Wednesday, 17 June 2009

A project. And now?

The notion of “doing a project” in STP has many meanings. People initiate, invite, and participate in projects of one kind or another on a regular basis. Many of these are development projects, for example, in the agricultural or the health sector, which are designed to somewhat improve the rather difficult living situation of the population. But there are problems with projects, which people are only too familiar with, and one of these is their short duration and temporary nature.

Will ‘Eddington in Principe’ be just another of those one-off projects? Before leaving STP, having stayed on for another couple of weeks after the rest of the team returned to the UK, I met up with the Santomean Minister of Education as well as a couple of members of the commission that the ministry had set up in the run-up to the event. I had already heard from Santomean friends about the educational campaign that these teachers and professors had conducted in local schools in April and May, giving lectures and talks so that children and youths across the island would know what Eddington’s expedition and Einstein’s theory of general relativity are about.

In our conversation, now, the Minister assured me that the state and regional government would be keen to work together, to use Eddington, Einstein and Roça Sundy as a kind of focus for development programmes on the island of Príncipe. He conjured images of a teaching and research centre in Sundy, of a beautifully restored plantation for the community, of school children, students, local professors and international visitors who would come here to exchange ideas, learn and discover. All this is possibly too ambitious an idea to ever be realised and still a long way off.

But this project, in the end, had an impact not least because of the many people – from STP, Portugal, Brazil – working together to make it happen. People enjoyed taking part, it was fun and exciting and, for most, something very new. It would already be quite an achievement if we could keep going some of that momentum we generated and, for example, as we discussed with the Santomean government and the regional president of Príncipe, regularly send a scientist or two from Britain to STP to work in and with local educational institutions. The Portuguese NGO Scientists in the World, who were also in STP now, have already made a big step in that direction. It is clear that, not least because of this project, Eddington’s trip to Príncipe is recognised as an important part of Santomean cultural heritage; hopefully, it can be an anchor for future initiatives through which the population of these remote islands may increasingly take part in scientific knowledge and discovery.