Setting the tone – DevEd week 2014 – Day 1

DevEd: the 'van-guard' of creative ideas

DevEd: the ‘van-guard’ of creative ideas

“It’s really nice to reconnect with everyone on the course over new and interesting topics” so said one student who emailed a reflection on Day1. DevEd week is a three day programme that is designed to enable students not only to connect with each other but to connect with the wider world and to enable us all to take a critical look at ways to reconnect ourselves with what is important. Mission accomplished for Day one then!

In the morning session in Renehan Hall Angela Rickard presented a short reflection on the evolution of DevEd week in Maynooth. An established part of the student teacher experience in Maynooth since the late 1980s, development education (DE) has always aimed to create that sense of connection for student teachers, foremost with each other (to consolidate the relationships within – what is now called – the PME programme) but not forgetting the wider agenda of paying attention to issues of global injustice and looking at how we as educators can engage with, and even address, these.

Oct 2012: Kamugisha Gozbert, Michael Doorly (Concern WorldWise) Joe Clowry (hands) & ELT (on screen)

Oct 2012: Dr Kamugisha Gozibert, Michael Doorly (Concern WorldWide) & Joe Clowry’s hands!

In recent years thanks to the support and strategic vision of Irish Aid, many NGOs, schools and individual initiatives have expanded their provision of DE activities. The Education Department is connecting with and learning from many of these. One in particular, the Young Scientists Tanzania (YST) project, which emerged from the work of East African scientists based in Maynooth University, has gained momentum and influence in the three short years since it was established. We are particularly proud of our relationship with this amazing initiative. In 2012 the timing of the YST exhibition meant that we could video-conference from Education Lecture Theatre (ELT) into the Diamond Jubilee Hall in Dar es Salaam to chat with YST Co-directors Dr Kamugisha Gozibert and Joe Clowry. Thanks to the magic of Skype we heard from some of the Young Scientists including the three Kibosho girls who went on to become the first winners of YST and who this year start their studies in university in Tanzania.

YST2014 winners: Dhariha Amour Ali & Salma Khalfan Omar

The 2014 winners, Dhariha Amour Ali and Salma Khalfan Omar from Lumumba Secondary School, Zanzibar, will be travelling to Ireland to visit the BT Young Scientists Exhibition in Dublin in January. The Education Department, Maynooth University will host a reception for them, their teacher Ame Vuai and the rest of the YST delegation while they are in Ireland.

Following the coffee break in Pugin Hall the PME students were offered two two-hour workshops where they were introduced to a range of social justice themes: not merely to get away from the routines of lesson planning and assignment writing but with a view to reconnecting to those tasks with renewed insight, informed practice and an expanded set of methodologies with which to help re-engage pupils with their learning.

We are grateful to all the facilitators, namely: Jessica Carson (CIT Crawford College of Art and Ðesign); Bradley Clark (WorldWise Global Schools – WWGS) Vicky Donnelly (Galway One World Centre); Stephen Farley (Trócaire); Jen Harris (Waterford One World Centre); Mags Liddy (University of Limerick) and Patsy Toland (GortaSelfHelpAfrica). Thank you so much for getting us started on the right note!

DevEd Week 2014 programme

The DevEd week programme is now ready. Fantastic programme as promised. We’ve a great week to look forward to next week in Maynooth University! DevEd_overview2014

Tweets (and bleats) on @devedmu #deved14

devedtweets

Award winning new documentary

Tuesday 11th November at 11 am

John Hume Lecture Theatre 2

All Welcome

The Department of Education will present a special screening of the award winning new documentary A Goat for a Vote by director Jeroen van Velzen.

We are also delighted to welcome to Maynooth University one of the film’s producers, Hasse van Nunen, along with Neasa Ní Chianáin and David Rane, co-directors of the Guth Gafa International Film Festival where A Goat for a Vote was recently shown to a highly enthusiastic reception.

This special screening will be followed by a Q & A panel discussion hosted by Dr. Gerry Jeffers.

One Hundred Students and a Piece of Chalk

One Hundred Students and a Piece of Chalk is a guest blog post on the DevEd week website written by four of the five BScEd students (now graduates!) who participated in the Nurture Africa Student Volunteer programme introduced to Maynooth University this year. The mixed group of educators and health workers travelled to Uganda for a three week placement near Kampala in early June 2014.

This collective account of the experiences of the students, written in the first person singular, is as passionate as it is insightful and tells a heartfelt story of how the Nurture Africa programme has impacted on them.

