My name is Yumna Majeed and I am founder of “Exploration by Yumna Majeed ” which is a space education based organization working in Pakistan to promote astronomy and space technology since 2016.
Since childhood I had two crazy dreams, my first was to become an astronaut, and my second was to recreate dinosaurs; right now, I am a space educator and a medical lab technologist and I am looking forward to do a masters in human genetics. I want to engage young curious minds in all the sciences and space is the best way to do this. I wish to make this neglected science a part of the national curriculum.
My mission is to make an institute which can teach astronomy and space technology to the young kids of Pakistan.
Representation of girls and women in science, not only in space, but also in science is really low. I think that space is a very vast topic, and involves all the sciences; so space is a great way to represent and to empower young girls and women.
In the beginning I started teaching astronomy to kids by visiting different schools and debunking space myths. Astronomy is an observational science and no matter what you do, you cannot bring the stars and moons in your hands into the classroom; so by using art, I developed some hands-on activities with the help of international organisations and I started implementing them in the classroom where I was teaching astronomy. It is very difficult to get equipment in Pakistan, like telescopes or meteorites, but now I have these things, I try my best to take them to various schools and teach as many kids as I can. I faced a lot of obstacles and I have overcome many of them, but in the beginning of my space education career, the biggest obstacle was being a girl, and the next was being a medical student and teaching a neglected science, astronomy, which is not even an actual science in our country. Astronomy is considered as the hobby of an elite, a science which doesn’t put food on the table. Another obstacle was the unavailability of scientific equipment such as telescopes, as Pakistan has no company manufacturing them. It was very difficult for me to get my hands on telescopes and other scientific equipment related to astronomy.
Being a girl was the biggest obstacle, I could not go out to the rare stargazing parties and I was not able to conduct stargazing events very often. Working in a field where you hardly find women around you, means it’s more difficult for me to keep going, but that’s what you do, you take your weakness, you work hard on it, and make it your strength, so the woman that comes after does not have to go through the same struggle.
The biggest motivation to do this was the socio-economic inequalities that I saw around me. There is a class that can afford buying telescopes or going to visit space centres in other countries; but I believe space is for all, and the stars shine for everyone regardless of their socio-economic background.
This is the reason why my outreach focuses on underprivileged and public schools, because going to them and showing them something through a telescope could be a life-changing experience for them.
Then we come to gender inequality: there is a gender concept that women cannot, or should not, work in such fields. I have heard a lot of similar comments that women must not work, they must get married. These comments come from the gender inequality rooted in our minds since the very beginning. Women in STEM from this era are trying their best to change this narrative, and I am playing my part in changing this narrative.
I think that one of the biggest achievements has been to run this organisation as a one woman army for 4 years, other achievements include winning different awards: my first award was winning a telescope in an international competition which was signed by my favourite astronaut, NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, and other ESA astronauts.
I got working and as I won more telescopes, meteorites, and different awards, I got recognised internationally as well as nationally.
I believe my biggest achievement is the impact that I try to create on young minds. We can improve the situation and create more gender equality through space by giving more recognition to women who are working in space. We can create special posts and give special scholarships for women who join the space sector and work in this field.
In the future I have two dreams, one is to recreate dinosaurs but I don’t think I should go for that one, and the other one is to become an astronaut. I don’t know if I ever will become an astronaut. More than the final destination, the journey is more important to me. Yes, I sometimes do see myself sitting in a rocket zooming up. I see myself among the stars, or sometimes discovering the undiscovered universe. I don’t know what lies in the future but I will try my best to create a school or an institute for Pakistani kids where they can learn everything about space and astronomy.
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