UNESCO in Dakar

Blog Post #5 ML: Aurevoir Dakar: final thoughts on UNESCO and Dakar

All nice things have an ending! It was incredibly hard to adapt to life and work in Dakar, but when I finally started to get my bearings, it was already time to leave. For the past three months, I had the opportunity to work alongside bright, lovely and dedicated people from whom I have learned a lot. My experience at the UNESCO-Dakar office was filled with excitement, learning and a lot of frustration. As I am wrapping up my last week of work here at the office, I feel it is time to look critically at my experience here as a whole including professional, academic and personal.

Critics of the UNESCO as a whole

As I may have mentioned in my previous blogs, I am incredibly fond of the UNESCO because it is one of the only organization that has always advocated for education as a fundamental human right rather than a pure source of economic gain. This experience allowed me to have a look at the organization from the inside, and unfortunately, I am not so fond of what I have observed.

First, the UNESCO’s intense bureaucracy blocks the participation of many direct stakeholders that are the targets for most projects, especially youth. There may be a general idea within the organization that youth can’t participate in development processes because they are inexperienced, which is incredibly wrong as they are source of innovation and creativity and more importantly they are the main target. Therefore, if they are not interested in these top-bottom programs they will be less susceptible to participate in them. Most interns fall within the youth age range (15-24), but are never consulted during processes, even for projects that concern their age category. Programs and projects are designed from top to bottom and even when there is participation of direct stakeholders, they are usually elites or part of a pre-selected group of individuals, thus creating wide gaps between planning and policy formulation and impacts on the ground.

Second, quite honestly, there is an unnecessary amount of prestige and idealism within the organization. Meetings and workshops take place in incredibly fancy hotels and venues and cost probably a lot of money, which could be invested in actual programs to have a larger impact on the ground. Moreover, idealism is great (I consider myself an idealist), but when it is not realistic, it is incredibly hurtful to the groups of people who have faith in the UNESCO.

Finally, budget restrictions are certainly not a reason to over work limited personnel. The Dakar office is crumbling under the weight of never ending added responsibilities. No matter how dedicated and hard-working the personnel is, over working an already small staff diminishes the quality of their work in all areas, old and new responsibilities included.

Life in Dakar

My time in Dakar was awesome. I had a lot of fun, explored many places in and outside the city and took full advantage of the beautiful beaches and incredible resorts. Even if I was working full time, I felt like I was on a vacation since I was at the beach or at the pool every weekend! I usually respond to the word vacation with a lot of despise as I am forever flat broke, but the food, beaches, weather and everything around me sounded constantly like vacation! The perfect balance between work and fun that I will certainly miss.

Unfortunately, my experience in Dakar was tarnished by the ongoing social problem in the country: Talibes. Kathy discussed this issue in one of her blog posts, so I won’t expand on it, but I had to come back to this topic as it is the thing that affected me the most. I have been dedicating myself to improving learning experiences of children and youth for the past few years and now I feel as though I have failed. I spent three months in Dakar, and I could not figure out a way to help these children. As I walked to work every day, I asked myself these questions: should I give them money knowing that they will hand it to some shameless shady man who can’t beg for himself? Should I not give them money knowing that they may be punished if they don’t meet their daily quotas? To how many can I give and what or how much should I give? How can I help? How can I call myself and educator and a children’s right advocate when I was put in an actual situation and was unable to do anything? This is the biggest disappointment that I have had in Dakar as I found no answers to these questions.

As I leave the UNESCO-Dakar office and the city of Dakar, I am submerged by even more passion for education than ever since I want to work harder and really make a change. I realized that no matter how hard I work, they will always be some key issues that will take time to get resolved, especially when those issues have roots in religion and tradition. I want to find answers to the questions I failed to answer this time. I want to help the children I have failed to help this time. I want my dedication and work to positively influence UNESCO. I think that the organization still has a lot of potential in improving learning environments, but the focus has to shift from “trying to impress” to “trying to make a difference whether or not it impresses”. But again, maybe my idealism is unrealistic.


Blog Post #4 Katherine: Site visits, research, and exploring the bookstores in Dakar

By: Katherine Tek, 08/24/2016

So the work experience at UNESCO Dakar is quickly wrapping up and it will be time to say a goodbye and à la prochaine, inchallah to all of the great work colleagues here. GW Fellow Marie Louise gave her final presentation of her work last week and headed off to see her family in Cote d’Ivoire, so I am the last one here! As Jen at UNESCO Bangkok made an important point in her latest blog about having a “go-to” person in emergency situations, I can say that ML and I tried to keep that in mind during our time here as well. It was a unique situation for there to be two GW Fellows at the Dakar office, and I’m so glad that we were able to work together and support one another as well as watch out for each other! Merci, Malou!  I’m including a photo of us meeting UNESCO General Director Irina Bokova since she visited the Dakar office. Quite exciting!

photo for blog 5

Here is also a photo of us below visiting the House of Slaves on the Island of Gorée, one of the seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Senegal (or les sites du patrimoine mondial as we refer to them in the Dakar office). There is also a photo of the “door of no return.” This is a site of significant importance for those of the African Diaspora because it was a slave-trading center. Slaves were housed here before being sent to the various English, French, and Portuguese colonies across the Atlantic. A somber site where we go to remember the dark history the precedes us, to honor those who experienced such tragedy, but also to find hope again that humanity will better itself with each passing year. For more information on the island and the House of Slaves, click here.