I am very grateful to Mary Gormley, Kristina Troy, Aoife Marren and  Emer O’Reilly for compiling this report (with a shout out to Michelle Brady too who also participated in the programme and the fundraising that each of them did prior to travelling).   – Angela

Teachers in Uganda

Teachers in Uganda June 2014 – Image byM. Gormley

One Hundred Students and a Piece of Chalk

By Mary Gormley, Kristina Troy, Aoife Marren and Emer O’Reilly

Getting there

On June 5th five wide eyed 4th Year Science Education students and 25 other volunteers headed for the small town of Nansana in Uganda. For many of us this day was the result of months of fundraising but somehow, even at the airport the reality still had not hit us. It was not until heavily armed guards greeted us at the airport in Kampala that we realised where we were going. Outside the airport as we poured into small minivans it quickly became apparent that in Uganda seatbelts and indeed general road safety did not exist. As the rickety vans sped down dirt roads, constantly swerving to avoid other vehicles, animals and children, the sound of hysterical laughter could be heard from many of the volunteers as reality started to dawn on us all. After a short while we reached our home for the next three weeks. As I carefully tucked myself under my mosquito net on that first night I felt entirely overwhelmed but tremendously excited for everything the next three weeks would hold.

The following day the seven secondary school teachers among the volunteers were assigned a nearby high school called Victoria High. We had been invited to a staff meeting, which began three hours late due to unbelievable monsoon rains. The issues discussed by Ugandan teachers were poor pay, challenges faced by teachers and discipline issues. This could have been any staffroom in an Irish school. However, as the discussion continued, problems such as malnourished students, lack of food for teachers and corrupt school management painted a much bleaker picture. The majority of the staff were delighted to see our fresh Irish faces and seemed genuinely interested in how the education system was run in Ireland. The school community was phenomenally welcoming and on that first day they refused to let us leave without eating the ‘special’ food they had cooked for us, their visitors. That evening, each of the seven secondary teachers discovered why it might not be so wise to accept the culinary offerings in a Ugandan school: until our stomachs adapted we might need to think twice before accepting a ‘special lunch’ the next time!

My initial impressions of Uganda were incredibly positive. From the moment we stepped of the plane our senses were assaulted by things we had never experienced before. Vibrant colours and exotic smells were the daily norms. However, the everyday struggles of the Ugandan people were heart-breaking to see and taking in this poverty and extreme hardship did not get easier as the trip went on. But from day one, right until our final day, the people of Uganda welcomed us with open arms. Looking back, I realised that in those first few days I fell in love with Uganda and now as I sit in my Dublin flat I am confident that I will return in the not too distant future.

Teaching in Uganda

Students with posters

Students in Victoria High – Image by M. Gormley

Teaching in Uganda brought many surprises that I did not expect. Before we left for the three week placement we were told about the approx. 80 students that we would have to teach per class; we were told about the lack of resources that the schools had and we learnt about the privilege it was to attend school as a lot of families could not afford it. It was the little things that seem to be not worth mentioning that surprised me most. First of all, the lack of resources was not an overstatement. Most classrooms had only a blackboard and one piece of chalk. Surprisingly, the school had a small science lab with limited equipment and chemicals, but it was clear when we did use them in one class that they were not used very often and none of the students ever got a chance to use them themselves.

The methods of teaching in Uganda were very different to our experiences of an Irish classroom. It was all about transmitting information to the students, which mainly meant copying from a book to the blackboard for students to take down. The students were used to learning definitions and memorizing information but when asked to expand or explain, they were unable to do so. On the surface they understand a topic, but once you dive beneath the surface it is clear that they never asked the common questions asked by Irish students such as “Why?” Using the many different methodologies we had learned in our Education lectures and in our Teaching Practice, we set about planning for and teaching in surroundings that were very far removed from what we had become accustomed to.

Another thing that surprised me was that even in Uganda it was so essential for us as Irish and Ugandan teachers to work together. Even though we were bringing with us our knowledge from teaching in a developed country, some of the topics that we were teaching the students were not on the Irish curriculum so we needed the Ugandan teachers to help us to teach them. It was this relationship that not only enabled us to bring a different way of thinking to the students, but through it we gained insights about teaching and shared a new way of thinking with the teachers. The relationship we built up with these teachers was similar to that of any staffroom with everyone picking up ideas from everyone else.

On our first day in Victoria High it was commented on that we were seven female Science and Maths teachers. This to the people of Uganda was seen to be very strange as females did not normally excel in Science and Maths there. Because of this we were asked by the Dean of Studies and the Principal of the school to talk to all of the girls about studying Science and Maths in university and to promote the subjects within the school. I found it to be a fantastic experience as the girls were very eager to hear all about our studies and what it is like to study Science and Maths in Ireland. Some of them were very high achieving students and wanted to be doctors and lawyers but did not seem to know what subjects they would need to be good at to excel in such professions. I feel that us talking to them was a very worthwhile experience for the students as young girls need role models in their lives and for the first time I felt like a positive role model to these young students.

