Joshua de Miranda delivered this talk at Nation Builder’s In Good Company 2018 conference. He is a 15-year-old grade 10 learner from Tyger Valley College in Pretoria.
Joshua mentioned that on July 4th, this year, the Fire Department responded to 40 fires in informal settlements. On reading newspaper articles about similar fires more than a year ago, he resolved to find a way to prevent these fires in the future.
On visiting two of these informal settlements in Pretoria, de Miranda realised that the residents were bound by one thing: abject poverty. They also daily faced one major danger: fire. Fire not only destroys possessions, it also kills innocent children. The informal settlement fires spread at an alarming rate due to the proximity of the dwellings.
De Miranda began by approaching the District Commander at the Silverton Fire Department who explained about fires and the obstacles faced by the fire fighters. A visit to two informal settlements allowed de Miranda to discover what materials were most commonly used in informal dwellings. He was saddened to see palatial homes overlooking the settlements, yet none of the affluent residents had thought to try to alleviate the poverty they looked out on daily.
Informal settlement houses consist mainly of Masonite board and metal sheets with plastic draped over the top for a roof. Cardboard was used for insulation. He researched for a few days and was amazed to discover a couple of compounds which were supposed to retard flames but for which no scientific proof had been carried performed; that is, until then.
One, Compound A, proved excessively expensive, while Compound B was merely made up of Borax and Boracic Powder, both readily available in the supermarket. The two compounds were prepared and tested on the various materials used in the informal homes, including carpet underfelt. De Miranda then constructed three models in materials common to the informal houses and coated one with Compound A, one with Compound B and left the third one untreated, as the control.
Under the supervision of the Fire Department he tested the three structures for their flammability. The control burned out completely in 11 seconds. The structure treated with Compound A took a while longer but also burned out and since the structures were placed close together and wind was fanning the fire, A’s flames had lapped B. The structure treated with Compound B did not burn at all. Only the lighting mediums inside were burned, then the flames extinguished, all within six minutes. This was the result he was hoping for.
De Miranda presented the experiment to his school, after which it was sent to a regional science competition and then to the Eskom Expo for Young Scientists at the National Science Fair. The competition was strong, but he won a gold medal and the chance to represent South Africa at the Oksef International Science Fair 2018, in Turkey.
There, with so much amazing innovation on offer, he won the first prize and a gold medal in the chemistry category. He saw a challenge which could become an opportunity to change lives.
De Miranda suggested those attending the conference, all of whom are successful in their fields, should try to find a way to make a difference too. He acknowledged the support and encouragement of his parents and teachers and concluded with the quote, “The only time success comes before hard work is in the English dictionary.”