On another note as I finish my time here in Senegal: I am finishing the work that I’ve done here on gender equality and education in West and Central Africa. Along with another colleague, we have done a lot of conceptual work on how to define indicators (measurements) of gender equality in schools and how UNESCO Dakar can go about creating some kind of monitoring and evaluation framework that can be tested in one of two West African countries. The point here on monitoring and evaluation, or M&E, is that you can’t just implement programs and projects in countries and expect that they work perfectly. As a policymaker, or even anyone who wants to know whether the programs and projects are actually helping, you have to monitor and evaluate them. Based on the monitoring and evaluation results, you can then continue or modify or even scrap the project or program. There has been so much work on getting girls into schools so that gender parity is reached, but now we need to see whether girls and boys’ learning is equitable and that each have equal rights and are not subject to discrimination, bias, or even violence. I’ve been looking into the situation for girls’ and boys’ learning in Niger, so this is one of the UNESCO Dakar documents I’ve been reading since it’s based on a gender equity program initiated by the office to help more girls have access to school.

photot for blog 4

And lastly, I’d like to talk about my final days’ experience in Dakar and exploring the bookstores. There is a more prominent bookstore chain here called “La Librairie aux 4 vents.” I quite like the name, Bookstore of the Four Winds, in that it indicates that it brings literature and knowledge from all different directions. As a GW student and as a language teacher, I love to see what kinds of books are offered at bookstores in different parts of the world, and I was curious to see what selection of African literature was on hand to buy. After selecting several books by African authors, and a book of poems by the celebrated Leopold Sedar Senghor, who was also Senegal’s first president, I spent some time looking at the books used by children in school. I was delighted to see that the UNESCO book series “Bouba & Zaza” was on sale here. There were also some books on sustainable development that are read by children in school. Learning sustainable development is one of the key goals at UNESCO. I bought a couple of copies of what is used by 3rd graders in school. It’s fascinating to see that children here are learning in school about environmental protection, hygiene, sanitation, and safety. I also checked out the books on how children here learn English as a second language (or third or fourth language for some), and I bought a copy so I’d have a model of what the learning materials look like for children in Senegalese schools. The public schools here do not late until October 1, but a couple of the private and international schools have started so there were some children at the bookstore buying their “back to school supplies.”

As I finish a wonderful summer work experience in Dakar, Senegal, I want to thank you all for reading and for your attention this summer. There are definitely ups and downs, highlights and challenges, to living and working in another country. Thank you for the support and care as I and my fellow four GW colleagues across the world strove to do good work for UNESCO! À bientôt!

Blog Post #4 ML: UNESCO Gathers Partners to Promote Early Learning Measurement

By: ML Balo (08/18/2016)

The UNESCO Dakar office recently hosted a workshop entitled “Measuring Early Learning Quality and Outcomes (MELQO)”, which saw the participation of a range of multilateral and regional organizations as well as government agencies. This workshop was actually organized primarily by the UNESCO headquarters in Paris in collaboration with UNICEF and supported by the UNESCO-Dakar office as it took place in Dakar. There were representatives from multiple countries such as Cabo Verde, Cote d’Ivoire, Mali, Senegal, Tanzania and Togo; experts in MELQO from a few American universities who are; UN agencies such as the World Bank, UNESCO, UNICEF; and international and regional organizations such as ADEA, Brookings Institution, SACMEQ, etc.

The workshop was very technical and aimed to encourage dialogues between representatives from different organizations and countries to share experiences and best practices in early learning measurement in order to better support countries’ efforts in measuring early learning. During the different meetings, participants shared past and present experiences and plans for the future and discussed matters of capacity building in the domain of data collection and analysis at country level. This was a very good opportunity for participants to identify areas in which they needed support and provide comments, suggestions and perspectives on the process of defining, collecting, analyzing and using data on early learning at country, regional and global levels. It somewhat relates to my second blog post about the Regional Coordination Group because different partner, organizations and countries got together to redefine common standards and share practices to better coordinate effort in the sector of Early Childhood Development.

