Recount the times you talked about aliens and saw them come alive through science fiction. Or think of the fantasies you held, immersed in the brilliance of the moon and stars. You have all interacted with space at some level. But despite flickers of interest, little emphasis is given to expanding these mystical thoughts into realistic space education. Yumna Majeed, space educator and aspiring astronaut, is tackling the issue through her social enterprise.
Growing up, Yumna was always curious about how Earth would like from outside. Space science was and continues to be, an area neglected by her community. Moreover, the prevailing narrative caters to boys and men. So, the lack of encouragement also had an impact. Apart from science-fiction movies, there was not much Yumna did to pursue her interests during school. Even while undertaking higher education, she found her sets of goals different from her peers, feeling like a misfit. However, considering everything she is doing today and aspires for, she believes her struggles are meaningful learning experiences.
In 2016, Yumna started a space education awareness campaign. After two difficult years, she won her first telescope-something incredibly rare in Pakistan, her home country. But despite the extensive documentation and procedures, obtaining it was a tedious job. In the absence of space equipment and manufacturing in Pakistan and the nearly impossible task of obtaining some of it for a common person without influence, Yumna believes that the lack of access to resources is a key issue.
Before COVID-19, Yumna conducted outreach sessions and personal workshops in schools. To keep students motivated, she started a series, 'Planet Yumna' which involves sending free space mail (storybooks, letters, flashcards etc.) to kids who are inquisitive about space!
Yumna also stresses the hurdles that come with being a woman who dreams of doing something away from convention. Something as basic as exercising one's right of choice to work becomes doubtful. And far too many people, including family members, are opposed to these dreams solely based on gender.
She recollects and appreciates some organisations and groups in Pakistan who are working towards causes similar to hers, providing hope for a better future. Regardless of what your dream is, work hard and remain loyal to it. You will find your way! As Yumna says,
There is space for everyone in space!