Splott teenagers represent UK at World Expo in Dubai


Two teenagers from Cardiff have beaten learners from across Wales to win a national debating competition and represent the UK at a global exhibition in Dubai.

Marzooq Subhani, 16, and Crystal Tran, 15, both Seren learners at Willows High School in Splott, secured their places to attend and debate at this year’s World Expo in Dubai after winning the Welsh leg of the ‘Dubai Expo Factor’ – a UK competition which sees teams of two young people from across the four UK nations compete in a series of debating challenges.

The learners were crowned the winners for Wales, bagging themselves a trip of a lifetime to Dubai where, alongside the other regional winners, they spent a week exploring the best of the city, including the desert and the Burj Khalifa, and had the opportunity to showcase their debating skills on the world stage at the World Expo on UK National Day.

The World Expo is a global celebration of culture, collaboration and innovation where 190 countries come together to showcase their talents and explore how they can work collectively to build a better world.

During the event, Marzooq and Crystal took part in a show debate at the VIP Commonwealth reception, performing to over 200 high profile people including ambassadors of the commonwealth, leading business names, sports stars and politicians such as Ed Clancy OBE and Tessa Sanderson. The teenagers explored a range of important topics including discussions around sustainability, veganism, education, opportunity, technology and politics.

Following their return from Dubai,  Marzooq and Crystal are hoping to encourage more young people at their school to consider debating, as well as to aim high with their future ambitions.

Crystal said: “Coming from a more deprived area, learners at our school are sadly often overlooked and underestimated. Our experience has proven that that shouldn’t be the case and that you can expect big things from us. There is a lot of deprivation in our community and we are passionate about combating this and showing young people that they can achieve their goals, no matter their background.”

Marzooq added: “Going out to Dubai to represent our school and our country was an absolutely incredible experience and something I will never forget. Winning the competition against learners from all over Wales was a very proud moment and it was great to get see our school get recognition.

“I first got involved in debating two years ago and would recommend it to anyone. I think there is a misconception with debating that you have to be a bookworm to be good at it, but you don’t. Debating equips you with skills that will help you in your studies and personal life, and it is a great outlet for anyone who has a strong voice to put that voice to good use.”

Both learners are part of the Seren Foundation programme, a Welsh Government initiative designed to support high attaining year 8-11 learners from Welsh state schools to go on to leading universities in Wales, the UK, and overseas, regardless of their background. Learners have access to a range of subject-specific events and study experiences designed to support their academic development and help them compete against global peers.

Looking ahead, Marzooq and Crystal have dreams of going to the University of Oxford, with Marzooq hoping to study computer science, and Crystal planning to pursue a degree in psychology and maths.

The learners are set to visit to the university next month, as part of a trip organised by Seren, where they will receive a tour of the campus and learn more about what it is like to study at the institution.

Jess Nelms, Marzooq and Crystal’s English teacher at Willows High, said: “I am so unbelievably proud of Marzooq and Crystal. They have worked so hard and I couldn’t have thought of any better young people to represent not only Willows High School but the UK too. This was truly a once-in-a-lifetime trip and so very deserved.

“Both Marzooq and Crystal have such a strong drive and ambition to tackle deprivation and make change in their community to give young people more equal opportunities. I look forward to following their journeys as they go on to higher education. I know they can achieve anything they set their minds to.”

For more information on the Seren programme visit: https://gov.wales/seren-network