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Why We Give: Bilyana and Alan Ward Family Story

The closure of our dome is a financial crisis for us as a charity. We're profiling our donors with the hope that it will inspire you to give today.

Bilyana, Alan and their three children—Alex, 8; Emma, 4; Charlie, 2—have been following protocols to “stay indoors” at their home in Trout Lake, Vancouver.

The last time they brought their family to Science World, a NASA astronaut spoke about the wonders of space.

Since then, a global pandemic has broken out. Everything has changed.

“It’s like nothing anyone has ever experienced before,” Bilyana says, her voice a blend of wonder, fear and hope.

"But we still want to share why we think Science World is important. Especially now."

From Art to Math and Back Again

Bilyana grew up in Zimbabwe with parents who were doctors, living among rhinos, crocs, zebras and elephants.

She spent most of her childhood outdoors, sketching and painting the angles, patterns and reflections she observed in the natural world.

When she was 15, a perceptive art teacher introduced her to the work of M.C. Escher, a graphic artist known for his surreal and illusionistic representations of complex mathematical concepts.

Bilyana saw in Escher's art the same patterns she saw in nature.

“It opened up a world of creativity in me I hadn’t accessed before,” she says. She pivoted directly to mathematics. “Though the root of my love for the field will always remain in art."

At Oxford University, Bilyana completed a PhD in mathematics and met Alan, a Vancouver boy completing his PhD in English Literature. They fell in love, moved to Alan's hometown and grew their family.

Through the pandemic, Bilyana still draws every day: "For me, it's like speaking."

She teaches her children now, too, about the connections between art and science. On warm days, they go to the park and paint outdoors, like she did when she was young. "It's still magical," she says.

Cool Science

As a child, Alan Ward spent many halcyon days at Expo '86.

At that time, our geodesic dome was a temporary exhibition hall for the world's fair. "I remember thinking: what are they going to do with that massive globe?" he says.

That massive globe became Science World, which Alan and his friends thought it was “the coolest thing going.”

“We still do,” he insists.

And Bilyana agrees. “I got to meet an astronaut last month," she exclaims. "That's super cool.”

Two weeks before we closed, Science World held an event featuring NASA astronaut John Herrington, a member of the Chickasaw Nation in Oklahoma and the first Native American to fly in space.

During John's Q&A, the Wards’ eldest son Alex raised his hand and asked, “What does space feel like?”

His answer has stayed with the whole family.

He said, “Imagine your head is staying where it is, and that, without you noticing it, your legs are suddenly floating up behind you. And, you can’t feel it.”

As John said this, eight-year-old Alex tried to act out the phenomenon, hanging onto a railing beside him and lifting his feet, pretending to float.

Since that day, Alex has reminded his parents several times about weightlessness and gravity.

“Science World gives everyone--kids and adults--opportunities to learn in different ways," Bilyana says. "What John said sunk right into that little kid and changed him.”

Access for Girls

This, Bilyana says, is especially important for girls.

“I have a lot of anger,” she says, though her voice is soft, “about how we dissuade girls from a tremendously young age from pursuing science.”

“Even our friends,” says Alan. “Progressive people. They’ll give our son an engineering toy and our daughter a hairbrush.”

In addition to donating money, Bilyana volunteers for Science World, going into schools and introducing grade ones and twos to coding and robotics.

"By the time they get to high school, a lot of girls have already moved too far away from the sciences to be able to turn it into a career," says Bilyana.

"What Science World does, and the way it does it--the mix of genders and backgrounds in science facilitators very early on in kids’ education--is a part of the solution.”

A Silver Lining

Recently, BC’s Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has announced she is cautiously optimistic. There is hope that our efforts are paying off, that we are protecting our neighbours across the province.

It is a wonderful feeling, this hope. Though the consequences of social distancing are real and major, they are worth it for the greater good.

Several days ago, Bilyana’s brother in the UK fell ill with COVID-19-like symptoms. As a frontline healthcare worker, his fever and shortness of breath were cause for alarm, but they are improving. He seems to be recovering.

Still, Bilyana worries.

In the evenings at 7pm, she and everyone in her neighbourhood have been standing outside to join in the applause for the people like her brother, and for all those risking their health so that together we can flatten the curve and save lives.

“Social distancing is our best bet," Bilyana says. "And an appreciation for what people on the frontlines are doing for all of us is essential.”

“The thank-you clap is a massive highlight every night. A silver lining during this difficult time.”

Science World Needs Your Support Now.

Science World's closure has eliminated our main revenue stream and is a financial crisis for us as a charity. Please donate today so that we can continue igniting wonder and empowering dreams for all learners in BC.