Some of the challenges I could perceive during the meeting were 1) adapting strategies and methods to local standards and priorities and 2) using the results of data analysis and assessments to influence policy making. Indeed, one of the problems with countries participating in these types of technical trainings may be their inability to apply these methods in their respective contexts. This had negative impacts on countries efforts since outside methods don’t necessarily transfer to context. Fortunately, the country presentations allowed individuals to see how specific countries adapted assessment methods to their context and how it worked for them.

Since interns were in charge of note taking we got to sit-in the different meetings and see the different presentations first hand. The first day was more of an overview of the theme, the challenges and the importance of early learning measurement while the second day was much more technical and hands-on featuring presentations from Brookings Institution, SACMEQ and PASEC as well as country presentations from Cote d’Ivoire and Senegal, which allowed me to link the technical presentations to empirical country cases and identify strengths and challenges.

It was very interesting to participate in this workshop as a note taker, because I got a sense of the higher level discussions and coordination that must to take place in order to harmonize certain aspects of education such as measurements and identify common indicators. It is even more relevant in the context of the SDG because in order to track global progress towards the goals, it is necessary to have common indicators of progress at country level.


Blog Post #3 ML: Escapades in Saint-Louis

By: ML Balo (08/10/2016)

A few weeks ago, three of my colleagues and I decided to take a break from the busy streets of Dakar to explore other parts of Senegal. We, thus, packed-up our backpacks and headed to “la Gare Routiere” to ride seven-seats car to Saint-Louis. We drove through the western end of the city of Thies and several other small towns while gazing at a scenery filled with large baobab trees and dry land. After a five-hour drive, we arrived in Saint Louis.

What our hotel’s webpage forgot to mention in their “just 5 min away from the center town” directions, is that the terrible road conditions would take us 5 times longer and make taxi drivers cranky. After a long drive and a 10 min walk, we finally got to relax in a bungalow style hotel with a pool and beautiful view on the ocean. It was quite a fancy setting for me (who can’t afford to do anything other than working and studying), but maybe others may disagree with me. The beach was quite dazzling at first, but as we got closer we started noticing a lot of trash all along the beach, which unfortunately ruined our experience. After resting for a few hours, we started to explore and learn more about the region of Saint-Louis.

Saint-Louis, about 300 km north of Dakar and near the Senegal river’s mouth, is located near the Mauritanian border, which can be reached in just 20 min from the center town. The region is mainly characterized by sand storms during dry seasons and the occurrence of marshes. Marshes are flood basins that form during rainy seasons, when the river overflows into the countryside, creating ponds and stretches of mangroves that attract many birds such as flamingos and pelicans. We got to discover three significant parts of the region, which are the city of Saint-Louis, the fauna reserve of Guembeul and the “langue de Barbarie”.

The City of Saint-Louis

The city of Saint Louis holds significant historical value as it was the capital of both the French colony of Senegal (from 1673 to 1902) and French West Africa (from 1895 to 1902). The center town is the heart of the old colonial city and is located on a narrow island of just over 2 km long and about 400 m wide. I took us about 2 hours to explore the whole place on foot. Its colonial architecture, regular town plan along with its location on an island at the mouth of the Senegal river fueled its inscription on the World Heritage list in 2000.

The Fauna reserve of Guembeul

The next day of our arrival in Saint-Louis, we went on a guided excursion to the reserve of Guembeul, located at about 10 km south of Saint-Louis. The reserve extends over a modestly large area of 720 hectares and serves to shelter birds and endangered species such as the Scimitar Oryx, the Dama Gazelle, the Patas Monkeys and the African Spurred Tortoise. Its proximity with the Djoudj natural reserve further north and the “langue de barbarie”, south, attracts for various birds.

La Langue de Barbarie or Tongue of Barbary

We then drove down to the “Langue de Barbarie”, which is a 600 km long stretch of sand from Mauritania to Saint-Louis. At this point the Senegal river is separated from the Atlantic by a narrow sand spit. The park occupies the southern point of the “Langue de Barbarie” and hosts thousands of water birds like cormorants, brushes, pink flamingos, pelicans, herons and ducks every year.


Threats to the Old City, The Fauna Reserve Guembeul and the Langue de Barbarie

Climate change and rising sea levels accompanied by a failed artificial canal project pose a great threat to the islands in the region of Saint-Louis as well as those different animal sanctuaries. During our visit at the Guembeul reserve, the guide informed us that the basin within the park, from which animals drank, had become salty because of a coastal breach. In fact, in 2002, to remedy significant flooding in the city of Saint Louis that were caused by an overflow of the river, an artificial discharge canal of 5 meters wide was built just south from the city. Unfortunately, by 2014, that small canal grew into a 4.5 km wide coastal breach leading to the sea water flowing into the river and thus into the basin in the reserve. This, of course, causes disturbances in the reserve in particular, as they had to create drinking fountains from animals, but in the region in general as the land is eroding twice as fast as it was in the past.

