Girls Science Retreat:Empowering the Next Generation of Female Scientists

Kamuzu University of Health Sciences (KUHeS) and the SAVE Project under the World Bank, recently hosted a two-day Girls Science Retreat from 5th – 8th July 2023. The event was aimed at inspiring and motivating girls in secondary schools to pursue careers in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). The event brought together students, educators, and guest speakers to promote gender diversity in these male-dominated fields and encourage more girls to explore opportunities in the sciences. By exposing them to successful role models and various science activities, the organizers hoped to instill a passion for science and encourage them to consider science programs at the university level after completing their secondary education.

For many years, girls in Malawi have been hesitant to pursue science careers. Recognizing this disparity, the Girls Science Retreat was organized as one of the interventions by the SAVE Project to increase the number of girls and women pursuing STEM careers. The retreat welcomed students from various secondary schools in Blantyre rural such as Madzi abango CDSS, Zingwangwa Secondary School, Namiwawa CDSS, Lumbira Secondary School, Ngumbe CDSS, Namikasi CDSS, Soche Hill Secondary School, Nanjiriri Secondary School, Lunzu Secondary, and Bangwe Community Day Secondary School. The event provided them with an opportunity to visit KUHeS laboratories, meet successful women in science, and engage in hands-on science activities.

Day 1 Highlights: The first day of the Girls Science Retreat began with the Director of Students Affairs (DSA), Dr. Benjamin Kumwenda, delivering inspiring opening remarks. He expressed gratitude to the SAVE Project and the World Bank for their support and highlighted the significance of the event in motivating young girls to pursue science careers.

Dr. Elizabeth Chodzadza, the Executive Dean of the School of Maternal, Neonatal, and Reproductive Health, took to the stage to present an overview of KUHeS programs and her academic success. Drawing from her own experiences, she emphasized the importance of setting clear goals and working diligently to achieve them. Afterwards, Assistant Registrar Academic, Miss Sphiwe Lino, presented an overview of KUHeS programs and the specific requirements for admission. She emphasized that pursuing science subjects opens up a world of opportunities, and the diverse programs at KUHeS cater to aspiring health professionals, including nurses, midwives, medical doctors, pharmacists, physical therapists, nutritionists, biomedical scientists, and lab technicians.

Dr. Mulinda Nyirenda a senior lecturer at KUHeS, in her talk on “Developing Talents and Scientific Interests,” urged the girls to recognize their unique abilities and to explore different skills. She emphasized that hard work, self-discovery, and networking with diverse individuals can lead to extraordinary accomplishments. Dr. Gladys Gadama, a Senior Lecturer based at KUHeS, delivered an empowering speech to the young girls, challenging gender stereotypes and encouraging them to pursue Science as a career. She emphasized that intelligence and capability know no gender boundaries and that every girl has the potential to achieve greatness in the field of Science.

The highlight of the day was the engaging Chemistry Lab Sessions, where the secondary school students had a hands-on experience in the world of Chemistry. Under the guidance of KUHeS staff, particularly Mr. Chimphepo, they conducted experiments, observed chemical reactions, and explored the wonders of this fundamental science. The lab sessions sparked enthusiasm and curiosity among the girls, fostering a deeper interest in scientific exploration.

Day 2 Highlights: The second day of the Girls Science Retreat was filled with enriching activities and inspiring encounters, further fueling the girls’ passion for science and empowering them to envision a future in STEM.

Computer Lab Session: In the computer lab session, facilitated by Grace Kamkuzi – Website Developer from the ICT department, the students delved into the world of technology and its impact on various scientific fields. The session sparked an appreciation for the role of technology in modern scientific pursuits and encouraged the girls to consider the dynamic intersection of Science and Computing.

The most anticipated segment of the day was the meeting with accomplished female scientists who shared their remarkable journeys and breakthroughs in the world of Science. Associate Prof. Janelisa Musaya – An Associate Director at Malawi Liverpool Welcome Trust (MLW) and a leading figure in Neglected Tropical Diseases research – captivated the audience with her life story. From overcoming challenges in her early education to becoming a respected scientist, she emphasized the significance of perseverance and believing in one’s potential. Her words resonated with the girls, motivating them to embrace their uniqueness and use their talents to make a difference in the scientific realm. Dr. Atupele Kapito – another trailblazing role model who is a senior lecturer at KUHeS, emphasized the importance of setting clear goals and working diligently to achieve them. She shared her own journey of academic determination, highlighting that success is not determined by the path one takes but rather the dedication and effort invested. Dr. Kapito encouraged the students to stay focused, work hard, and never underestimate their capabilities.

During the Alumni Session, KUHeS alumni Dr. Diana Kululanga Banda shared her inspiring journey from primary school to College of Medicine. She highlighted the transformative impact of education and how it shaped her into the accomplished professional she is today.

In her closing remarks, Mrs Bernadette Kholopa Nanganga a science teacher from Namiwawa CDSS expressed gratitude to KUHeS and the sponsors for the event. She highlighted the positive impact of the retreat on the girls, inspiring them to embrace Science and work towards their dreams. She emphasized the importance of staying focused, hard work, and self-belief as keys to success.

The Girls Science Retreat also featured engaging activities organized by the Science for All Initiative from MLW. The talented girls interacted with MLW representatives, who motivated them to work hard in their studies to achieve their dreams. Role models shared their educational journeys, and engaging games added a fun touch to the event. The MLW activities aimed to instill a sense of curiosity and ambition among the students, inspiring them to pursue their passion for science.

Other activities included sporting activities such as netball and girls football at the KUHeS Sports Complex facilitated by Mr Geof Biya the Sports Administrator, a Science Quiz facilitated by Mrs Gondwe from Soche Hill Secondary School and a disco.

The Girls Science Retreat proved to be a transformative event, igniting curiosity and ambition among the young female students.