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Notes From the Field

When I first started attending the science Expo workshops with The Umkhumbane Schools Project, I was super anxious. There were a lot of unfamiliar faces. But as the time passed I got to know each and every one and got close to them. Although we always fought over food  --   especially those divine banana cakes. We always fooled around, maybe too much so we forgot to work, but thanks to our mentors and Mrs. Bishai, we always got things done.

My project was about the bacteria found on cellphones before and after using it in the toilet.  I got interested in this because I saw people who would go into the toilet with their phones and then come out and I would wonder if the phones might now have a lot of germs on them.  I was concerned about whether people, or others around them, could get sick by using their cell phones while using the toilet --  or even just from taking their phones into that space.

I was lucky that The Umkhumbane Schools Project arranged for me to do my bacteria research in Dr Govenden’s lab at UKZN.  When I first entered the lab I was astonished and amazed by the big and fancy lab equipment.  But as Dr Govenden started explaining how all the lab equipment works I felt at ease and before I knew it I was in charge, doing the lab work.  I really enjoyed it!  I thought it was fun and easy working in a lab  --  and I managed to finish my work without doing any damage!   I was so glad of that.

On the 14th was the Expo’s first competition day, where we would set up our posters. I was excited, as it was my first time ever at Expo. In the Uber we were laughing and sharing jokes. Cool air blowing on our faces, singing to the music and living each line. Until we arrived at the venue. It was like a maze. We first got lost, unable to find our stations. Finally, we did find our stations but didn’t have much time to finish setting up our papers. We went home without finishing. We were so stressed that for the first time we didn’t even ask the Uber driver to play music. I recall waking up in the middle of the night practicing the orals until I fell asleep again.

The second day we arrived and helped each other with our posters. We had to wait awhile before judging started so we had plenty of time to make friends…and we did! Everyone was introducing their new friends to everyone. The room echoed with conversation and laughter! The first judge came. I presented my project. She seemed interested about bacteria growth on cellphones. But with the second judge, I did excellently! Suddenly I was not nervous. I spoke clearly and fluently.

The award ceremony came. First, there was a fun and educating science show. Then the Highly  Commended certificates were called. Bronze medalists were called. The first Silver medalist was called and still I wasn’t called. I was so stressed. “After all the hard work I’m going to get nothing!” I thought.   Next thing I knew, my name was called. I was over the moon and beyond. My friends clapped and shouted my name. I got a Silver medal and was also awarded a power banker for being number one in the Microbiology category. Everyone that participated in the Expo with The Umkhumbane Schools Project got a recognition of some kind.  We had so much fun celebrating each other’s success.

What I learned from Expo was to work hard if you want something. I improved in my writing and English fluency. I have amazing memories that I look forward to telling my kids. I got exposure to the science world. And most of all, I got friends that I will keep for the rest of my life. So, to any learner who is interested in science, Expo is definitely the perfect platform to showcase your ideas and skills.


Martha Fitzpatrick Bishai

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