The “langue de Barbarie” has lost 5 km of land within just 7 to 8 years. The part we visited was barely a kilometer wide from the river side to the ocean side, therefore, in just a few years that part would completely vanish. The ocean and the river completelWP_20160724_12_36_22_Pro (2)y met about 2 or 3km south from where we stop and one can clearly see that as the sea water flows into the river, the river rises significantly. As I looked along the ocean shore, I could clearly see the tip of a number of tress, which marked where the land used to be.

What is truly stricking about this environmental disaster is that you don’t have to read it in the news or articles or think about the world your children and grand-children will live-in. You can see it! The people currently living in that area will have to re-locate, in just a few years. In other words, climate change is not something that will happen tomorrow! It is happening now. Even we won’t get to see many of these places by the end of our life time. In just a few years, we will only be able to prove the existence of these places through the picture and memories we hold.


Blog Post #3 Katherine: Issues of Out-of-School Children in Senegal

By: Katherine Tek (08/05/2016)

Hello everyone! Bonjour et salaam aleekum! In my last blog I took a fun turn and talked about the cuisine in Dakar. Today I’m taking a much more serious approach about a matter that’s been weighing on me since I arrived in Dakar.

As you may have easily guessed, I care about children and their quality of life, in particular their access and quality of education. I don’t think I’d be working at UNESCO if I didn’t care otherwise. Along with my colleagues, such as Marie Louise, we want to make any education system better for children because it’s firmly believed that greater education brings about a greater economic and social rate of return as well as an increase in health, mortality rates, and even self-esteem. It’s why I’ve spent the past couple of months focused on conceptualizing and developing ways in which countries can see whether they are enrolling as many girls as boys in schools and whether they have qualified teachers who are not biased towards certain students or whether students feel safe and not subjected to gender-based violence. It’s why at UNESCO Marie Louise is focused on non-formal education and how to educate children and adults despite not having a formal schooling building or textbooks. And it’s why UNESCO is committed to designing and implementing initiatives that help children learn peace and global citizenship so that they’re not drawn into taking alternative paths, like joining terrorist groups.

So all this brings to me to wanting to talk about a phenomenon that affects many children throughout Senegal and sadly has been going on for generations. There is a system in place in which young boys are sent from their homes to “study” religion with a neighborhood leader called a marabout and to beg all day and night. These boys are called “talibés.” Whereas I support any formal and non-formal learning that takes place, the young boys are actually not learning any religious lessons as far as anyone can tell. These boys stand in the streets day and night to collect money to then give to the marabouts. The notion for begging is based on the idea that begging will teach them humbleness. The reality is that these boys beg from the crack of dawn until the wee hours of the morning, live in deplorable conditions, given little food to eat (the marabouts believe that the public should feed them), and are punished and beaten sometimes if they don’t return with any money. To many, and certainly to me, these young boys are turned into slaves.

Many organizations ranging from the intergovernmental and international organizations such as UNESCO, UNICEF, and Plan International, to very small micro-organizations such as “Maison de la Gare,” have been working for years to help these boys. It is estimated that there are 50,000 of them throughout Senegal and that many of them come from the Gambia and Senegal. UNESCO has done initiatives in which other schools put on programs for them so that they may learn some things while in the streets. What I’ve done myself, and what I advise anyone to do if they are in Senegal, is to NOT give them money. It will never benefit the talibé boys, only the marabouts. Instead give them something to eat and drink since they will not eat and drink otherwise. This is what I’ve done, as well as trying to sit with one of them, ask him his name, and try to teach him some things. This can be quite tricky to do because it could form an attachment and it can also cause all the other children to watch and want to take part too, so any person needs to be careful of how they think is most appropriate to help these boys and get to know them. Instead, it may be better to support organizations such as Plan International that are on the ground year-round and who have the capacities to build relationships with them, take them into a home, and provide them with proper health and education.  Here is an example below of a young boy, Amadou, who is the Gambia and who doesn’t speak any French and very little English. I see him daily on my walk to the UNESCO office, and when I think it is quiet enough, I have tried to help him learn reading and writing. This is an example of how education can take place anywhere and with various means, and thus non-formal education and out-of-school children should be supported. Again, the situation is delicate because I am only here in Dakar for a short period of time and will not always be here to directly work with him so my hope is that I find other people that work on the ground here and who can help him after I leave.

amadou learning

Some may say, “Why is the government of Senegal still allowing this to happen?” What I’ve learned is that the government set a law in 2005 but has had difficulty enforcing it because of the local power of the marabouts. Also, it is controversial because whereas many religious people think that the begging should not be tied at all to religious learning, some people do see the begging as part of the learning experience and don’t think that the living conditions are that bad for the boys. And the country has difficulty regulating the boys that come from other countries. Thus organizations like UNESCO, UNICEF, and Plan do what they can, such as conducting education experiences in the streets or providing clean water to them, until the government and local communities are able to appropriately care for the boys.