My most vivid memory from our three weeks teaching was our last class. We were making posters with the equivalent of 3rd year Irish students on the water cycle. It was an amazing sight and being very aware of the fact that this could be my last time standing in front of a class of Ugandan students, it became clear that they had come a long way in the three weeks. From the shy students that would only ever answer a question with a definition, we were now looking at engaged and energetic students who were now asking “Why?”

Impressions of Uganda

As a result of what we had seen on television and what we had been told or heard, we all had some idea of what Uganda would be like. For us all, none of these expectations came true on arrival. The heavy and polluted air that met us, contrasted to the fresh air I had imagined; the green grass and heavy rain showers meant we saw more rain in Uganda than had fallen in the same period at home in Ireland; the energetic children that sang and chanted each time they saw us did not compare with the lifeless images portrayed to us though the media. Walking around the town of Nansana, surrounded by small businesses, overwhelming amounts of traffic and busy, happy people, we began to really experience life in Uganda. The people of Uganda were happy and we rarely heard them complain of their hardships and trouble. Life in Uganda carries on with people taking the best from each day as it arrives. It was a pleasant contrast to the complaining nature of the Irish people where even the weather, no matter what it is, can become a reason for bad humours and giving out! From the outside looking in, Nansana seemed like a place where life went on and people lived in the moment, happy and grateful for what they had.

Luckily, as part of the trip with Nurture Africa we had the opportunity to enter the homes of some of the children on their programme and speak with them and their parents or guardians. Being on the inside of these walls shone a whole other light on the lives of the Ugandan people. The poverty they experienced suddenly became a reality to us. It is easy to watch and see the good, but being in the middle of their lives, was quite overwhelming. As I sat on the floor of what I can only describe as a small shack and spoke with the family of nine who lived in this confined space, a wave of guilt came over me. They thanked me for my fundraising and described how I was helping to supply their four-year-old daughter with medication to allow her to live with HIV. I watched as the young child’s tablets were distributed; a few tiny pills were what kept her alive. I felt not only guilty, but angry when I realised the difference such a small amount of money can make and how in Ireland we waste our money on unnecessary “things”. This family didn’t need much; all they asked for was help to keep their family healthy.

It was only with the opportunity to visit some of the businesses set up thanks to the Sustainable Livelihoods Programme that we regained our hope and enthusiasm for the work we were doing. This programme provides families with small loans to set up a business so that they can provide a steady income for their families. The businesses were small, some selling fruit and veg, others cooking big pots of dinner which you could purchase, others had souvenir shops or sold coal. They were small businesses and when all takings were put together and divided amount the group, each family received a steady income. I thought it was an ingenious plan and have continued to speak highly of the programme since returning home. It allows people to do basic things like feed their family and send their children to school; educating their children so that they may get a job later in life and hopefully break the poverty cycle. Maybe that is being too optimistic, but keeping faith and high spirits is something Uganda has taught me. Apart from all the fantastic experiences it provided me with in terms of teaching, the trip has also changed my life outside of that. It has changed the way I think and the way I approach life. Going to Uganda, my job was to teach children – I never dreamed I would be the one doing the learning.

Going home

Our final 6 am morning call for school was also our final day in Uganda. Entering the gates of Victoria High, we were all experiencing mixed emotions about saying goodbye to students and staff members we had worked with over the past few short weeks. As we taught our last classes for the day, we were overwhelmed by the response we received from students as we broke the news of our departure. In each class we were bombarded with students handing us letters, hugs goodbye, asking us for signatures and cheers to show their appreciation for all of our work. It was not until we received such an applause did we realise that seven young teachers from Ireland had made a big impression in so short space of time. We received such hearty goodbyes because we showed students and teachers a different way to learn, methodologies that made learning enjoyable and memorable. To see the transformation that some students made from working as individuals to working in groups, having confidence to answer questions or even coming up to the board to write answers down was the highlight of our teaching experience and it made our send-off that bit more emotional.

