workshops for teachers and learners continue to be held at the SAAO.
  • Development of astronomy resources for schools with the assistance of student helper Abiy Tekola.
  • Ort-Tech/DG Murray Trust teacher development programme in the Karoo-Hoogland progressing well. Schools were visited in April then in June.
  • Ken Phillips from the California Science Centre visited us at the SAAO and accompanied us to all the schools in Karoo-Hoogland.
  • Further meetings held with Northern Cape Department of Education who welcome assistance from the SAAO in terms of Astronomy Resources.
  • Successful implementation of National Science Week events both in Cape Town and Sutherland. For the first time all regions in the Northern Cape sent learners to the events at Sutherland. This was only due to the close working relationship established with the Northern Cape Department of Education.
  • Combined teacher workshop held with iThemba, SAAO and HMO at iThemba LABS.
  • Funding received from SAASTA for 3 projects: National Science Week, Women’s Day and Astronomy Quiz.
  • Successful discussions held with the Department of Education in Lesotho regarding Astronomy resources for their schools.
  • Astronomy and Space Science interest group for teachers held for 5 Saturdays in July by NASSP student Mellony Spark.
  • Attendance and participation in the SAIP annual conference including programme for learners and educators.
  • Work shadow programmes are underway with volunteers from the SAAO staff.
  • Education Officer Sivuyile Manxoyi, was funded to attend a development programme in Wisconsin, USA.

Public Awareness and Outreach

  • Team visit to the Cape Town Planetarium to explore collaborations resulted in, amongst others, a SALT/SAAO display and flyers at the planetarium.
  • Successful “Yuri’s Night” event was held in collaboration with the Cape Centre of the Astronomy Society of South Africa.
  • Meetings held with the Shuttleworth Foundation to explore areas of collaboration – media outlets are accessible but restructuring in progress.
  • Two unscheduled open nights were held for groups of university students.
  • Extra tours have been scheduled in Sutherland due to an increasing demand.
  • Email contact, followed by a meeting in Cape Town, with the Museums Association of Namibia resulted in posters and flyers being sent to Windhoek for a travelling Astronomy Exhibition as well as distribution amongst Namibian Museums.

Socio-Economic Development

  • Meetings held with Alletta van Sittert (previous Municipal Manager of Karoo-Hoogland) to establish continuity of projects such as the “Walking With Ancestors” tourism development projects.
  • Regular interactions with the community of Karoo-Hoogland, with a highlight in July at the launch of the Kamama Coffee Shop, have resulted in close relationships being established with various stakeholders. The political independence of the SAAO allows us the opportunity to bring various parties together to realise common objectives – our role in the community has become significant and continues to grow. In the Northern Cape and Karoo-Hoogland in particular, we have been part of a recently strengthened “dream team of stakeholders” establishing working conversations amongst parties such as the Tourism Boards in each town, the Unemployment Forums in each town, the Local Municipality, the National Development Agency, the Tourism Enterprise Programme, the Succulent Karoo Ecosystem Programme, the Military Service Corps, the Provincial Departments of Labour, Social Development, Arts and Culture, Education, Tourism and Public Works. Virtually everyone who has socio-economic development at heart has been made aware of our intentions to develop this region of the country with a spirit of openness and communication without any political or other issues to hamper our progress.
  • Some of the projects underway or about to get underway:
    • Regular community development meetings held monthly in each of the towns with community stakeholders (organised by SAAO)
    • Informal (but well regulated) tour guide programmes to give unemployed people an opportunity to gain some experience as well as earn some cash from tips
    • Informal accommodation provided by the poorer communities for tourists who want to experience life in the “townships”
    • Informal arts and crafts “flea market”
    • The issue of tarring the roads between the towns has been tabled at provincial level and seems like it will materialise in the near future
    • A grant for R1.5 million has recently been awarded for the development of Arts and Crafts in the Karoo-Hoogland (funds managed by the Unemployment Forum). We were able to negotiate with the Department of Arts and Crafts for an increase in this amount along with the possibility of a vehicle
    • Grants have been awarded to the local municipality for the development of hiking trails. The SAAO has come in to build into it an astronomy theme and offer basic astronomy training for guides, especially guides for overnight hikes (the idea is to use the military veterans to take visitors on overnight hikes).
    • We are looking at bringing back annual festivals in the area and linking them to all three towns with a strong astronomy component
    • Guest house owners have expressed interest in learning some basic astronomy as well as possibly using amateur telescopes in order for us to realise the vision of creating a culture of an “Astronomy Province”
    • The SAAO has been tasked to offer advice on creating an Astronomy theme/atmosphere in some of the community development projects such as the Venus Sisters Guest House and the Kamamas Coffee Shops
    • We are looking into establishing a mountain bike race in three legs between each of the towns.
    • Interest has already been shown regarding off road motorcycle routes between the towns.
    • Ideas for activities for youth and unemployed include movie screenings, star parties, astronomy public lectures and sporting leagues. These, it is hoped, may help curb the rising levels of alcoholism and drug abuse. Each activity should be coupled with innovative forms of education and motivational speaking.
    • Dinosaur footprints in Fraserburg to be protected and built up as a tourist destination.
    • Unused equipment from the Department of Social Services Flagship Projects is sought for job creation (dormant projects include a greenhouse type vegetable garden, chicken farming equipment and cold meat manufacturing equipment)
    • Project to research and document detailed histories of each town including star lore and folk tales
    • Wool spinning project – the skills are contained within the community.
    • Revival of the “Walking with Ancestors” tourism plan.
  • Note that almost all the projects mentioned above are in line with the Government’s ASGISA programme and even the partners involved such as the NDA and TEP are organisations that have been specifically tasked with ensuring the rollout of ASGISA. The SAAO’s involvement in the socio-economic development of the Karoo-Hoogland area and the Northern Cape in general, is certainly not insignificant and very much in line with ASGISA.