To learn more about this situation of the talibé boys, visit the following websites: Senegal Organization Educating Talibe Boys , Report on Talibe BoysUNESCO education project to teach art to talibe


Blog Post #2 Katherine: The Wonders of Food in Dakar

By: Katherine Tek (07/19/2016)

Alright, so I was thinking that it might be time to discuss one of the most favorite topics of all time: food! And given that I love to eat (which I why I have to run quite often) and given that I love to also explore the culinary treasures of any city, I think it’s quite fitting that I write about the ins and out of the culinary experience in Dakar. Anthony Bourdain, who I really don’t care for much, actually did a great episode on Senegal and its food on his CNN show “Parts Unknown.” He praised the Senegalese and the warmth and hospitality of its people, plus was smart enough to see the correlations between Senegalese cuisine and African-American Southern cuisine. But let’s see if I can take the food conversation to a whole another level beyond Bourdain, shall we?

So to begin talking about food and food culture in Dakar and in Senegal in general, I ironically have to start by talking about how people don’t eat food. You see, I arrived in Dakar just a couple weeks into Ramadan, so my first month here was witnessing how the majority of the people didn’t eat all day, as in the custom of Ramadan. At sunset, many would partake in the custom called “la rupture” or “les ndogous” as it is known in Wolof, one of the more dominant languages in Senegal. This is basically breaking the fast and eating a large meal at nighttime. What was quite interesting to me in being here around the time of Ramadan was to notice how the food industry operated. Given that the majority of people are not eating and thus not spending as much money on food, how is it that restaurants and stores make do? There is quite a bit of advertising that goes into encouraging customers to buy their products  or to eat at their restaurants when they break their fast at the end of each day. Here’s a sampling of photos that show just that.

Now, for the very end of Ramadan, which was just a couple of weeks ago on July 7 and is called la Korité here in Senegal, families get together and have a big feast. For the Dakarois, the people of Dakar like to go into the wee hours of the morning with these feasts and parties. What is nice about the concept to me personally is that it is all tied to the family. Everyone sits around together and eats from large bowls while they talk, laugh, share, etc. It’s very communal and you feel like it’s time to sit and just be with your family and friends. My friend Khady Diene, with whom I studied when I was completing my MA in French lit at UMD, she is from Senegal and just happens to also be in Dakar this summer to see her family. She was gracious enough to invite me to partake in Korité with her children and her sister’s family. As you see in the photo below, we quite enjoyed our meal of chicken yassa (a typical, traditional dish made of caramelized onions and spices) and couscous. And along the same note of hospitality, my colleague Mamadou put me in contact with a longtime friend of his, Ba Gueye. Ba also invited me for a meal with his family. For that meal I also ate a lot of chicken yassa. In the photo below, you’ll see how Ba’s daughters model how we sit and eat here so that we’re in one big circle truly eating in family style!

Now that Ramadan is over, the food scene is back in full swing here in Dakar. So, let’s talk a little about what else to expect food and drink-wise in the region. Dakar is situated on the coast, so seafood is ever present in the cuisine here. You’ll usually find lotte (monkfish), thiof (sort of like grouper), and sole on most menus and at the fish markets. And then are some fish that I’ve seen at the main fish market and they are enormous, I don’t even know what kind of fish they are! There are also many top quality restaurants to choose from in Dakar, serving fish yassa or thieboudienne, the national dish of Senegal that is fish, tomato based rice, eggplant, yucca, and carrots. There is also plenty of  langouste (type of lobster), which was what we ate when my sister Kelly  came to visit (in photo below). I recommend going to Ile de Ngor’s restaurants for lobster…they catch it the very same day! And there are also sea urchin dishes…but I haven’t been able to bring myself to eating a raw one yet.

Peanuts are also abundant here and one of Senegal’s main exports. I see about a dozen or so merchants along my quarter  of a mile route to the UNESCO office. I typically buy peanuts from Binta, one of the women who makes the sugared peanuts and sets up her little shop right outside the office. You’ll see her making sugared peanuts in the photo below. Also, the juice from the fruit of baobab trees, called bouye, is popular here. In its original form it looks like little white rocks, so you soak, boil, and press them to get the juice out. It’s very high in nutrients and antioxidants.