Despite the constant repetition of the word ‘last’ throughout our final day whether it was referring to our last lunch in Nurture Africa HQ or our last walk through Nansana town, the reality of leaving Nansana was not sinking in. In our own ways, each one of us had became very accustomed to living in Nansana and many had become somewhat settled into their surroundings. At our final debriefing session, it became evident how the experience had affected us in many ways especially by making friends for life, not just with people from Ireland but with many in Uganda. This long distance friendship was marked by staff of Nurture Africa who wanted to show how much we touched their hearts by presenting us with artwork as well as sweet treats and kind words of thanks that will stay with us all. As the debriefing came to a close, many tried to disguise their tears with their sunglasses while for others, the tears refused to stop. And so, the pack of thirty volunteers regrouped for our ‘last’ photograph together as the sun setting over Nansana shone over us, as well as taking a glance around the Nurture Africa grounds, parts of which we had built.

Once the bags were packed, we sat in the gazebo until late in the night reminiscing about our time in Uganda. We all agreed that Nansana had touched us in different ways and people’s optimism and willingness to return in the future highlighted how positive this adventure had been. The arrival of our bus for the airport followed by several hours flying over seas, soon punctured the bubble that we had been living in for weeks. Family and friends eagerly awaiting our arrival in Dublin airport were met with thirty tired and emotional volunteers each ready to spill every detail of their rollercoaster experience in Uganda.

To this very day I cannot describe my experience of Uganda in a manner that does justice to the country. A camera cannot capture half the beauty of Uganda and its people – it is a place you need to experience yourself.

Behind the scenes

If you have been reading recent blog posts on this site you will know that I have been writing about the third annual Young Scientists Tanzania competition … coming to you en direct from Dar es Salaam! You’ll find my tweets (@arickard) and those of YST (@ystanzania) and others on Twitter. You can also search for tweets with #yst2014.

Behind the scenes: Dylan & Johannes at work

Behind the scenes: Dylan & Johannes at work Image by arickard

I’ve had a fantastic journey, both literally and metaphorically, for the past two weeks. One of the reasons behind the trip is for us to work out ways for teachers and student teachers from Ireland to come here in the future to work with YST and to enable Tanzanian teachers to spend time in Ireland. I felt there could be a role for us in supporting the Young Scientists and an opportunity to learn from our Tanzanian sisters and brothers through exchange. I feel that all the more strongly now and I am returning to Ireland with the aim of developing this idea further. Stay tuned!

Writing this blog has helped me to process some of my impressions from the trip and of course to inform people about YST2014. I’ve tried to reflect on the role and significance of this event as I see it, though I am aware that I am only scratching the surface.

Before I return home I would also like to mention the supports that have not only made the YST event happen, but have enabled me to get here this summer. I’ve been able to afford this fantastic trip thanks to the support of Irish Aid (under the auspices of the Ubuntu Network, which is the organisation that promotes and supports Development Education in Initial Teacher Education).

The work of Irish Aid is seldom flaunted but this branch of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has been very important in supporting development projects overseas and in promoting Development Education at home and have been doing so for decades. It seems to me that Irish Aid  tends not to brag too much about its own work, perhaps preferring the discreet ‘behind the scenes’ position, which might be the best of all vantage points. But I do think it is worth boasting about their work – and not just because I’ve been so jammy as to spend a fortnight in Tanzania!

In the case of Irish Aid’s support to Young Scientists Tanzania I am struck by the close relationship that has been created with British Gas who are the lead sponsors of YST. These two entities have enabled something very special to happen in Tanzania and their cooperation is a great testament to the increasingly friendly relationship between Ireland and the UK. It is a wonderful example of international cooperation, development and educational innovation. Put simply: I think it is very nice that both Britain and Ireland have reasons to feel proud of YST.

On Monday Salma and Dhariha, the YST 2014 winners, will be honoured at a reception hosted by the government of Unguja and Pemba. Dylan and Johannes (some of whose fabulous photographs I’ve supplemented with my own on this blog) have travelled with the Zanzibari delegation this weekend to record the reception and document these happy and proud moments for posterity. They have been documenting all of this year’s event … on a voluntary basis I might add! Two more superheroes who’ve been behind YST scenes (or perhaps more accurately in front of them!) these past few weeks. We will begin to see some videos and more photos about YST2014 online in the next few weeks. Another reason to stay tuned!

Superheroes

Winners of YST2014 Image by Dylan & Johannes

Winners of YST2014 (Image by Dylan & Johannes)

Emotions were close the surface at the third Young Scientists’ Awards ceremony in Dar es Salaam yesterday afternoon. Anticipation was building all day and the sense of occasion was enhanced by the light-hearted banter between the two MCs on stage. Bobby and Vanessa are both well-known Tanzanian TV personalities and they created an appropriately celebratory ambiance. A measure of the importance the event has gained in the few short years since it was introduced is that this year it was attended by the Vice President of Tanzania. A nuclear physicist himself, Mohamed Ghairb Bilal cut a graceful and benevolent figure at the ceremony. His presence also attracted considerable media attention and YST2014 was broadcast live on national television. Indeed the choreography in the hall between bodyguards, photographers and TV crew was entertainment in itself!

