| 11.8°C Dublin

Young Scientist Exhibition could open new avenues of co-operation

Just as this year's Young Scientist Exhibition opened its doors at the RDS on Thursday a much quieter event was taking place at Dublin's Mansion House. Two students from Mzumbe Secondary School in Morogoro, Tanzania presented the Lord Mayor of Dublin Críona Ní Dhálaigh with gifts from their country, symbolising aspects of life in Tanzania.

Edwin Luguku and John Method, won the 2015 Young Scientists Exhibition Tanzania (YSET) and part of their prize included attending last week's Irish Young Scientist Exhibition. The project that won them the top prize was 'The Effects Of Plastic Bags On Morogoro And Reducing Their Use'.

The YSET is the brainchild of Joe Clowry. Before moving to NUI Maynooth, where he was Education Officer with the Combat Diseases of Poverty Consortium, he taught science, biology and development education at Carlow CBS.

'Between 2008 and 2011 I worked with 40 researchers from east Africa in Maynooth and we visited Irish schools looking at projects the youngsters were preparing for the Young Scientist Exhibition. The African researchers could not believe how advanced the Irish youngsters were when it came to scientific matters. We were working on a probiotics project for people living with HIV. I met Professor Michael Kelly SJ, who has spent most of his life working in Africa, and he suggested that we should take the project to Africa. And that's really the genesis of YSET. We picked Tanzania because it has the least developed scientific infrastructure in east Africa,' Joe explains.

The first YSET was launched in 2011 and last year 130 schools in Tanzania exhibited their projects in Dar es Salaam. Up to 300 schools entered the competition but due to space restrictions there was only room for the top 130 exhibitors.

The exhibition has so captured the imagination of the youth in Tanzania that young people last year spent three days getting to the event and another three days travelling back home afterwards.

The project is funded by Irish Aid, BG Tanzania and other organisations such as Concern Worldwide. Joe Clowry explained to me how he happened to meet the then Concern CEO Tom Arnold at a function at the Irish Embassy in Dar es Salaam.

'I was telling Tom about the project and he immediately realised its potential and offered me any help I needed. He allowed me use the Concern offices in Tanzania and anytime I ever mention that the project is supported by Concern, doors automatically open for me,' he smiles. Concern annually presents the Niall Weldon Award at the YSET. Niall was secretary at Aer Lingus, who were the original sponsors of the Young Scientist Exhibition and for over 25 years he was the chairman of the organising committee of the exhibition.

For Edwin and John it's their first time to leave Tanzania. Lord Mayor Críona Ní Dhálaigh told them they were visiting a great city and strongly advised them it was a special place to have some fun and 'craic'.

It's a project that offers great potential. Why not Irish schools set up partnerships with fellow exhibitors in Tanzania and other African countries? Working and learning together always makes sense.