By Victoria Barone | Dakar, Senegal
Running water is something that’s easy to take for granted living in the United States. By sheer chance, I was born in a country with an established water collection, treatment, and delivery system. I have never needed to worry about whether I would have access to water, where I would find it, or if it would make me sick. But in Senegal I have had a different experience.
The people of Dakar and its suburbs have been suffering the effects of a massive water shortage that has taken place for the past two months. My neighborhood was affected for about a month. For the first three weeks, there was still running water most days, albeit with low pressure and intermittent interruptions, and once every couple of days the water would stop from mid-afternoon until the next morning. But the last week was more severe, leaving me almost entirely without running water. However, the water would occasionally return in the wee hours of the morning. On those nights, at about 1:40am, I peeled myself out of bed to shower, wash my dishes, and fill up my water reserves in preparation for the next day.
But my neighborhood was not the worst affected, and I am fortunate enough that when my water ran out, I had the means to buy bottled water from the vendor down the street, and the help of my property manager to fetch water to refill my reserves when they emptied. However, many in Dakar do not have this luxury. I witnessed women and girls walking longer-than-normal distances in hot temperatures to fetch water, and carrying back large, heavy Kirène bottles of cloudy and colored liquid. In some neighborhoods, the shortage was so bad that the government had to supplement by sending nightly trucks with tanks of water for people to come refill their empty containers.
The explanation for the shortage has been minimal, but seems to be twofold. First, there have been service interruptions due to the work that Senegal’s water company is doing in an effort to expand access. And second, there is a significant water management problem in which the city’s water supply cannot keep up with the demand of Dakar’s ever-increasing population, especially during hot weather when the city’s water consumption increases.
For all of the modern conveniences that can be found in Dakar, it is nonetheless apparent that I am living in very different circumstances here than I have ever experienced, starting with access to basic services like running water. These challenges also bleed into work life. Short but frequent interruptions in electricity seem to be a regular occurrence in Ngor where my office is located, though the office is equipped with generators to keep business functioning. However, for my colleague in Niger—upon whom I depend for local country context, information about implementation on the ground, and feedback from teachers, trainers, and students—electricity outages occur frequently and interfere with his email access, stalling our communications and, I imagine, creating a generally difficult work environment. These challenges highlight the complexity of education in the region. If simply trying to correspond with a colleague is challenging, I can only imagine how difficult it is for teachers and students trying to teach and learn in this context.
My focus over the last two months has been on improving teaching and learning capacity in Niger, and I have been busy researching, proposing, and designing project activities to this end. Below is a sampling of what I’ve been working on.
Scale-up and sustainability of teacher training: A significant challenge in Niger, and in many countries in the region, is the high student to trained-teacher ratio, a number which continues to increase with rapid population growth and increased student enrollment. We are currently working to design the scale-up of teacher training to be extended from the pilot regions to the rest of the country. Because there is also high turnover and considerable mobility of teachers from one school or region to another, our focus is on activities to train teacher trainers thereby increasing the program’s sustainability.
Classroom STEM activities: An important observation of classroom and teaching practices in Niger identified that teachers typically employed a teacher-centered approach, rather than a student-centered approach. This included little opportunity for students to participate in hands-on learning activities in their STEM classes, which is necessary in order to help students better understand and develop greater interest in these subjects. To address this issue, I have been developing lesson guides and corresponding classroom experiments and activities to aid in teaching math and science concepts that Nigerien teachers find most difficult for students to learn.
Gender sensitivity in communities: Within Nigerien school settings specifically and communities more broadly, the importance of girls’ education is generally not understood or valued, and is often thought to offer very little return. In addition to contributing to the design of gender-responsive teacher training, I have also been designing project activity proposals to sensitize Nigerien communities to the importance of education for both boys and girls.
Encouraging girls to participate in STEM subjects: While girls’ education is already undervalued in Niger, there is even more resistance to the idea that STEM subjects are appropriate or necessary for girls. From a belief that girls are naturally not good at these subjects like boys, to a lack of understanding how these subjects are applicable in the lives of girls who are expected to marry young and become mothers, girls in Niger do not receive encouragement to participate in STEM learning. I am currently designing project activity proposals to provide support, encouragement, and mentorship for both girls and boys to engage and succeed in STEM subjects, with additional programming focused on girls’ mentorship.
In addition to my work for the CapED Niger program, I have also had the opportunity to participate in the Gender Equality and Inclusive Education task team of the Regional Coordination Group on SDG4-Education 2030 for West and Central Africa, to participate in the launch of RCG4’s new web platform for knowledge management and information sharing, and to contribute to UNESCO Dakar’s Education for Health and Well-Being program in its work on comprehensive sexuality education.
With just over a month remaining of my internship, things have really picked up at work and I am excited for this final push.
Ba beneen yoon!
Victoria is a Master’s candidate in International Development Studies at The George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs, with a concentration in Gender, Education, and Development and a regional focus in Sub-Saharan Africa. You can follow Victoria on Instagram or connect with her on LinkedIn.