When he addressed the gathering yesterday the Vice President spoke movingly about the relationship between Ireland and Tanzania and recognized the importance of Irish Aid’s sponsorship of Young Scientists in his country. Also officiating were the representatives of the key sponsors, namely Adam Prince of BG Tanzania and H.E. Irish Ambassador to Tanzania, Fionnuala Gilsenan. The main part of the Ambassador’s speech was delivered in Swahili – not the easiest of languages to master at that level – and audibly appreciated by the audience. In my opinion the atmosphere of mutual respect was beautifully conjured up in these gestures and acknowledgements. British Gas is also committed to continuing as the lead sponsor of YST next year. The company’s corporate social responsibility comes across as a genuine effort to invest in Tanzania, and when extraction of the natural gas does eventually begin, their aspiration is to create a legacy of innovation and economic prosperity for Tanzania. This will be a long process, undoubtedly, but it is wise to begin by igniting curiosity and passion for learning among school children.

The ceremony included a number of special awards from other sponsors and benefactors. One of these I had the honour of presenting on behalf of colleagues in the newly established Climate Justice Schools programme (CJSP). The brainchild of teachers Eleanor Lee and Aileen Tennant from Colaiste Bhride, Carnew and St. Mary’s Academy, Carlow respectively, this initiative is supported by Worldwide Global Schools and operates in conjunction with Young Scientists Tanzania. CJSP aims to raise environmental awareness through collaboration among and between Irish and Tanzanian students.

One of the classroom activities in the programme involves the idea of a group drawing a Superhero figure based on the collective skills within the group. Learning about the activity recently I thought about teachers as Superheroes too. Teaching in general, just like this activity in particular, is all about enabling students to identify their skills, encouraging them to work together to be a force for good and use their combined superpower to improve the conditions of life in the world around them. At the awards yesterday I also thought about a few other superheroes in YST. Indeed, to me YST seems to have a superpower in itself to symbolise wider social and educational transformation, promote Science and Innovation in Tanzania and importantly, in my opinion, to prompt the Tanzanian government to begin investing in teachers and schools again.

Tanzania also has many very wealthy individuals, some of whom see the merit of encouraging and actively supporting a future generation of university graduates. One such is Hatim Karimjee, Chairman of Toyota Tanzania Ltd. Mr Karimjee decided to add university scholarships to the YST winners’ prizes this year. Winning YST is clearly a great achievement in itself but it acknowledges potential as much as it does achievement. With so many of the Young Scientists being from extremely poor families many would struggle to pay the fees for university. The Karimjee Jivanjee Family Foundation scholarships enable these students to get to higher education without that worry. It also promotes philanthropy in a way that could well be emulated by other corporations and institutions. The generosity is as thoughtful as it is impressive. While the idea was mooted this year to give scholarships to the previous year’s winners as they prepare for university, the first winners of YST were not forgotten. Monica, Aisha and Nengai, who were unsuspecting guests at this year’s event, were each awarded a Karimjee scholarship. In total seven scholarships were awarded yesterday and each student along with future winners will be supported for the duration of their studies. So yes, I do believe Hatim Karimjee is quite the YST superhero.

Another surprise award (at least a very big surprise to the recipient!) was given by the Vice President to Co-Director and Co-founder of YST, Joe Clowry. A discreet and unassuming sort of Superhero Mr Joseph, as he is known here, never looks for kudos for his considerable achievement. But it has been thanks to his unstinting generosity with his time and energy as well as his insight into people and his tenacity over the last five years that YST has come to pass at all. Equally quietly exercising his superpowers of mentoring the Young Scientists, coordinating the judging and generally being upbeat and encouraging to everyone is Dr Brendan Doggett. Brendan has also committed his personal time and energy to YST without fuss or fanfare: he’s another phenomenal character in the story of YST. These two Irishmen are joined on an entirely equal footing by Dr Kamugisha Gozibert who has also clocked up the days and the long journeys across Tanzania to broaden the scope of YST which in just three years has grown from four schools to one hundred and now has an outreach programme in 20 regions of Tanzania.

I would like to add however that this expansion was also only made possible by the appointment of the incredibly dynamic Ms Archana Kakad, the YST administrator. I am certain that Joe, Brendan and Kamugisha would agree, that among her many qualities and skills Archana has is her capacity to motivate and inspire as superheroes are wont to do. Archana also leads the team of volunteers who support the YST management. And from what I have seen over the past ten days or so these include two dozen other committed and generous people who work untold hours of the day (and night!) to ensure the Young Scientists’ comfort and security throughout their journey to and from Dar es Salaam.

