Learning About Dakar

Students in Brooklyn presenting research on Dakar, Senegal.

Next Stop: Brooklyn/Dakar is more than a cross-cultural program. In Brooklyn, we’ve built in ways to bolster literacy, creative and analytical thinking, public speaking and research skills.

In one workshop, we separated participants into research groups and gave them the missive to find out as much as they can about Dakar and Senegal. We then had each group do an 8-10 minute presentation followed by a question and answer period.

What we found was that each group really focused on different topics and that was a plus. We learned about everything from systems of government and currency, French colonization, foodways, arts, culture, education and more. This was a prerequisite for our first international, internet-based group meeting with the project participants in Dakar.

And what is all this emphasis on play? They are students you know.

Saturday, 17 November 2012 – Parent meeting

We almost scared them off.  Not by the way we dressed – all three of us were pretty nattily dipped — but our language – play, child centered, creativity, uncertainty, letting children/students lead…

When we were finished with our presentation, there was the polite silence Senegalese society is so good for.  We swallowed.  None of us – in our bigheaded optimism had anticipated that parents might just say no – they did not want their child to participate.

A hand rose. A father.

“Although I appreciate your intentions, and the project certainly sounds interesting, this year is an important one for students and…”

One of the eight assumptions of Appreciative Inquiry is that language creates your reality, and the language of the questions starting to emerge spoke of a reality fixed in a dichotomy of school versus play, serious study versus creative exploration.. Over and over parents asked us whether we had considered how important this year was? Why had we chosen a class concentrating on a scientific series, why didn’t we choose a class on a more literary tract?  To students immersed in the world of sciences  (four hours of biology, four hours of physics-chemistry, four hours of math per week) didn’t our project seem nearly frivolous (my words, not theirs) alongside the importance of this year?



(A sidebar for those unfamiliar with the Senegalese educational system: Seconde is a year right after the ginormous tenth grade exams and right before the two year crunch that is the baccalaureate exam.  While it would appear students have a year’s breathing room, in reality this is a make it or break it year for students. Parents and teachers put pressure on students to prepare, prepare, prepare.  You can hardly blame them – formal education in Senegal so often is the difference between day-to-day survival and the priveleges of society. S  – as in Science – series, is an academic tract destined for the best and the brightest, those that carry their parents and teachers’ hopes and dreams with them. Doctors, lawyers, businessmen; so many of this society’s success stories seemingly begin with brilliant students in S series.)

What were we asking students to do? Research? Talk to people? Visit the National Archives and premier collection of pre- and colonial artifact in the world? Exchange learning with young people in the United States? Integrate social media positively? Create and curate an exhibition?  How could any of this contribute to the livelihoods of young people in a developing country?

For us it was real simple: If we do not teach our young people to create, we teach them to consume.  And as great as the Senegalese program is (or isn’t, according to some critics), we are most certainly producing generations of young people who have heads chock full of theory, but are unable to transform these theories it into useful application. 


The heavy emphasis on testing demands memorization first and understanding and second of subject matter. Learning where information is kept, how to access it, how to read it, how to preserve it, how to challenge it,  how to  integrate it, how to disseminate it – Africa  needed that like yesterday!

We are not just planting seeds for today, we are planting seeds for tomorrow. The discourse on migration, on the contributions of immigrants, on West African history is a discourse dominated by a very particular worldview uninterested in honoring  or priveleging young people as inheritors of this continent.  What this project and their research offer is an opportunity to develop a different lens to see the world through, to understand themselves through.  You are more than your textbooks and grades, you are an agent of change, able to construct narratives that serve you.  You are creators and producers, not just consumers of yesterday’s educational policies.

Did we say all this to the parents? Yes. And then some.  We also promised them that their children’s future and schooling was precious to us as well and that the project was a partnership with an open door and their concerns were always, always welcome.  We at ImagiNation Afrika are interested in assisting young people to become lifelong learners and lifelong learning is built on the back of projects like these.

Another hand rose. Another father (there were mothers present and asking questions, by the way):

‘How can we contribute?’

A different language: a different reality. 

What can we create together? 


Exploring Representations of Africa @ Brooklyn Children’s Museum

The first step in working with our NSBD program participants was gauging what they know or perceive about the continent of Africa. Of course, they know about Africa via Geography and may have learned a bit in their social studies classes, but what else did they know?

