The Young Ambassadors for Chemistry Program Visits Tanzania

The Young Ambassadors for Chemistry Program Visits Tanzania

by Lida Schoen, Erica Steenberg, and Mei-Hung Chíu

Regular readers of Chemistry International are likely familiar by now with the highly successful Young Ambassadors for Chemistry (YAC) program, which has been highlighted in these pages numerous times since its launch in 2004. However, the latest YAC event, which took place 25–27 April 2012 in Kasulu, Tanzania, stands out from the previous 12 iterations (see list) since it was organized and sponsored in a completely different way.

YAC Travel Log
Kasulu, Tanzania, in April 2012
Gorna Malina, Bulgaria, in November 2011
San Juan, Puerto Rico , in July 2011
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in February 2011
Manila, Philippines, in April 2010
Ipoh, Malaysia, in April 2010
Nicosia, Cyprus, in April 2009
Mauritius, in August 2008
Grahamstown, South Africa, in March 2007
Gwangju, South Korea, in February 2006
Krasnoyarsk, Russia, in November 2005
Buenos Aires, Argentina, in May 2005
Taipei, Taiwan, November 2004 and again in December 2007

For those unfamiliar with YAC, it is a project of IUPAC’s Committee on Chemistry Education (CCE) that has trained teachers around the globe to help students communicate the benefits of chemistry. A typical YAC event encompasses two to three days of teacher workshops, followed by a one-day public event where students—the Young Ambassadors for Chemistry—share their enthusiasm and interest with the public at large, either in a public square, like it happened in Cyprus (Jul-Aug 2010 CI), in a shopping mall as in Taipei (Mar-Apr 2005 CI), or as part of a science festival as in Grahamstown, South Africa (Jul-Aug 2007 CI). That last day of the YAC event is usually a festive time, with fun for everyone.

In February 2011, as part of the International Year of Chemistry celebrations, YAC events were held in Ethiopia to honor the Federation of African Societies of Chemistry that was key to securing the UN proclamation of IYC 2011. YAC staff also traveled to Puerto Rico at the time of the IUPAC Congress in July to meet with teachers and share ideas on how to further develop and best adapt the YAC program for the local community.

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Participants, organizers, and helpers of the Young Ambassadors for Chemistry in Kasulu, Tanzania.

All previous YAC events have been top-down affairs in which international or government organizations have sponsored and organized the workshops and public events at the local level. The Tanzania event—held in the local football stadium with the attendance of 25 teachers from around Kasulu (up to 90 km away) and 50 students from the 14 participating secondary schools—was an entirely bottom-up affair. A group of 14 private schools hosted and facilitated the YAC course, which was locally organized and facilitated by headmaster Gideon Bunyaga of the Kasulu Secondary School.

The story of how this YAC event came to fruition begins with Thadeo Ntambala, who, along with 9 brothers and 2 sisters, grew up in rural Northwest Tanzania not far from the Jane Goodall chimps reserve. Although his parents were illiterate, Thadeo and his siblings went on to become highly educated. Thadeo obtained a Master’s degree in telecommunications from Warsaw University of Technology, while his brothers all became engineers. While studying in Warsaw, Thadeo met his (Polish) wife Ewa, a chemist with her own consultancy business. Now based in the Netherlands for Thadeo’s IT job, both have become dedicated to furthering education in Tanzania.

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In 2010, Ewa approached long-time YAC director Lida Schoen about possibly organizing an event in Tanzania in 2011 to coincide with the International Year of Chemistry. Ewa, Thadeo, and Lida tried for two years to obtain sponsorship for such an event, but, after many meetings and follow-up they were ultimately unsuccessful. Undaunted, Thadeo arranged a meeting in the Netherlands between his cousin (an engineer in Dar Es Salaam) and Schoen to discuss how they might handle the local organization and sponsorship. Somehow, he managed, getting a group of 14 private schools (including the headmaster of the Teacher Training College) to provide all local costs, including the expenses of the event and subsistence for the teachers, students, and the YAC team. Thadeo and Ewa paid all additional costs (flights, hotel, and local transportation). And, once Schoen and her colleague Erica Steenberg contributed a little as well, the whole effort got off the ground.

On 25 April 2012, the efforts of Thadeo and Ewa Ntambala finally paid off as the formal program of the Young Ambassadors for Chemistry project commenced in Kasulu, Tanzania.

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After Schoen and Steenberg briefed the four representatives of the participating schools about the aims and history of the YAC project, participants were given course books and asked to start generating ideas for a chemistry-related Tanzanian “product” or phenomenon. Using an accessible “chemistry in our lives” theme, it was decided that the chemistry projects would involve the local production of soap and the preparation of cassava mash (a staple food) from scratch, providing an opportunity to talk about the dangers of the cyanide-containing variety.

From the beginning, the event attracted lots of attention from the public thanks to two well-amplified and natural leaders, chairman Julius Nzohumpa Ntidoga and science teacher Emmanuel Saguda Kingi of Kasulu Secondary School, who talked at length about the importance of chemistry for the region.

On the last day of the YAC program, the local football stadium was used to host the final public event. Similar to previous YAC events, the students prepared—with a little help from the trained teachers—DNA models and cosmetic products. As the crowd grew, the students acted in made-up TV commercials for their cosmetics and product lines. The students showed great creativity, incorporating little skits, raps, shouting, and dancing into their commercials. An international jury had the difficult job of declaring the winners of the student presentations.

At the end of the event, organizers presented certificates to all participating teachers and students.

Thadeo Ntambala recorded the entire YAC course and event. A four-minute summary of that footage is available on YouTube (with “subtitles”): search for it using “YAC Kasulu.”

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As is customary at YAC workshops, the teachers were asked to evaluate the program. Of the 18 who responded, 83 percent said they had learned much about the application of chemistry in their daily lives and that they regarded the activity as valuable. All the teachers said they would participate in YAC again. When asked if they would apply what they learned in their classrooms, only 22 percent said that they would not, primarily because of a lack of resources.

All of the organizers and organizations involved received letters of endorsement from Dr. Temechegn Engida, president of the Federation of African Societies of Chemistry. Although it was disappointing that funding from a larger organization could not be secured, this successful YAC course and event showed that CCE also supports bottom-up initiatives!


For more information, contact Lida Schoen <>.

Page last modified 5 September 2012.

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