Really quite magical!

Rehema and Lisa with H.E. Ambassador Fionnuala Gilsenan

Rehema and Lisa with H.E. Ambassador Fionnuala Gilsenan (Image by Dylan & Johannes)

“It is really quite magical” these are the words of Rahema, as she and her fellow Young Scientist, Lisa explain to H.E. Ambassador Fionnuala Gilsnean how it is possible to grow three different citrus fruits from one single tree. The girls from Suya school and whom I met last week, spent all day yesterday explaining the magic of science and its potential to address the question of malnutrition and poor life expectancy in Tanzania. Throughout the day 198 other students engaged judges in the outcomes of their research. They did so at least four times over the course of the day. As one of these judges, it was my great privilege to hear in detail the rationale for a batch of projects. While it would not be possible to do justice to all of them I will highlight a few that caught my attention in particular.

Kiembe Samski school in Zanzibar is among the very few in Tanzania that has a newly installed Science lab. Proper work spaces for students, sinks and storage areas, even instruments and glassware, the lab nonetheless has no gas supply. A pipe, yes but no gas. Two girls from the school, Rashida and Yussra decided that the way to address this was to make their own biogas using kitchen waste. They have successfully produced the gas and even had some of it in a bicycle tyre for the exhibition. They offered to light it to demonstrate. I’m no scientist but I did think there might be a slight health and safety issue with this, so I demurred! That a team of school girls have to produce gas themselves for science class would be funny if it wasn’t so tragic. And though biogas may indeed be the way to go, I can’t help noting the irony that there is an estimated 15 trillion cubic feet gas field off the coast of East Africa.

Other tragic ironies also struck me as I discussed projects in the different categories. In the Social & Behavioural category I learned about the concerns of one school at the lingering beliefs in witchcraft that are used to justify the brutal murder of elderly women in the Shinyanga region. Grace and Michael from Ngokolo school explored views on the factors that lead to the killing of elderly women. In Shinyanga (and elsewhere too) when women develop red eyes they are often accused of being witches. According to Grace and Michael’s presentation, young men, usually between 18 and 30 years of age, kill them in them in the most brutal way. These Young Scientists wanted to know more about their community’s attitudes to this issue. A high proportion of the respondents attributed the killings to beliefs in witchcraft while around 20% thought it may have something to do with disputes over land. Hmmm…. Meanwhile in the category of Chemical, Physical & Mathematical Sciences two boys, Andrea and Tobias, have successfully designed and built an animal dung-briquette burning stove aimed at reducing smoke and soot emissions from household cooking fires. And the irony alert? It is a lifetime of cooking at charcoal and firewood open fires that gives women red eyes in the first place!

Another project I was blown away by (in Biological & Ecological Science category) was an investigation into the health risks of traditional brews. Mwanaid and Amina had lined up an impressive array of ‘hooch’ made from anything from cassava to banana skins and I don’t know what else! The girls noted the less than hygienic conditions in which the alcohol is produced, the imbalance in the chemical components and the devastating health implications for those who consume this rocket-fuel. I was deeply impressed with the girls’ proposal that the manufacturers should not be deprived of the income that comes from their brewing, but that they be discouraged from selling it for human consumption. Instead, given the high ethanol content in some if it, the girls propose that producers be given scope to sell it as bio-fuel. When I asked what prompted the research Amina’s response was “I live in a house with a man who drinks this. It has made him blind. Sometimes he rapes the girls.” … The matter of fact way she explains it is a reminder of the daily reality for girls and women in Tanzania. The beauty of their research is that they have managed to explain to ‘the man’ that the brews are bad for his health (not to mention everyone else’s in the household) and he has gradually been weaned off the stuff.

Girls and boys across Tanzania are making a profound difference to science education and to the quality of life in this extraordinary country. And that is indeed really quite magical!

Fare well Zanzibar!

YST Teacher and students from Pemba Island

YST Teacher and students from Pemba Island (Image by Joseph C.)

As final preparations are being made for the Young Scientists exhibition by the YST core team and the extended network of diligent volunteers, I have a welcome day to myself at the hotel. Located on the beach I have a magnificent view out onto the bay area of Dar es Salaam. From early morning you catch sight of a stream of fishing boats heading out for the day. These elongated solid wood craft are propelled by a combination of oarsmen and gondoliers (for want of a better term – though I am sure there is one!). Suffice it to say it is very picturesque!