We decided to find out in one of our first workshops and they came up with a list that included:

  • Colonization
  • Diverse wildlife and topography
  • Natural resources such as: gold, diamonds, lithium, salt
  • Genocide
  • The birthplace of civilization
  • Slavery
  • Animism, poly- and monotheism
  • Hunting and gathering

We delved a bit deeper into some of the topics and moved to their thoughts on how Africa, as a continent, is represented via

the media and education. A partial list included:

  • Poverty
  • War
  • Famine

Then, students had the opportunity to explore how the Museum represents Africa within our current exhibitions and they came up with words like:

  • Creative
  • Rich
  • Lush
  • Culture
  • Diverse
  • Artistic
  • Community

It was important to understand where they were knowledge-wise and what their impressions were as we begin our investigation of Dakar/Senegal in Brooklyn and this lead to a great conversation about representation and the production of knowledge. As NSBD will culminate in an exhibition, we are sure to have more conversations about representation as we explore how the region is represented at other cultural institutions.

Un départ, une arrivée, un déplacement.


Thiés, Cité du rail, surnommé la ville aux deux gares.

Mardi 14 novembre 10h du matin : Voilà Katryn Lane, la chargée de communication et finances, Nganti Towo chargée de programme et Monsieur Gabriel Boissy professeur d’histoire et de géographie et consultant sur le projet fin prêts pour effectuer leur voyage de repérage dans la ville de Thiès. Émigrer … Immigrer … Ce processus recouvre quatre temps : quitter, franchir, entrer, circuler. Un départ, une arrivée, un déplacement. Mais par quel moyen ????


Kathryn Lane et Gabriel Boissy devant la gare.

Thiès, ville carrefour, à 70 km à l’est de Dakar est le centre de la régie des chemins de fer. C’est la capitale du rail. C’est au Sénégal que fut construit le premier chemin de fer de l’Afrique subsaharienne. C’est donc dans cette ville que nous allons effectuer avec les élèves le premier voyage prévu le 22 décembre. Durant ce premier voyage les jeunes prendront des photos en vue de faire un reportage qui sera partagé avec les jeunes de Brooklyn afin de leur faire découvrir un pan de l’histoire du train du Sénégal. Cette visite de repérage a permis aux organisateurs de rencontrer les responsables de la société des chemins de fer. Ils ont aussi découvert qu’il y avait un musée du rail qui sera donc mis au programme de la visite du 22 décembre. Les organisateurs ont ensuite fait le tour de la gare afin d’élaborer un circuit de visite dans la gare et ses alentours. Une bonne chose de faite…

Image  Image

Fresques murales a l’intérieur de la gare.

Brooklyn Youth Working on Next Stop: Brooklyn/Dakar

We’re excited to begin working with youth on the project! Here’s about half of the group and they’re in grades 9-12 from public, private and charter high schools in Brooklyn!

We’re so lucky to have such a diverse group of young people, which will definitely add to the richness and texture of the project. Stay tuned as we’ll be posting updates of them conducting research, interviews, attending lectures and being fully engaged in Next Stop: Brooklyn/Dakar!


BCM Welcomes Visitors from the Dept of State’s Cultural Preservation and Development Leadership Program


The Brooklyn Children’s Museum was excited to host four Senegalese cultural workers on a cold Thursday afternoon. They were eager to hear about the Next/Stop: Brooklyn Dakar Project as well as explore our space and learn about our collections.

What was supposed to be a 45 minute visit turned into nearly two hours and our visitors were really excited to learn about BCM and ImagiNationAfrika; so much so that we are working on ways to collaborate and build and even deeper, richer project.

Here are: Mr. Oumar Ben Khatape DANFAKHA, Director, Louga Cultural Center;  Ms. Fatou Binetou DIENG, Director, Pikine Leopold Sedar Senghor Cultural Center; Mr. Latsouck NDIAYE, General Manager and Scheduling Officer, Cafe des Arts; and Mr. Thomas THIABO, Director, Cultural Center Parcelles Assainies marveling at our collections.



Desmond Tutu: Africa’s hope lies in its youth

Archbishop uses Mo Ibrahim award speech to inspire young people as forum in Dakar debates looming employment crisis


Archbishop Desmond Tutu celebrates after receiving his award in Dakar. Photograph: Mo Ibrahim Foundation

Young people really are dreamers. They dream of a better kind of world,” archbishop Desmond Tutu said this weekend as he was presented with a one-off special award from the Mo Ibrahim Foundation during its annual governance weekend in Dakar, which this year focused on Africa’s massive population of young people.

In his acceptance speech, Tutu addressed young people in the audience and around the world, saying: “[Young people] were at the forefront of the Arab Spring. Don’t be affected by the cynicism of ‘oldies’ like us. Go ahead and dream of a different kind of world. How can we continue to spend billions on instruments of death and destruction when a small part of that could ensure children everywhere have clean water? You young people are our hope.”

Africa is the only continent with a significantly growing youth population. In less than three years, 41% of the world’s youth will be African and yet almost half the world’s out-of-school children live in sub-Saharan Africa. Counter-intuitively, youth unemployment increases with education level in Africa as some graduates struggle to find work that matches their qualifications.

