Image: Veronica Mwaba selling flowers to raise funds for DSaT
Communicating science with passion: the nayo nayo story
How Script course inspired Zambia’s ‘Nayo Nayo’ science communication initiative
By: Veronica Mwaba
My dad passed away when I was young. I was raised by my elder brother. The family had little resources to cater for our needs. We had bad days and good days. Although life became more difficult, my desire to attend school did not wane. During the weekends, I did some house chores. I loved gardening and going to church. At times, I had fun and went out to the cinema with friends.
For as long as I can remember, I always aspired to work for a non-governmental organization (NGO). I believed that given the opportunity, I would use my knowledge and skills to be the voice of vulnerable communities. But I didn’t know how. Eventually, I gave up on the idea and settled for a course in secretarial work. Later, I studied public relations and advertising, basic journalism, management and administration. I then had an opportunity to enhance my skills in journalism through internship programs at Zambia News and Information Service (ZANIS), Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC) and Times of Zambia.
My science journalism journey
In 2009, I joined the Alliance for Commodity Trade in East and Southern Africa (ACTESA). This is a specialized agency of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA). It’s in this role that I got to work directly under the supervision of scientists. I travelled extensively across the COMESA member states. I was part of a team that helped coordinate events in the region.
I was tasked with coordinating and providing administrative support to three scientists/consultants who conducted the Livestock Value Chain Audit in the Horn of Africa shortly after. This was across six countries including Uganda, Somalia, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Sudan and Djibouti. Afterwards, I had to accompany the scientists to present the findings of the Livestock Value Chain Audit Report in Arusha, Tanzania. Presenting the report on behalf of the experts was a great experience, with the technical team providing back-up support.
It is during this time I discovered that scientists have a lot of information about their research which they keep to themselves. I noted that researchers have a huge responsibility to communicate the results of their work to different audiences including lay persons in a simple language to be understood. Therefore, there is need to demystify science and public engagement is crucial in their work.
Along the way, I found myself with more questions than answers; I wondered if scientists really have the freedom of expression and how they can help policymakers and other key stakeholders appreciate the benefits of science. Additionally, I questioned why scientists were sceptical about media engagement.
Enhancing my skills as a science communicator
With these questions in mind, I decided to upgrade my qualifications from a first degree to a masters. Between 2013 and 2015, I studied with the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom and graduated with a Master of Arts Degree in Media Studies, Communication, and Public Relations.
Thereafter, I continued to pursue my passion for communicating science. Anne Roe, a famous American psycologist, once said, “Nothing in science has any value to society if it is not communicated”.
As a result, I enrolled for the Script course, Science Communications Skills for Journalists, to enhance my skills as a science communicator. I discovered that science journalism is a highly specialised field. And, that it requires journalists to have the knowledge to understand scientific facts to report accurately. The Script course was an eye opener that gave me the vision for Dziwa Science and Technology (DSaT), a nonprofit organization that aims to promote science communication.
Launching Dziwa Science and Technology
In 2018, I registered DSaT to bridge the gap between science and social-economic development in Zambia. DSaT aims to build support for science through effective communication. enhance the application and adoption of modern technologies.
The first two years was challenging because DSaT had no seed funding. The concept was new, so I had put much effort in sharing the idea with key stakeholders to build partnerships. Working without any funding for two years was extremely challenging. However, I did not give up. Instead, I came up with an income generating activity to help finance some of our activities. I sold flowers over the weekend along Great North Road 25 Kilometres South of Lusaka to raise funds for my work. I earned between $80-100 and used the resources to cover logistics and organize meetings with potential partners.
I deliberately named the NGO Dziwa Science to generate interest in science communication among the local citizens. Dziwa is a name derived from the Eastern Part of Zambia, translated as “Know” Science. Simply put, when you know and understand science, you make informed choices.
I then came up with the slogan ‘Nayo Nayo Science’. The slogan can be translated as “come what may” evidence-based science is the way to go.
Science communication in Zambia
Though I have seen growing interest among science writers during the past year, support for science communication in Zambia is hard to come by. Many are not willing to fund science communication and advocacy as compared to other activities such as entertainment, business, sport, politics among others.
Communicators with interest in promoting science lack resources to access specialized science communication training in Zambia. The quality of science information is critical in the post COVID-19 world today. With the rise in misinformation and disinformation, accurate science reporting and communication cannot be ignored. However, there is a cost attached to media coverage either directly or indirectly. I would urge potential well-wishers to make deliberate effort to support science communication in Zambia, particularly around topics such as public health, climate change, environment, agriculture, education and Information and Communication Technology which cannot be overlooked.
I would like to encourage researchers, journalists to enrol for Script’s free online science communication courses. With advanced skills, one can at least think strategically about the target audience and the best way to engage potential key sources of science information. Today, my mentorship at SciDev.Net has helped to improve my confidence to engage with researchers, non-governmental organisations, academia, policy and non-expert audiences regardless of their standing in society. Through Dziwa Science, I am confident that the network will be further strengthened to inspire current and future science communicators.
I would like to continue to promote science advocacy communication in Zambia. I think it is important to communicate beyond news reporting by bringing key actors under one platform to deliberate critical issues that hinder science development in the country. Evidence-based science needs to be communicated to everyone. I think DSaT is in a good position to be able to do this, although funding remains a challenge.