Yesterday, I flew back from Zanzibar in the rather wonderful 12-seater plane that does not fly high so you have the most spectacular aerial view of the coral reefs, white sands and limpid waters between the Spice Islands and mainland Tanzania. Before I left I was among the panel of speakers at a gathering in Haile Saleisse School that included the twenty Young Scientists from Unguja and Pemba, their teachers and many of their parents. It is unusual for schools on the two islands to come together. This may indeed be true in any country but by all accounts it is almost unheard of in Zanzibar. Although I wasn’t able to stay to hear her comments, the Commissioner with responsibility for Education in Unguja and Pemba (Maryam A. Yusuf) began her speech by saying “I am first and foremost a Science Teacher and then Education Commissioner”: a very nice statement about her sense of the importance of Science Education and her role as a supporter of Young Scientists Tanzania.

Although I had to leave the meeting early for my flight I was present for most of the students’ presentations. For the sake of keeping good time and perhaps also for the parents’ sakes, Ame asked students to present their research in Swahili rather than in English. It was interesting to experience this: while I understood not a word I can also say that I learnt a lot! As I watched the students I could see their enthusiasm for their projects, their commitment to addressing issues of development and innovation in their communities and most importantly, perhaps for being in the students’ first language, their excitement and passion for learning was even more strongly evident. When you also consider the fact that many of them are doing this for the first time and have the added pressure of not only the presence of a high ranking politician but multiple cameras (Local TV, print media journalists etc.) in addition to Dylan and Johannes’ documentary filming… it all adds up to a great achievement for these young students. But more than that, I think the brining together of students in the region has the additional merit of consolidating what has been achieved in Zanzibar in relation to the Young Scientists competition and is a testament to the determination of the YST Regional Coordinator Ame Vuai.

Students from Pemba and Unguja arrive in Dsr es Salaam

Students from Pemba and Unguja arrive in Dsr es Salaam (Image by Dylan & Johannes)

I have been here for a little over a week, so I am far from qualified to comment on regional or national issues so I won’t! But I can communicate what I have observed: in the case in particular of Zanzibar, whose population is around 95% Muslim, is the fact that so many of the Young Scientists here are girls. They and the handful of boys working with them are remarkably confident, competent and committed to making changes in Zanzibari and Tanzanian society. I sincerely hope that they continue to be supported to do so.

I will be involved in the judging process tomorrow. Time permitting I will try to add another blog about the projects that capture my attention. Thursday is the main event when the public have access to the exhibition.

Young Scientists and their teachers continue to steam in from all across Tanzania mostly on busses having travelled through the night in some cases. You can follow updates on Twitter (@ystanzania) and Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/ystanzania). Go ahead and ‘like’ them on Facebook and send in your messages of encouragement and congratulations. I have told them that the world is interested in what they have achieved, your comments will add weight to that. Thanks!

Zanzibar Young Scientists

Or Young Scientists Zanzibar… either way it has a nice ring to it! Following our stay in Arusha we have come to the almost mythical Zanzibar, a place where it is easy to conjure up Djinns from magic lanterns or to imagine Sinbad sailing in one of the many fishing boats that saunter across the horizon. An archipelago off the coast of Dar es Salaam and otherwise known as the Spice Islands, Zanzibar consists of two main islands: Unguja and Pemba. Ten of Zanzibar’s two hundred schools have successful entries in Young Scientists Tanzania this year. Although today is Sunday two schools very kindly opened their doors to us so we could meet the Young Scientists from Haile Salassie and Lumumba secondary schools.

Shemsa and Salha in Haile Saleissie School Zanzibar

Shemsa and Salha in Haile Salassie School Zanzibar (Image by Dylan & Johannes)

In Haile Salassie Form Four students Shemsa and Salha spoke to us about their research on the recent and worrying instances of acid attacks in Zanzibar. While there have been none in 2014 there was a spate of acid attacks in 2012 and 2013, the perpetrators of which remain “persons unknown”. The girls feel strongly that not enough is being done to bring these people to justice. Both Muslim and Christian community leaders as well as two German Aid workers were attacked in 2013. In addition to the obvious trauma such attacks have on the victims and their families, the girls are concerned about the image of Zanzibar in the eyes of the rest of the world, particularly when this region depends so heavily on tourism. Like many of the students we have met over the past few days Salha and Shemsa spoke with confidence and conviction and they have, as part of their work, presented their findings from interviews and research to the police in Zanzibar.
Shemsa and Salha were overall runners up in YST 2013 for their project about the phenomenon of Kupagawa (the Swahili word meaning “to be possessed”) which refers to mass hysteria, collective fainting and self-harm among teenage girls; the source of which these two teenagers attribute to sexual frustration. They speculated about the belief that some people in Zanzibar hold that Kupagawa is the work of the Devil. But they question why the Devil would target only girls. (An equal opportunities Devil we might say!) Seriously though, they wanted to look at the behavioural science behind the experience which has affected Haile Salassie school in recent years and has resulted in injuries among their peers.

