Recycled Glasses Head to Africa During the COVID-19 Pandemic

By Zoe Chee posted 06-18-2020 00:00


20,000 Glasses sent to Africa During COVID-19 Pandemic

June 18, 2020

The upcoming annular solar eclipse will be passing over the skies of Africa, the Middle East and Asia on June 21, 2020. The ring of fire eclipse is different from a total eclipse in that viewers of this spectacular event need eye protection at all times or use projection methods to enjoy it. So solar glasses for this kind of eclipse are very important.

I'll be totally honest, I really didn't think that it would be possible for Astronomers Without Borders to be able to distribute any of our recycled glasses for this eclipse due to the lockdowns caused by the COVID crisis.

I thought that people would never be able to receive them in time because of shipping delays. Who would distribute them in these lockdown conditions?

Hope in the time of COVID-19

I was approached by the African Astronomical Society about six weeks ago and they showed me that hope and determination was going to make that a possibility.

This dedicated group of astronomers who were certain that they would spread information and resources throughout their countries while physically distancing themselves. The importance in sharing their knowledge and wonder of this eclipse outweighed the struggle they encountered in these unpredictable circumstances.

I was immediately bought into zoom conversations with representatives from Tanzania, Ghana, South Africa, Kenya, Ethiopia, Nigeria and Rwanda, many of which are AWB National Coordinators. Niruj Ramanujam, Head of the Outreach Committee of the African Astronomical Society lead the team, organizing online resources that can be easily accessible and awareness campaigns that are being created so that locals would be able to watch this wonderful event safely and that they would not be afraid of the incoming darkness. All media are involved in all countries from television, radio, print to online social media..

All representatives requested glasses. The difficulties in shipping, timing and shutdowns made it impossible to send these materials to most countries. However, our Ethiopian National Coordinator and Director, East Africa Regional Office of Astronomy for Development, Alemiye Mamo Yacob found success through diplomatic channels.

International Diplomatic Cooperation

He contacted the Ethiopian embassy in the United States and the United States embassy in Ethiopia. Both agencies pitched in to bring 16,000 glasses into the country! I have learned that Personal Protection Equipment is being shipped with the glasses from the United States into Ethiopia!

We are tightly squeezed in our timeline and although they have yet to hit Ethiopian soil (scheduled delivery is Friday!), their destiny is to be distributed in Lalibela. A notably historic town of about 17,000 citizens will be handed out by volunteers. "There are volunteers who are already assigned for this purpose so they will move around the city and nearby villages by car with megaphones both to make public awareness about the eclipse i.e to provide basic information about eclipse and safety precautions, not to be afraid of the darkness, and other stuff. at the same time they will distribute the glass i.e in household bases or for individuals. (the city administration have already experienced in this area, cause they used to distribute sanitizer and other support for people due to COVID)." Aleymiye told me in an email.

Incredible to think that a system that helped protect people from disease is being used to help give hope and togetherness in the form of donated glasses.

Our National Coordinator from Kenya, Susan Murbana and her husband Chu will be broadcasting the eclipse for all to watch online. Stay tuned for links to their feed on our social channels.

A special thanks goes to Scott Roberts, Mike Hatch and the incredible staff at our long-time supporter Explore Scientific who have donated shipping staff time and warehouse space for this program  and the North West Arkansas Space organization for making sure that the donated equipment is safe for reuse.


As the glasses are now finally on their last leg of their travels, I am allowed a few moments to reflect on their journey. It's amazing for me to think that these same glasses were once on the faces of families from all around the United States, sent and vetted in a warehouse in Arkansas, USA, waited for three years and are now on their way to help people view a very similar event across an ocean, country, town and onto another individuals eyes.

We are not alone, we have made a connection.
We are all one people, under one sky.