Health and Education in Senegal

lac roseWhile our trip to Senegal feels like a distant memory, it’s only been a few months. We had a great time there and were fortunate enough to meet with a number of great organisations working on health, education and sometimes health education. Given that this was our first foray into Francophone Africa, we were very pleasantly surprised by the number and quality of projects and teams we met with. To many Anglophone funders, I’m sure Francophone West Africa is something of a no-go area, but we’d definitely encourage them to seek it out, make the effort and meet with some of the great organisations working there. In no particular order, here are some of the groups we met with:

Carrapide is an organisation working out of the Jokkolabs space. They’ve been working with young people since 2008 and their main aim is to inform young people about sexual health, partly through their one-hour radio shows on Saturdays, which tie in with social media to explore the issues in greater depth. This combination of new and old media has allowed them to reach more people than they would otherwise have done and their work  has expanded to the Ivory Coast, Spain, France, Morocco, Senegal and elsewhere. The group also makes use of citizen journalists to provide and deliver content across Senegal.

La Parole aux Jeunes, meanwhile, has focused its efforts on online media to reach young people with health messages. Their work encompasses issues such as sexual health and female genital mutilation, as well as broader work on women’s rights, relationships and health.

Unlike Carrapide and La Parole aux Jeunes, Tostan is an international NGO that works in eight countries across Africa. They work mainly with women around issues such as human rights and democracy education, health and hygiene, literacy, numeracy and basic education, as well as microbusinesses. Their literacy and numeracy work involves teaching women how to read and write using their mobile phone, which later allows them to use SMS as a method of reaching women in the communities where they work. It’s all too easy to forget that while SMS can be incredibly powerful, it relies on a literate community.

A stone’s throw from the beach, RAES is a great organisation that works in eight or nine countries across West Africa, but whose heartland is in Senegal. RAES’ aim is to use media (both new and traditional) to impact a number of fields, such as maternal and child health (West and Central Africa has 10% of the world’s population, but 41% of its maternal mortality). Frustrated by the lack of impact of traditional health education projects, RAES are currently building a coalition on sexual education for political change through the use of new technology. In the past, RAES have run an SMS/phone/internet campaign to get young people to send in their questions on HIV. The campaign received thousands of responses, partly because RAES managed to secure the involvement of several high-profile celebrities. Building on their successful work, RAES are increasingly using TV to reach people across the region and will be integrating education and entertainment through the development of a soap opera.

While in Dakar, we also got the chance to meet up with our only grantee there, One World. A couple of years ago, we awarded them a grant towards the development of Facebook pages targeting youth around issues relating to sexual and reproductive health in Nigeria, Morocco and Senegal. The project also uses SMS to allow teens to text in questions about sexual health and relationships. Impressively, the project has generated some 271,329 SMS being received in 2013 across all 14 regions of Senegal, with a surprising 70.5% of the questions coming from females. In a country where sex and relationships can be taboo or awkward topics of conversation, the anonymity of technology gives young people a crucial tool to help themselves stay safe and healthy.

Moving from health to education, brings us to the work of Anafa. This is a local NGO present in all 14 regions of the country and focuses on translation and localisation of information through the use of technology. The aim is to increase literacy in local languages and enable people to access critical information, as they believe that access to locally relevant content in local languages is critical. They have translated official documents and information, such as the African Charter of Rights and Senegalese Constitution into a variety of languages and have also used cartoon formats to inform people of their rights.

The British Council, by contrast, is working to promote the English language and they work mainly with schools and have developed a global programme called Connecting Classrooms to reinforce the skills of both teachers and students and to exchange knowledge. In Senegal, they have opened 8 IT centres in schools to increase access and recently joined forces with Sonatel and the Ministry of Communications to celebrate ICT for Girls Day.

Finally, UCAD and Mobile Senegal are working on ICT with university students. UCAD has an ICT4D group working on issues such as water point mapping, offline learning and location-based services. Mobile Senegal, meanwhile, aims to build the capacity of m4d practitioners and introduce mobile app development courses into university curricula.

As can be seen, there’s no shortage of groups, organisations and individuals working to use technology in education and health. There are doubtless many more who we didn’t have time to meet. If you have any further suggestions or would like to get in touch with anyone listed above, please leave a comment below.