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VAS

Making science fun

BUSINESS UNUSUAL
By | April 12th 2012

By Anthony Ngatia

There are numerous people in the world who say they hate science because it is difficult. But not Peter Mwaniki. He saw an opportunity to make a lifetime career and money from explaining perceived difficult concepts to children.

Peter Mwaniki

Peter Mwaniki of Pemwa Science is a one-man business that goes round to schools explaining various science concepts to young minds. And Mwaniki says he has been working fulltime since he left school in 1993.

Mwaniki says his idea struck when he was a member of the Science Club of Mwenje Secondary school in Laikipia County.

"I was concerned that students couldn’t understand simple science concepts, and ended up hating science forever," he says.

So, after school, he enrolled for a course in electrical and electronics engineering so as to fully master the principles of the subject that he fell in love with at a tender age.

And in 1999, Mwaniki began working.

"I started by going to primary and secondary schools where I would demonstrate to the teachers what I intended to teach the children at a fee," he says.

"Although it was quite hard to convince the teachers I was delivering value, most of them accepted," he says.

Over the years, he has had to contend with some nasty comments from a few secondary school principals, to senior ministry of Education officials.

Business concept

"One time director of Quality Assurance at the ministry of Education dismissed me as a fraud once I went to his office to explore ways of collaborating with teachers to promote science in schools," he says.

But nothing could stop the young science entrepreneur from developing his business concept. And with time, Pemwa Science started to grow.

"I became more aggressive, visiting schools for a chance to demonstrate science concepts to students," he says.

"I would carry all sorts of gadgets mainly electronic, but most of them my own improvisations and once I got a chance, I would make sure I have wowed the entire school with scientific demonstrations," he says.

Gradually, his fame began to spread in schools around Nyandarua, Laikipia, Nakuru and Nyeri Counties.

"After every successful demonstration, I would request that the principal or head of science draft a recommendation letter, which in turn I would use for introduction in the next school. Through that, I was able to build a long network of clients," he says.

So far, he has visited and demonstrated science to 2,947 schools in the country. In a secondary school, he charges between Sh8, 000 – Sh10,000 per visit, while in primary schools, he charges Sh20 per pupil.

And on a good month, he can make in excess of Sh30,000, just from the talks. But he says one can make double this amount if they had own transport to cover long distances between schools. His diary is always fully booked, with requests from schools in Nyandarua, Laikipia, Nakuru, Baringo Kirinyaga, Kiambu, Nairobi, and Murang’a counties.

He also has VCDs explaining and demonstrating various science concepts on such aspects as electricity, lightning, and diodes among others. Most of them are shot in open school halls where he has visited.

Mwaniki has also made a number of scientific inventions from his house at Nyahururu. He has made his own home alarm bells, portable lightning arresters, microphones, simple record players among other things from scrap parts of transistor radios, scrap parts of mobile phones, and even parts from success cards.

Homemade alarm

Among his most interesting inventions is his homemade burglar alarm. He uses the cheapest phone handset and some improvised sensors. Once a robber enters your house and switches on the light, the simple phone senses that light and starts calling you wherever you are, even if it’s a different part of the country. He has also connected the alarm to the radio, and once your security is breached, the simple transistor radio beside your bed switches on to alert you.

He plans to patent these, and to start commercial production soon. And he says once he has patented the alarm, he will explain very concept he has used.

He is proud of Pemwa Science, saying he is yet to see a competitor. He singles out the Strengthening of Math and Science in Education (SMASE) project being undertaken by the Government in conjunction with JICA, saying it comes closer to what he is doing. It even that project has a weakness.

"In SMASE, the product does not go directly to the students, the intended customers. Instead it is teachers of sciences who are taught how to simplify science to the students."

And this, he says, does not have the same impact on the child as his demonstrations.

"I make science fun such that it is common to find students dancing and cheering as they participate in science demonstrations," he says.

His one concern so far is that no one is following his footsteps.

"I am growing old, once I am gone, this business concept will be gone," he says.

New blood

He is, therefore, calling on new entrants to enter the field, so that they can enrich the quality through competition. He would also like other people to come and assist him in the crusade of simplifying science concepts.

"It will be the critical factor to determine if this country will attain Vision 2030," he says.

Through Pemwa, Mwaniki has been able to raise his family of three, and is educating his two children in good private schools, and one of his siblings in a secondary school.

And while most entrepreneurs will say they can’t start anything without credit, Mwaniki says he has never sought credit, and his business has grown over the years.

He, however, says he would be glad to see the Government set up a science grants foundation where budding scientists can access loans to innovate.

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