When the world’s biggest brand turns up to school

CDI Education project plans are slightly derailed as a result of an unexpected guest on Tuesday afternoon…

This week the idea was to bring the whole of form 1 together for a huge debate, a progression from the individual class-debating format of last week.

I was feeling pretty apprehensive – from what we had observed over the last few weeks, students generally lacked confidence, particularly with English speaking, and they struggled to project their voices and speak clearly, something which would be a significant problem when talking in front of the whole form. On Monday we met briefly with them, encouraging them to shout their name and a fact about themselves across the empty courtyard. Although they gained some confidence during the session, I started to panic that there was no way they would be heard over the lunchtime playground noise.11778152_10206625374168955_604776012_n

It just so happened that a solution presented itself in an unlikely form.

While in the stationary shop across the road, the light from the window was blocked out by a huge alien mothership-like object just outside. Alex, Robbie and I looked at each other across the darkness before emerging out onto the street to find a huge red Coca Cola van parked just outside the gates of Salma Kikwete secondary school.

We walked across the playground to speak with Madame Chanafi, the head teacher at Salma. Apparently Coke had been visiting lots of school in Dar, giving out free coke, putting on a performance and supposedly ‘boosting students’ confidence’.11793173_10205643745187310_752071987_n

Madame Chanafi however was insistent that our debate would go ahead, regardless of soda corporation appearances, and told us that Coca Cola’s antics had been pushed back to 2pm. Not wanting to miss the opportunity to collaborate with one of the world’s biggest TNCs, we decided to approach the Coke workers and ask if we could use their stage and sound system. Miraculously, they said yes – presumably out of curiosity as to what these random British university students planned to do with their equipment.

Robbie, eager to resume his role as hero of the hour, stepped up to be of dubious use by helping Coke set up their bright red stage in the centre of the school courtyard. Alex and I took pictures of what was fast becoming one of the strangest afternoons we had yet to experience in Tanzania.

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After about half an hour of set-up, the Form 1s excitedly emerged from their classrooms and set up chairs in front of the stage, the backdrop of which had in big bold letters ‘#Najiamini’, or ‘#Ibelieveinmyself’ in English (plus a predictably large number of Coca Cola logos.) We all looked at each other in amazement, struggling to believe that such a perfect sequence of events was both solving our key sound issue, and at same time promoting a similar cause to ours – that of helping students’ self-confidence.11824120_10205643744747299_580289206_n

The partnership with said international fizzy drink company had attracted an unsurprising amount of attention, both from teachers and students from other forms, who were eagerly watching from the side-lines. The pressure had now truly been piled on the already very nervous 12 and 13 year old Form 1 speakers.

However, our 14 speakers from Form 1 pulled it out of the bag – each giving well-planned and sensible points both in support of and against the motion ‘money is more important than education.’ A highlight was when one of the opposing students got so enraged at a proposers point that she got up on stage, took the microphone from him and directly challenged his assertion, by insisting education is necessary for earning money in the first place.

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The audience cheered, and the vote at the end resulted in a resounding win for the pro-education side – something we were relieved to see, especially given the number of teachers that had now congregated behind the crowd of Form 1s.

To say that all had gone to plan would be deeply incorrect, as neither Robbie, I, nor the rest of the Education team could have quite planned or predicted the direction that our debate club ended up taking this afternoon. However we left Salma Kikwete roughly 3 hours later feeling very positive, not just because of the impromptu presence of a certain global soft-drink conglomerate, but because of the success of the debate in showcasing and improving students’ English speaking, critical thinking, and confidence skills.

Alice Pavey, Education Project volunteer

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