But there are plenty of other great restaurants serving Lebanese cuisine since there is a small Lebanese community that has been in Dakar for generations (check out my hummus and baba ganoush from Restaurant Farid, all washed down with Flag, a Senegalese lager). And of course there is a heavy French influence in the food and drinks here given that Senegal is a former French colony and there is a significant expat community in Dakar. French bakeries and restaurants abound in Dakar, and it’s typically for the Senegalese to buy their daily baguette just like the French do. There are some very chic French and Senegalese restaurants that I’m saving my pennies to dine in one day, but at least for now Marie Louise and I are spoiled to have Dakar’s finest French bakery, called la Graine d’Or, just minutes away by foot from the UNESCO office. It has become a daily habit to go buy a pain au chocolat or croissant for breakfast as I walk to the office, and I’ll be a bit sad to leave it when I must return to DC. Who wouldn’t miss a bakery called the Golden Grain?!

I could go on forever about food here, but before I put you all in a mental food coma, I’ll stop here with the sampling I just gave you. If you’re thinking of coming to Senegal to visit of one UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites such as the lions at Niokolo Koba National Park or to help with children learning in school or perhaps to just merely see the turquoise color water and pristine coast, then also take in its culinary culture! Happy eating!


Blog Post #2 Marie Louise: UNESCO Unites Partners to Advance SDG4-Education 2030

By: ML Balo (07/12/2016)

As Katherine briefly mentioned in her previous post, the UNESCO Dakar office hosted the second meeting of the Regional Coordination Group on SDG4 for West and Central Africa (RCG4-WCA), which we had the opportunity to participate in. Organizations that responded to UNESCO’s call for collaboration included UNICEF, UNHCR, the World Bank, Save the Children to list only very few. It was very impressive to see such a diverse range of regional and multilateral organizations represented at the meeting, which can be attributed to UNESCO’s “magical” convening power. The UNESCO Dakar office, which initiated the collaboration, was at the center of the RCG4-WCA because of its role as overall coordinator of SDG4-Education 2030 in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA).

WIN_20160712_15_40_13_ProWith its new global mandate to coordinate efforts to reach SDG4, UNESCO has been concentrating its efforts on regional clusters rather than single countries in order to get a wider picture of the needs and challenges as they relate to SDG4: “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.” For example, the Dakar Office, in collaboration with the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), recently produced the SDG4 Country Readiness Report, which draws a very clear and concise picture of the trends, challenges and overall state of education systems to improve country support by providing what is empirically needed.

When you take a much closer look at it, all the organizations gathered around the table, work in different sub-sectors of education including Higher Education, ECCE, Non-Formal Education, Basic Education, TVET, etc. as well as with different stakeholders including Ministries of Education, NGOs, children, youth and adults, former child soldier, children with disabilities, etc. Therefore, in my personal opinion, this group is very much needed because they all identify with goal 4 in one way or the other, but overlap quite a bit in terms of the range of their actions and activities. While having various organization with similar mandates yields many positive outcomes, it also creates quite a bit of overlap and duplication of efforts. It is not possible for only one individual or organization to have a sustainable positive impact on educational systems in SSA, but a combination of those organizations and individuals could facilitate unification of working tools and definitions, common monitoring and evaluation indicators, and most importantly, sharing of knowledge, information and data. Within the global momentum pushing for education as a way to fight poverty, the Dakar office capitalized on the presence of all these fervent and dedicated organizations in the region to sync efforts, finances and resources towards achieving SDG4. It is absolutely crucial for organizations in the region to be on the same wave length and work together to maximize positive impacts in the region.

Reflection on my experience with the Dakar Office half-way through

Half way through my internship, although it was quite different from what I had imagined at the beginning, I can say that it has been a fairly good learning experience. I have been learning quite a bit about the structure of the regional offices and their relationship with other offices as well as the working ranges of different branches of UNESCO.

The realm of work of the Dakar office, for example, is capacity building at relatively high levels of the political structure in terms of policy and planning, coordination and monitoring and evaluation. Therefore, there is not much interaction with direct stakeholders such as teachers, students, schools, etc. as I had imagined. The Dakar office is in charge of education development in the Sahel region, (which regroups 7 countries) so it would be unfair to expect it to also handle direct field work, especially with such a small staff. Since there are much smaller and focus solely on one context, UNESCO national offices and national commissions for UNESCO are more capable of having meaningful interactions and relationships with direct stakeholders compared with regional offices. In fact, the scope of work of regional offices is much broader, which allows them to work with more countries at once. On the other hand, the national offices and national commission for UNESCO are mandated to only support one country and sometimes one sector, which allows them to be more efficient on the ground. I learned that fundamental difference after my first few weeks, and decided to make the best out of my time here by learning about the different stages of strategic planning processes, which are truly fascinating. My internship has also been very rich in learning about the functioning and challenges of educational systems in the SSA region, which was one of the main reasons I chose to intern at this office.

