If not us, who?

A world-wide phenomenon will be coming to the Czech Republic. TED Conferences (Technology, Entertainment, Design) feature well-known people such as former American President Bill Clinton, Bono from U2, top chef Jamie Oliver, and Nobel laureates. On April 21 an independent local community will be hosting a similar conference in the theatre of the Open Gate Primary School and Grammar School in Babice.

“If not us, who?”
That’s the motto of the gifted grammar school students who have decided to hold their own TEDxYouth conference, inspired by Open Gate’s head teacher Kateřina Kožnarová. “We wanted to be part of something big, something that would be rewarding. We knew TEDx conferences, we’d seen them, and we wanted to work on something our school hadn’t done before,” says seventeen-year-old Alžběta Janečková. She hopes to be a diplomat one day, and she’s already achieved her first success in diplomacy. She and her fellow students and teachers, with the school’s backing, had to fight to get the TEDxYouth licence they needed, and they won.

Combating water shortages
“We’re aiming at a young audience, although I think all fans of these conferences are young at heart,” says Alžběta Janečková. The speakers will include a number of interesting guests, such as Roman Lesný, who has published a Czech translation of Let There Be Water, a worldwide bestseller by American writer and businessman Seth M. Siegel. The book examines the American government’s prognosis that sixty percent of the Earth’s land surface will soon be facing water shortages. He presents Israel’s example as an ideal solution: although sixty percent of the country is desert, Israel has been so successful in resolving its water shortage that it now has a water surplus which it exports to neighbouring countries. Israel is now the top country for water planning and developing technological solutions.

Aid for the Congo
Wolfgang Schmidt from Germany has also promised to attend the conference. He’s the founder of a non-profit organisation called Aktive Direkt Hilfe (Active Direct Help). “He provides education for thousands of children,” says fifteen-year-old Jan Hrebík, a fifth-year student at Open Gate, where he appreciates the school’s openness to innovative and original solutions. Aktive Direkt Hilfe, whose workers are all unpaid volunteers, takes a similar approach. Thanks to Aktive Direkt Hilfe, children in the village of Mushapo in the DRC can go to school, where they learn about agriculture as well as getting a general education.
Another guest from another country is Tara Golshan from the United Kingdom. She’s the Executive Director of Education at the Jane Goodall Institute, which focuses on research, education and environmental protection. The institute’s founder, the biologist Jane Goodall, devoted her life to studying primates, especially chimpanzees, and she found out they can use tools and express their emotions, but are also capable of murder.

A mission to Mars
The programme includes a lecture by Jan Lukačevič, considered by many to be a rising star in Czech science. Just twenty-five years old, Jan is already taking part in space missions, and with his colleagues at the Czech Academy of Sciences he has developed an antenna that will be used on Mars as part of the ExoMars2020 mission to try to find traces of life on the red planet…

Successful Czech students include Kamila Otrubová, a medical student who has completed the Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award. Last year she received her gold award from Prince Edward, the youngest son of Queen Elizabeth II. “I’ve changed from being a dreamer into being someone who can accomplish great things,” the twenty-year-old student says. She’s already made one of her dreams come true by climbing Africa’s highest mountain, Kilimanjaro. At the conference in Babice she’ll be talking about this and other achievements.

The Open Gate students who will be speaking at TEDxYouth are also inspiring. “Jakub Kára will demonstrate how mathematics is related to playing the saxophone, and Sarah Muldoon will captivate us with her ballet dancing,” says the conference’s main organiser, Alžběta Janečková. Entrance to the half-day event is free. “Anyone who wants to attend should fill in the form on our Facebook. The TED licence only allows us to invite a hundred guests, and there aren’t many tickets left,” says another Open Gate student, Jan Hrebík.

Students for students
For most of the students, and perhaps for their guests too, this will be their first direct experience of a conference like this. It isn’t easy to attend them in person, but they’re available on-line. “There’s only one TED Conference this year, in Vancouver in April,” says Jan Hrebík, who thinks the variety of speakers at the Czech students’ version will appeal to the audience: “The philosophy behind these lectures is that people are exposed to interesting ideas from a wide range of disciplines.” Eighteen-year-old Magdaléna Kolomazníková, an eighth-year student at Open Gate who is passionate about history, confirms this. “I’ve taken part in several TEDxYouth events in the Czech Republic, and it’s always inspiring to see how enthusiastic the organisers are – they spend as much as a year preparing these events,” she says admiringly. Now she’s trying out this role herself. “Maybe the conference will give us the energy to finally start working on things we’ve been putting off or are afraid of doing,” she says.

The conference’s motto is “If not us, who?”, and each speaker will include it in his or her presentation. “We don’t want to limit them in any way, and there should be a diversity of ideas. Our audience can look forward to hearing about science, the environment and sustainability, as well as about helping other people, and there’ll be jazz and ballet too,” says Jan Hrebík.

Open Gate’s students would like to inspire other schools to organise similar projects. They’ve made organising this event a tradition. “That’s one of the reasons why the organisation team includes younger and older students. The younger students can learn from the older ones so they can take the lead in subsequent years,” these young enthusiasts hope.

Marek Táborský, Instinkt magazine
photograph: Open Gate student archive
Photograph caption: TEDX@YOUTH CONFERENCE OPEN GATE SCHOOL will take place on Saturday 21 April 2018.


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