Profile: Olga Peel’s passion for educating and empowering the youth

Olga Peel’s passion for educating the youth and empowering them to become active South African citizens has persisted, following three decades of her contributory role in Eskom Expo for Young Scientists.

Currently serving as the Regional Science Fair Director (RSFD) of Eskom Expo in Cape Town, Peel is also relief teaching Life Sciences at Bergvliet High School – having retired from Bishops Diocesan College after 21 years as a Life Science teacher and six years as the Head of the Life Sciences Department.

Peel has had extensive interests in environmental science, which has been transformed into a dedication to sustainability, as seen by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

“My passion for science, technology, engineering, mathematics and innovation (STEMI) initially stemmed from the great example given by my mother, who was a Biology teacher. My passion continues to be inspired and sparked by all the STEMI achievements of people, both young and old, on a daily basis. The release of expert information on Covid-19 vaccines and treatment, makes me aware daily just how important science is in our lives,” says Peel.

After having read a newspaper article about an upcoming Expo for Young Scientists event in Johannesburg in 1982, Peel attended the event and met the founder of Expo, Derek Gray, who had set out to create a platform for promising scientists and engineers to grow their passion for the sciences and realise their full potential.

Peel says after that meeting, she was inspired to start the South East Transvaal Expo, which covered a large area from Nelspruit all the way to Ermelo. “I was based at Highveld Park High School in Secunda at the time, and that is how the Gert Sibande Region, amongst other Mpumalanga Expo regions, had started,” she says.

Peel has since served as the Cape Town Expo judges’ coordinator for several years, and held the following titles within Eskom Expo:

  • RSFD of South East Transvaal Expo: 10 years
  • RSFD of Cape Town Expo: 17 years
  • Judges Coordinator at the Eskom Expo International Science Fair (ISF): 15 years
  • Member of the Eskom Expo Board of Directors: 3 years

Having been awarded the Meiring Naudé medal by Eskom Expo in the past, Peel was also selected as the Western Cape provincial winner of the Professor Kader Asmal Award of Excellence of Teaching in 2018 and awarded the National 3rd Place in the Kader Asmal Award of Excellence in Teaching in 2019.

Peel says she still enjoys meeting teachers and learners in Cape Town, and working with them for Eskom Expo-related activities, knowing that Expo can have a life changing effect on a learner.

“Working with a fabulous, one-in-a-million committee of dedicated volunteers in Cape Town has been one of the most rewarding and enjoyable aspects of my experience as RSFD,” says Peel.

“At ISF, working with a team of dedicated and enthusiastic experts who are chief judges, conveners, co-conveners and judges has been rewarding. Getting to know a multitude of characters in Eskom Expo, such as Rancia Riba, Pieter Pretorius, Ian Jandrell, Bersan Lesch, Krishnie Naidoo, Dorie Cook, Fourten Khumalo, Anina Nel, Busi Megale, Annalie Botha, Jan Kruger and Parthy Chetty; not forgetting Priscilla Moodley and Jean Anderson and so many more, has been a highlight of my career in Expo,” adds Peel.

Offering advice to learners, whose regular schooling has been disturbed by the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown, Peel said lockdown remains an opportunity to take a step back and look at your life and reflect on the past and plan for the future.

“Some of the recent greatest inventions and discoveries have been done by our youth. Many of the current environmental and literacy activists are teenagers. Think of Malala Yousafzai and Greta Thunberg and learn about our own Ayakha Melithafa and Uganda’s Vanessa Nakate. While the pandemic has adversely affected human health, so much more has been happening due to climate change and gender violence. There is NOTHING stopping you as a young scientist from changing the world,” Peel encouraged.

Learners who are interested in taking part in Eskom Expo, can register and submit projects online by clicking here.

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