I am presently working on a Non-Formal Education (NFE) research project that will critically look at effectiveness of the current NFE policy and planning in the Sahel region. I am very pleased with this project as it is, not only the subsector I am interested in, but also a project that will serve as a knowledge tool to the Dakar office. I am very excited about making my own contribution to the office and hope that my research will assist the Dakar office in their support to countries and future endeavors.


Blog Post #1 Katherine: Dakar and the Abundance of Acronyms

By: Katherine Tek (06/22/2016)

Bonjour! Or, salaam aleekum as those from Dakar would say in the regional language called Wolof.  I have now joined Marie Louise in the UNESCO Regional Office in Dakar and am in the middle of my second week here. Thank you to Marie Louise for already writing an excellent introduction on Dakar and the UNESCO office! I’d like to continue today on our blog site by talking about some of the work we are doing here as well as the power and usage (perhaps over usage?) of acronyms in the world of intergovernmental organizations, which I’m sure that many in DC can understand and sympathize with!

My week started in Dakar with lots of reading and building my knowledge base of the work done in education planning and policy in the UNESCO Dakar Office. Also, it was the week of a meeting of the constituents of the Regional Coordination Group on Sustainable Development Goal no. 4 (is pertains to Education 2030) for West and Central Africa. This is otherwise known as RCG – SDG4 E2030 for WCA. Or in French, since we handle both languages here at the office,  Groupe Regional de Coordination de l’Objectif du Developpement Durable 4 – Education 2030 pour l’Afrique de l’Ouest et du Centre (GRC ODD 4 – E2030 pour l’AOC). And so begins our world of learning and understanding acronyms in French and English…

UNESCO, UNICEF, UNOWAS, UNGEI, GPE – For which acronym do you work under? 

In Washington, DC, we are used to living in an environment where we know at least one person who works for FBI, DOD, CIA, NOAA, and many other governmental and intergovernmental sectors. I’m learning here that the world of the United Nations is really no different, and that the work and documents entail using acronyms as well. You can probably sympathize with the situation here! The key to mastering some of the acronyms in both English and French is to realize that the French version is “backwards” to the English version. So for example, The United Nations Organization is UNO. In French, it’s ONU (so, Organisations des Nations Unies).

To not overwhelm you all with the acronyms of UN sectors, documents, work programs, etc., I’ll lay out the really important ones for you since it applies to the work that I will be doing here. Also, these acronyms are really important to know in general because they represent the global work being done to provide quality, free education to all.

Gender Equality through UNESCO, UNGEI, UNICEF, GPE

My work here so far has consisted of doing research on gender equality in education, particularly in finding out what monitoring and evaluation work has been suggested or even done so far for gender equality. Jen in the Bangkok office spoke well on the subject of gender equality in one of her blog posts. (On a side note, it’s nice to see crossover of themes in the various UNESCO offices). But basically, as stated by UNESCO, gender equality means that “women and men have equal conditions, treatment and opportunities for realizing their full potential, human rights and dignity, and for contributing to (and benefiting from) economic, social, cultural, and political development.” While a lot of work has been done to achieve gender parity in schools (meaning equal number of boys and girls), work is now turning to gender equality in schools.

This work is focused on mainly by UNESCO but also by UNGEI (United Nations Girls Education Initiative) and by UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund). Most people are familiar with the acronym UNICEF because of nation-wide events and programs in the U.S., like the treat or trick boxes for UNICEF. Within the United Nations, and with the support of other international organizations such as Plan International or the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), there is focus on making progress toward gender equality so that worldwide we may reach the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) by 2030.

So what are these goals? If you take a look at the image below, it will explain. Basically, the United Nations calls on all of us to help reach these goals by 2030. As you can see, we have some big tasks ahead of us!

For UNESCO, there is particular focus on Goal number 4, which we refer to as EFA, or Education for All. The lines do get blurred and there’s crossover to the other goals as well within UNESCO’s work on policy and planning. For policy and planning on gender equality in education, Goals 4 and 5 go hand in hand. I’d like to continue collecting information and finding out 1) what work has been done on gender equality in education in the West and Central African countries and 2) what monitoring and evaluation has been done so that we can know if the policies and planning in place have been helping. 

So now that your brain is full of a few UN acronyms, now you will be able to go and encourage others to support EFA goals and the research and policy work of UNESCO for gender equality in education!

If you’d like to learn more UNESCO’s work on gender and education, click here


Blog Post #1 Marie Louise: Nagadef Dakar

By: Marie-Louise Balo-Lou (06/10/2016)

Dakar, the capital of Senegal, is located in the western most end of the country. As an Atlantic port on the Cabo-Verde peninsula, the city has a wide open front on the ocean providing a cool and gentle breeze and taming the heat and humidity. The ideal temperature for tropical weather lovers like me! Although the city itself inhabits over a million, the region of Dakar, including the suburbs, counts 3 million people overall. Most everybody speaks French, but Wolof is the main language of communication.