Hadeel Ibrahim, the 29-year-old executive director of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation and the philanthropist’s daughter, set up Sunday’s debate observing that she is already well over the average age [19] of Africa’s population. She said children could no longer assume they would live better lives than their parents: “Africa’s youth are more educated than their parents but less employed … A decrease in living standards in Europe is bad but in Africa this could be lethal.”

Sunday’s forum opened with an address from the Senegalese prime minster, Abdoul Mbaye, and discussed reforming school education, job creation and mentoring, access to capital and how young people’s voices could be heard in a continent where the average age of political leaders is 62.

Olusegun Obasanjo, a former president of Nigeria, said: “My generation had more opportunities than facilities; your generation has more facilities than it has opportunities. And yet Africa is very rich.” Mamadou Toure, founder of Africa2.0, highlighted an “Afri-can do attitude” and said: “Young Africans want leaders that can inspire them, that they can see and feel in their own communities. A leader is a person who eats last, sleeps last and dies first; I don’t see many of them in Africa, especially in the private sector.” Iman Bermaki, of the African Leadership Academy, responded that “it’s not the inspirational people or stories that are lacking but the exposure”. Frannie Léautier, executive secretary of the African Capacity Building Foundation, noted the irony in progress made on improving life expectancy creating an urgent need for more jobs – a million more a month on the continent.

One such inspirational leader for Africa is Tutu, whose one-off special award recognised his lifelong commitment to “speaking truth to power”. Accepting the award, part of which is a $1m (£630,000) grant, Tutu described himself as “an urchin from an apartheid ghetto” and said: “When you’re in a crowd and you stand out in that crowd, it’s only because you’re being carried on the shoulders of others.”

Tutu paid tribute to those who had supported him over his lifetime – the “real heroes” including the citizens of South Africa who did not “repudiate” him when he campaigned for sanctions against apartheid; Trevor Huddleston, the anti-apartheid activist who visited him in hospital; the “troublesome” Elders, who work together for peace and human rights; his mother, who showed an incredible caring for other people; and his wife, about whom he said: “I would not be where I am if it were not for Leah. People tend to praise me for chairing the truth and reconciliation commission. The truth is that I had fantastic people as my colleagues … I think I’m a very good captain, I’ve captained very good sides,” Tutu said.

Presenting the award to the archbishop, Grammy winner and activist Angelique Kidjo said: “With infectious humour but also steely resolve, archbishop Tutu has worked tirelessly to promote peace, human rights and to champion the oppressed.” The award was celebrated with music from artists including Senegalese stars Ismael Lo and Baaba Maal. Senegalese culture minister Youssou N’Dour was also persuaded out of musical retirement into a impromptu performance.

The weekend in Dakar – the city was chosen “in honour of the peaceful transition we’re so delighted Senegal managed to achieve this year”, according to Mo Ibrahim – kicked off with a public concert – Africa Celebrates Democracy – featuring performances by Nix, Mokobe, Didier Awadi and the French-Moroccan rapper, La Fouine. Proceeds from the concert will be donated to the Senegalese Red Cross. About 60,000 people watched it live streamed via the foundation’s website.

The special award is separate from the Ibrahim prize for achievement in African leadership, which recognises and celebrates African leaders who have developed their countries, reduced poverty and paved the way for future prosperity. This year nobody met the criteria for the award. Since the prize was established in 2007, there have been only three winners: President Pedro de Verona Rodrigues Pires, Cape Verde (2011), President Festus Gontebanye Mogae, Botswana (2008), and in 2007 President Joaquim Alberto Chissano of Mozambique. Nelson Mandela was also awarded an honorary Ibrahim prize in 2007.

The Guardian http://www.guardian.co.uk/

Playing With Teachers

Something about stepping into a classroom with teachers still makes me nervous… Not to mention the lovely Mr Amsata Seck DIOP, history and geography teacher and winner of the prestigious (ahem) Imagination Afrika award for timeliness on time, before time, all the time! At all three teacher training sessions (October 20, 23 and 31) he was there, sitting in the small classroom practically before we were, reading a newspaper, waiting patiently for us to begin.


Mr Amsata Seck DIOP, history and geography teacher

Being face to face with six teachers (history/geo, leadership, civic education, English), varying in age and experiences (from thirty years of teaching experience to a first year ‘newbie’) meant our very first attempt at getting ‘buy-in’.  Like in most Senegalese high and middle schools, most teachers are not permanent staff, they teach at other schools as well which means that their days are spent running back and forth between various establishments. This means that teachers are paid only for teaching hours and ‘extras’ like attendance at our workshops are really voluntary.  It also meant that teachers participating in this project would be also doing this voluntarily, since so much of the project will take place outside their regular (read paid) classroom hours.

