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africa

There is a fantastic show on BBC2 about space, “The Wonders of Space”, which reminded me of a story I had been commissioned to write for Newsweek two years ago but it never ended up being published…

Meet Mary Phoolo, Lesotho’s first cosmologist. The 30 year-old mother of one is finishing up her Masters’ degree at South Africa’s University of KwaZulu-Natal and will begin a PhD later in the year looking into how future cosmic microwave background datasets may be used to probe the early universe. It’s an amazing feat that Phoolo wants to focus on the study of the universe; there are no courses in astrophysics taught in her country and she never had any introduction to the field until her late 20s. Growing up under the wide-open skies of southern Africa, Phoolo knew there was something that intrigued her about the universe; she just never knew how to explore it. “I remember I used to wonder how the universe was [created], how the structures like planets and stars formed and so many other questions,” Phoolo recalls. “However I was not aware that there were people [actually] studying the universe.” But Cape Town’s African Institute of Mathematical Sciences (AIMS) changed all that. She entered the postgraduate program planning to focus on epidemiology in order to help her nation control its booming HIV/AIDS problem. But taking a three-week module in astrophysics, she fell in love with cosmology. Her goal now is go home to Lesotho to teach university students the wonders of the universe. “I want to go back there and motivate them, get kids interested in this field that I love,” says Phoolo. Read more

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The three young boys and the older man are standing around, looking awkward but fierce at the same time–their eyes  tough as nails. “Who are those men,” I ask as we head into the main building at the Mutobo Demobilization Center. “They have just been brought in today from the jungle,” said the head of the center, which is located  near Rwanda’s border with the Democratic Republic of Congo. It’s a strange surreal thing to come face to face with men–and a few women–who have been living in the jungle for 15 years, eeking out a living as members of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) and fighting against the Congolese army, the UN peacekeepers and theCongolese Tutsi rebels. Read more