Bringing Astronomy and Awe to Rural Kenya

Susan Murabana’s Traveling Telescope is reaching thousands of schoolchildren.

Oct 11, 2023
Bringing Astronomy and Awe to Rural Kenya | Susan Murabana’s Traveling Telescope is reaching thousands of schoolchildren.

The night sky has brought a sense of awe to people from ancient times and throughout history. The celestial objects were seen as gods or spirits throughout antiquity and these beliefs are evident in astrology and early calendars.  

Since the time of Copernicus,  astronomy – the study of the cosmos –, has left the realm of magic to become the first natural science. Today, astronomy is responsible for advances in technology and allowed people to travel and live amongst the stars. That is the world that Susan Murabana wants to open up for rural Kenyans, especially girls.

Meet the ‘Kenyan Stargazer’
Murabana’s passion for astronomy was sparked in her 20s when her uncle invited her to an event run by Cosmos Education, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving science education, reported The Guardian.

“That was a gamechanger. Looking through the telescope that day sparked my passion for the cosmos. If an outreach group had come to me when I was a young teenager, my attitude towards a career in science and astronomy would have been positive. I ended up studying sociology and economics, but maybe I would have aspired to be an astronomer, Murabana told The Guardian.

After being inspired by the Cosmos Education program, she became a volunteer for the organization and then went on to study astronomy online at James Cook University in Australia. Murabana completed her master’s degree in 2011 and she continued on the path to become the “Kenyan Stargazer”.

“I hope that one day, through this work, I will spark a chain reaction that leads to the first African woman in space,” she said.

The Traveling Telescope
While running a Star Safari program in 2013, Murabana met Daniel Chu Owen – who is now her husband –  and they decided to set up their own outreach program to share the night skies with rural Kenyan Schoolchildren, reported The Christian Scientist Monitor in the introduction to a podcast interview. The partners bought a 12-inch telescope and opened the Traveling Telescope.

 They have reached over 200,000 children in the program that is 90 percent self-funded. Private schools and safari lodges are charged fees for the astronomy lessons and this funds the programs for rural schools. The couple also runs a camp in Nairobi.

In the podcast, Murabana told the interviewer: “I think the main aim of our company is to try and get as many young people to look through the telescope with the aim of inspiring them into science and education. But also really to get people to start thinking of their space and their place in our planet and how we have this unique, nice home we live in and why it’s important for us to take care of it.”

While Murabana is the public face of the company, Chu runs the technical end. The couple have three children of their own but their mission is stronger than ever.

“There is a common misconception in Kenya that astronomy – and science in general – is hard, boring, for the west, and only for boys,” she told The Guardian. “I’d like to teach young girls that science is neither of these things and that they, too, can become astronomers like me.”

Opening the cosmos to children and encouraging them to soar as high as they can, could make  Murabana’s dream of the first African female astronaut a reality.

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Bonnie has dedicated her life to promoting social justice. She loves to write about empowering women, helping children, educational innovations, and advocating for the environment & sustainability.