Ame Vuai with his students Dhariha and Salma

Ame Vuai with his students Dhariha and Salma (Image by Dylan & Johannes)

The regional coordinator for YST based in Unguja (Zanzibar) is soft-spoken Ame H. Vuai who has been teaching Maths and Science in Lumumba Secondary school for the past ten years. The Young Scientists in his school this year are Dhariha and Salma, two girls who have a strong interest in environmental science and who have looked for natural methods to reduce the very serious menace of mosquitoes and house flies in Tanzania. They demonstrated for us a number of solutions to the problem including the use of lemongrass (from which is derived the very effective citronella oil), whole cloves inserted in a lemon, as well as diffusing clove oil in a burner or pump spray – combined with garlic. These ingredients are all very abundant here, especially cloves for which Pemba is renowned. As the girls pointed out cloves and clove oil could be distributed to other regions in Tanzania with the very desirable outcome of reducing the instances of malaria, typhoid and dengue fever that debilitate so many people here every day.
Tomorrow we will have the honour of meeting all of the Zanzibari Young Scientists, their teachers and their parents. Haile Salassie School will host the gathering that will include Ame as the Regional coordinator as well as the Commissioner for Education in Zanzibar among other dignitaries.
Following the meeting I fly back to Dar es Salaam to catch up with preparations for the exhibition taking place in just three days’ time! Dylan and Johannes will accompany the Young Scientists and their ‘entourage’ on the ferry on Tuesday. I’m looking forward to seeing all the students I’ve met over the past week as well as seeing as many as possible of the two hundred students from all across Tanzania who will be taking part in this incredible and inspiring event…. And I can’t wait to meet the rest of the YST team whom I have not yet had the chance to say ‘Sjambo’ to!!

More YST projects in Arusha

Lusajo and Caroline from El Shamma

Lusajo and Caroline from El Shamma (Image by arickard)

Day two of school visits in Arusha and we went to three schools and saw four presentations. First we met the manager and teachers in El Shamma School. A newly opened private school with only 54 students so far, most of whom live on campus. Five El Shamma students from Form One (13 or 14 year old students) have taken part in the Young Scientists workshops. Two of them, Lusajo and Caroline, will travel to the Young Scientists Exhibition next week. Their project looks at the level of awareness in their community of the benefits of breastfeeding. They interviewed mothers, fathers and unmarried teenage girls to explore what they thought about breastfeeding, how long a child should be breastfed and how often. In spite of the number of mothers who said they enjoyed breastfeeding, most had not continued to do so for as long as would be recommended nor as frequently. The significance of this project according to the Young Scientists lies in the simple fact that if more women were to breast feed their babies for up to two years and for between 9 and 12 times a day there would be a vast reduction in the instances of stunting (at present Tanzania has over two million children whose physical and cognitive development is stymied by poor nutrition). The Young Scientists in El Shamma are being very well supported in a school that boasts three teachers who have previously taken part in the YST project in their former schools. Lusajo and Caroline’s project has prompted the school manager to think about opening a centre in the school to cater for teenage mothers who most often are expelled from school if they get pregnant.

Sarah and Nadine from Notre Dame School, Arusha

Sarah and Nadine from Notre Dame School, Arusha (Image by arickard)

The second school we visited was Notre Dame where we heard from Nadine and Sarah who did a project on the use natural pesticides, and very cleverly set up their presentation in the garden where they had done the research on spinach plants. Most if not all the girls here are boarders many of them coming from very far to attend the school.

On then to Il Boru, which is a large state school that has been in operation since 1946. Michael and Robin, two boys in Form 6, have previously been involved in YST and this time are presenting a project where they have found a simple and cost effect solution to the problem of the high levels of naturally occurring fluoride in the water in the region which leaves many people with damaged teeth and bones (dental and skeletal fluorosis). In addition their work also explores ways to minimise bacterial content in the water using a solar oven that they have developed. In Il Boru we were also joined by Hasim and Ntekaniwa from St. Jude’s School who very kindly came to Il Boru for our convenience. The boys are Young Computer Scientists and have programmed a voting system using Python computing language. St. Jude’s is a school for the poor and is funded by Australian philanthropists. Again, the boys from St. Jude’s are very well supported by dedicated teachers and volunteers. Between them they hope to introduce a computer club to encourage more students to learn programming. A Coder Dojo Tanzania may well be starting up very soon in Arusha.

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