Sarah Abotsi-Masters, National Coordinator, Ghanaby Peggy Walker
Who would ever think that because of the vision of one man—Dr. Jacob Ashong—a most brilliant ball of energy would shine so brightly in Accra (pronounced “akrah”), Ghana! Sarah Abotsi-Masters is a British-born citizen of Ghana, and is a happily married mother of two young daughters who has been known to paraglide and abseil!
Accra comes from a word in the Twi language, “nkran,” meaning “ants,” due to the many anthills found in the countryside. This extremely peaceful city was once a busy hub for the European slave traders, due to its location as a beautiful port on the Gulf of Guinea in the North Atlantic Ocean. Accra was settled in the 15th century, incorporated in 1898 and gained its independence from Britain in 1957. Now, Accra is Ghana’s capital and largest city, covering about 124 square miles, and is the 11th largest metropolitan area in Africa.
It is here that a planetarium would change one woman’s life for ever. Sarah got involved with the Ghana Planetarium in a most unsuspecting way. She heard about a social networking meeting of British business people that was going to meet at the planetarium. Not believing that a planetarium did exist in Ghana, she went to check it out for herself in April 2009. Once there, she met Dr. Ashong, who has so much energy (he does not look or act his age, according to Sarah) and she joined the astronomy club which was discussing plans for activities for the International Year of Astronomy. Dr. Ashong mentioned the IYA2009 website so when she got home, she went surfing. The Internet, that is.
As Sarah puts it, “Much to my surprise, I said ‘Wow!, what fantastic ideas, presentations, posters and activities are available to us!,’ and promptly made a list of ideas that was three pages long. Dr. Ashong, in his wisdom, only selected a couple of key projects—and they conducted the Galilean Nights and the 100 Hours of Astronomy. This was the start of a great partnership.”
At first, the astronomy club held meetings that would be a night of discussion and talks; but these gradually morphed into public events at the planetarium, which are still being conducted on a regular basis.
In 2010, Sarah heard Prospery Simpemba from Zambia speak at the CAP 2010 conference, and he talked about Astronomers Without Borders. She approached Prospery and asked how she could become involved with this organization, and she volunteered to be the AWB National Coordinator for Ghana.
Since becoming a national coordinator, Sarah has helped to organize AWB’s GAM projects for 2010, 2011, and this year. The Ghana Planetarium has also participated in the GLOBE at Night, Great World Wide Star Count, Voyager Campaign, International Observe the Moon Night and Sun-Earth Day events. (Sarah points out that trying to conduct any Meteors Without Borders events is very difficult due to the large amount of light pollution in Accra).
Sarah enjoys volunteering at the planetarium because the school syllabus in Ghana only covers the basics of the solar system, yet Ghanaian children, like kids everywhere, are fascinated by space and always want to know more. Plus the public at large knows very little about astronomy. “So there is a whole lot of basic education to be done,” she explains. “The foreigners generally have more awareness and are keen on bringing their kids for activities at the planetarium.” Some schools have science clubs, but they seldom cover astronomy—and Sarah would love to see them try and integrate some astronomy concepts at least once every couple of months.
Sarah is a very active purveyor of information and is well-known as one who is trying to spread knowledge and appreciation of the wonders of the night sky to the general public. She sends out regular emails to her 500-member email list and sends them links to recent space/astronomy stories, upcoming projects, competitions, videos, and anything she thinks will grab people’s attention. In fact, in the northern city of Tamale (pronounced Tam-a-lee) a school astronomy club got involved with the competition, “Naming X,” and they came in third!
Although there are a few issues to work out—such as the availability of transportation to the planetarium for the poorer schools, the cost of entry, and finding sponsorships—the Ghana Planetarium is continuing to make an impact in the community. Dr. Ashong is forging links with the teachers’ Science Resource Center, which is very close to the planetarium. It is hoped that in the future, planetarium volunteers can help train teachers who attend courses at the center, and in turn, the center can bring teachers to the planetarium, who can then also bring school parties. “This building is perfect for workshops and classes since that is the purpose of the building,” Sarah adds.
Sarah continues to hunt down activities, projects and events that will not only be meaningful to the general public but to the schools so that she can generate a working relationship with them. There are some great times ahead for Dr. Ashong, Sarah and the Ghana Planetarium. To meet Dr. Ashong and see the Ghana Planetarium for yourself just click here.
When Sarah was asked why she is dedicated to AWB she replied, “I have to confess I did not select AWB above other astronomy organizations for any particular reason. It just sort of happened that I became aware of the organization, utilized some of its great resources, organized some of the events, and then ended up as NC for Ghana. I was happy to be part of a network because at the time I was fairly new to astronomy and there were so few other astronomy enthusiasts in Ghana. However, I have really enjoyed and appreciated the past few months since we have started getting together via Skype calls because, I have really felt part of the AWB family. It’s amazing how everyone communicates and helps each other out—I have received links to astronomy education resources, helps and hints about astro-photos, and more. And it’s wonderful and fascinating to hear of the experiences of others around the world.”
Read about other National Coordinators featured in National Coordinator Spotlight.