The City

Dakar is an urban African city meaning that is has many attributes of western cities such as shopping centers, foreign cuisine restaurants and modern grocery stores as well as open-air markets, improvised food stands, and cheap mini-vans for transportation. As many big cities, the cost of living in Dakar is very high, but foreign goods are usually much more expensive than domestic ones, which are sometimes three times lower. As a port city, there is an abundance of seafood and if you know where and when to go, you can get the best deals on fresh seafood! “Le Marché au Poissons” or fish market, close to where I currently live, is always very crowded late afternoons because that is the time when fishermen come back from the sea.

Dakar is also a major administrative center and home to the Senegal National Assembly and the Presidential Palace both located in the south end of the city called “le Plateau”. Le Plateau is the “Centre Ville” or center town that hosts most businesses as well as major organizations’ headquarters such as West African States Bank called BCEAO (Banque Centrale des Etats de l’Afrique de l’Ouest) and most ministries. Therefore, the worst of the traffic is usually directed towards the south in the morning and north in the afternoon.

Senegal in general is a majority Muslim country, so there many mosques throughout the city. There is one in particular that I pass by everyday on my way to work that is fascinating because of its location at the bottom of a steep cliff near the water. From the road you can only see the tip of the tours, but as you walk down the staircase built along the rock, you discover its entire structure as well as the main entrance.

On my way to work, I get stare at the beautiful scenery as the taxi drives along “la route de la corniche” where I get a view of the African Renaissance Monument and the Mamelles lighthouse on the hill.

The UNESCO office


1E749007-53E2-47B3-903D-8E67D5CC1C54 (2)The UNESCO office is located in former USAID building in Ngor in the north-western part of Dakar. The building itself hosts multiple other organizations such as Pole Dakar International Institute of Educational Planning (IIEP-Pole Dakar), United Nations Office of West African States (UNOWAS) and the UNESCO Institute of Statistics (UIS).

The UNESCO occupies 2 floors divided between its five sectors: Education, Natural Sciences, Social and Human Sciences, Communication Information Technology and Culture. It is further divided into three sections: the Regional Coordination Group, in charge of the coordination of UNESCO’s education activities across sub-Saharan Africa; the Knowledge Management Services, handling all media related activities, information and knowledge sharing and the Library; and the administrative unit which is in charge of administration, and human resources and finances.

The Dakar office, as I learned on my arrival, was formerly known as BREDA for “Bureau Regional de l’UNESCO pour L’Education en Afrique”, but with the budgetary constraints and reforms within the UNESCO, it became multi-sectoral, causing heavy losses in education sector staff. The permanent staff comprises about 75 individuals overall not including contract consultants and rotating cohorts of interns. The office used to cover all of Sub Saharan Africa for only the education sector, but now it covers all 5 sectors in 7 countries (Burkina Faso, Cabo Verde, The Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Mali, Niger and Senegal) while the remaining countries are shared between the 4 other regional offices in Abuja, Yaoundé, Harare, and Nairobi.


The Education Sector and my work this far


The sector education is comprised of a staff of 8 individuals specializing in various aspects of education such as policy, planning and programming, Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET), peace education, Non-Formal education etc. so interns are dispersed across the different sub-sectors. I personally work with the program specialist in education policy and programming, so the domain of my work is planning and development of educational systems.

In addition to providing technical support to the 7 countries under its coverage, the Dakar office is also in charge of the coordination of the Education 2030 (E2030) agenda for all 47 Sub-Saharan African countries. This E2030 is the framework for action to reach Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG4) dedicated to educational development. Therefore, one of the newest task of the office is to spread awareness and increase understanding of the new agenda, build planning and implementation capacity, monitor and evaluate progress towards the SDG4 and assist member states in the elaboration of an overall and single result Education Sector Plan (ESP) integrating the international objectives and national priorities.

Actually, my first big task was to revise and update the official report on the status of Sub-Saharan African states’ educational systems, their progress towards the SDG4 as well as the new thematic areas (global citizenship, peace education and sustainable development) and the integration of the E2030 agenda. The report compiled the responses of a country survey sent to the 47 countries and aimed to get a sense of their educational systems. The report was actually drafted in November, but since a few more countries had responded since then, it had to be updated. My task was not only to update the data analysis with the new information and identify trends, but also to elaborate points of comparison, patterns and trends across West and Central Africa and East and South Africa.

In sum, I had to get right into the groove on my very first week here at the UNESCO Dakar office, but I have learned a lot about the different procedures and the functioning of my unit within just a few weeks. It will be a very intensive summer, but I am looking forward to learning more about strategic planning and programming and the other areas of the education sector.

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