Dakalo Mudimeli’s journey to becoming one of South Africa’s promising award-winning young scientists began with an orange peel and fire at his grandmother’s village a few years ago.
“One summer evening when we had loadshedding, my cousin and I were playing with orange peels and he sprayed the liquid from the peel into my eyes. After recovering from the sting in my eyes, we then thought to ourselves, ‘why not spray this into an open flame’? Because we had candles lit around the house. As we sprayed the peel into the flame, we saw that the flame became bigger,” Mudimeli explains.
“That’s when I discovered that citrus fruit liquid is a flammable substance. I spent quite a bit of time in the lab doing experiments with different peels to get different results. That project got me into the Eskom Expo for Young Scientists where I won silver and thereafter I got the chance to exhibit at the ESI International Science Fair in the Reunion Islands.”
Mudimeli is a former learner of Mbilwi Secondary School. A school neatly tucked among the hills of Thohoyandou in the Venda area of Limpopo.
Despite having overcrowded classrooms and infrastructure and equipment that is in dire need of repair or replacement, Mbilwi Secondary has consistently managed to overcome obstacles to emerge as one of the country’s breeding grounds for brilliant future scientists, boasting an impressive matric pass rate of 99% or more every year for over a decade. In an area infamous for problems in the education system, it’s a standout achievement that’s regularly praised by local and national politicians alike.
A school has existed on the site since the 1960s, but the current Mbilwi Secondary was opened in 1979 and has 2 218 learners.
The school is a maths and science school, which means that Mbilwi Secondary specifically focuses on STEM subjects and them at the exclusion of arts subjects for learners in grades 10 to 12.
For some years now, Mbilwi Secondary School has encouraged young people such as Mudimeli to participate in the annual Eskom Expo for Young Scientists which gives primary and high school learners the platform to showcase their scientific experiment and open themselves to bigger windows of opportunity such as bursaries and the chance to compete at international science fairs around the globe.
Learners representing Mbilwi Secondary have put their school on the map, making it the top performing school in the Vhembe region in Venda.
“We encourage our learners to get involved in as many science expos and competitions as possible,” says Tshidzumba Tshifhiwa, one of the science teachers. “We always tell our learners that being at Mbilwi means they are among the best and there’s nothing they can’t do.”
“The learners know we are always here for them for help and guidance. When entering competitions like the science expo, I tell my learners that they aren’t doing this for fun, but it will open doors and take them far in life,” Tshifhiwa adds.
He also says that parents also play a very important role as they help their kids in all science-related school activities
“Mbilwi Secondary’s secret to success is commitment, as long as we are educators, these learners are like our children. We expect the best from them and we do our best to help them achieve that,” Tshifhiwa says.
Learners who have been to the Eskom Expo express the same sentiments and say they owe a lot of their success to their school teachers.
“The secret ingredient to our achievements as a school has to be our teachers, they are the best in the world,” says Pendo Mchau, another Esko Expo alumni. “They support us throughout the year, no matter what.”
Mchau and her partner Munzhedzi Ramulongo won bronze at last year’s expo for their project that focused on turning waste into bio-gas.
Another learner who performed well as last year’s expo is matriculant Zainul_Abedeen Patel, who says his parents who are both scientists sent him to Mbilwi Secondary to help unearth the scientist in him.
Patel’s portable solar-powered fridge, which keeps food cool without the need for electricity won him a silver medal. The fact that it didn’t win gold just goes to show the high standard of competition in the national science fair.
“Where we are where we are today is because of our school and the support they give us. We never go to science competition and don’t have all learners from Mbilwi winning awards and prizes,” Patel says.
This year, the principal and teachers of Mbilwi Secondary are on a drive to motivate and get more of the learners to enter science competitions and maintain its status as the top school in Venda for young aspiring scientists and a producer of some of the best in the country, showing that a school from a relatively unknown area can compete with the most prestigious in the country.