It may seem like such a small point, but remember, the average teacher’s salary  is abysmally low (150,000 FCFA or the equivalent of 300 USD a month) so extra hours outside your regular gig can mean everything. Particularly as our first session revealed, in a climate where expectations for teachers remain extraordinarily high and opinions of teachers is incredibly low.


My facilitation style relies very much on play (fitting for a children’s museum director, no?) and I specifically chose games that were great intros for our topics. Luckily all six teachers were good sports (I actually have yet to meet a teacher who doesn’t love to play!).  Wednesday the 23rd of October sticks out in my mind as being the most fun, since our game of systems (introducing interdisciplinary teaching), had to follow each other through the halls of LEBD, even as their colleagues rushed homeward for the Tabaski/Eid holiday.


Our outcomes were better than I expected, all six teachers participating not only expressed a great interest in the project, but began brainstorming on how to integrate the project into their classes.  They expressed great interest in attending our training in our December social media workshops and were fascinated to learn of the various ways teachers around the world are using social media as teaching tools.


They also seemed to enjoy the soft skills we emphasized in particular facilitating student led projects (as opposed to giving orders and directives to students), connecting teacher values and attitudes with classroom behavior and expectations. A surprise favorite session was the sidebar discussion we had on complaints and how to ‘hear’ them.  Are student (and teacher) complaints purely recreational (we complain for the fun of it), or complaints for action?

We left the last session feeling particularly good. Teachers wanted more workshops and we promised to check the calendar and coordinate with Mr. Biaye, the school director to see if we might fit more in. Although a good foundation had been laid, it was clear we would have to continue to invest more time and effort, outside the workshop format to continue to  engage and support teachers.

ImageFrom left to right : Amsata Seck Diop, Mame Pedre Diop-English, Projet Consultant Gabriel Boissy, Male Kital-History and geography, Tabaski Faye-Civic Education, Aliousseynou Ndiaye-Leadership, Abdoulaye Biaye-Director, Magnasse Niasse-Leadership (missing : Benjamin Diatta-Assistant to the Director)

VICTOIRE, VICTOIRE, VICTOIRE, le pouvoir du jeu!!!

Et oui, c’est fait !  Nous les avons enfin vus en chair et en os ! Nous avons rencontré le mercredi 24 Octobre nos vingt-cinq participants, cette fameuse classe de seconde du Lycée d’Excellence Birago Diop qui va cheminer à nos côtés jusqu’en Juillet 2013. Souriants, attentifs et perceptifs. Voilà les mots qui nous viennent en tête. Notre objectif était que les participants repartent de la séance avec une idée claire de l’ensemble des thématiques du projet et des avantages qu’ils vont en retirer. Nous voulions également que les jeunes comprennent la fonction et le rôle d’un musée des enfants. Fidèle à notre méthodologie nous avons abordé la séance en proposant aux jeunes un……. jeu !

VICTOIRE, VICTOIRE, VICTOIRE  le pouvoir du jeu!!!

À travers les questions et les réponses du jeu quiz-bingo  nos participants ont effectivement réussi eux même à formuler les contenus du projet.

Ce  moment  magique à, comme par miracle, fait voler en fumée  tout le stress lié à la logistique de la mise en place du projet.

Prochain rendez-vous le 23 NOVEMBRE pour la séance de lancement officiel animé par un conteur et avec la présence des parents des élèves ainsi que tous nos partenaires.


Lycee d’Excellence Birago Diop, notre principal partenaire 


Karima Grant Abbott et Nganti Towo expliquant les regles du jeu.


Les eleves jouent au quiz-bingo



October 20th : A busy saturday

What a busy Saturday! (October 20th)

10 am – Lycee D’Excellence Birago Diop in Dakar, Senegal.

Karima, Adama, Kathryn, and Ismaila  all present from IA, along with six teachers from Birago Diop and the principal!


Karima Grant, the founder and executive director of IA, lead the team and workshop participants through the day’s activities with her exuberant energy and dynamic leadership style.The morning’s discussion turned towards the teachers’ educational philosophies to lay the groundwork for the partnership between Birago Diop and ImagiNation Afrika.

For lunch, we gathered around a plate of lamb for animated conversation about music, religion, and other topics. The diverse group represented a range of ages.

During Mr. Boissy’s presentation, I went to the Dakar train station for a photo shoot with four interns, who laughed from the beginning to the end. Being at the site that inspired our project concept helped to clarify our vision for the interns.A meeting with Empire des Enfants was canceled due to political unrest in the Medina, and a director in bed with the flu.

A full day was finished with a well-deserved glass of fresh Ditakh, a healthy local beverage that resembles ground-up tennis balls.

Of course, this project is exhausting but enriching, and I dare not imagine what we will achieve by July 2013!

Nganti Towo, Head Curator
Next Stop Brooklyn Dakar