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.

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