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Foggy Forest



A Short Reflection on Almost 3 Decades of Work

Carolyn Medel-Anonuevo

After working at the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL) for twenty years, I was transferred to Africa in 2015.  The transition from Hamburg to Africa started with a temporary assignment in Juba, South Sudan. The newest state of the world at that time, I looked forward to supporting efforts in addressing literacy and TVET in the country where travel between provinces was only safe with helicopters. The six-month stint somehow prepared me for what would be a nine-year stay in Southern Africa. One of the most important lessons I learned was the limitations of development work amidst a society where peace seemed to be a dream for a long time.

By the time, it was decided that I was going to Zimbabwe (instead of Cameroon) at UNESCO’s Regional Office for Southern Africa, I thought I was prepared for everything. After all, what was worse than contracting malaria in Juba where the doctors could not speak English and where water was not available at the makeshift hospital where I was diagnosed to have an extremely dangerous strain of malaria. I imagine that what saved me was the strong malaria drug that was prescribed to me and my fairly healthy lifestyle. 

But what pleasantly surprised me with the nine years of working in nine countries (Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe) was the realization that they were the most challenging and productive years of my professional life in UNESCO. While my regular missions to these countries introduced me to the breathtaking panorama of their natural beauty, it also exposed me to the gross inequalities, the poverty, the lack of educational opportunities, and yes, the environmental degradation at every nook of the country where I visited.


Most of my work involved engaging with senior government officials and academics and I was so impressed not only by their commitment but also their high technical competence. I attributed this to the fact that many of them were part of their respective liberation struggles or were shaped by the ideals of such movements. In the end, I kept asking myself, with such dedicated technocrats and scholars, how come the development challenges still persisted and at the receiving end were the marginalized populations. 

Many of the development formulas (which I was teaching when I was at the University) had to be rethought. In a few of these countries, women had higher education attainment and efforts to focus on girls and women were met with the question, of how about the boys, who have also become vulnerable. In some rural areas, the population was healthier and more productive than their counterparts in the cities. Being equipped with foundation skills like literacy did not automatically result in higher-order competencies.


The outcomes of CONFINTEA V and VI were not known to many of them. I vividly remember our efforts in Hamburg and Belem where the stakeholders seemed to agree on the critical nature of adult and youth learning and the importance of putting policies in place. And one realizes that it is a never-ending lobbying process. Governments and consequently, senior officials are rotated and therefore the priorities change. As the Editor of the first two Global Reports for Adult Learning and Education (GRALE), I asked myself how such evidence could really be effectively used for policy development and programme implementation


The regional work through the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) was one of the most critical platforms I was engaged in. Using my experiences in the countries, I was able to organize and facilitate key meetings and workshops on TVET, ICT, Higher Education, Teachers, and, of course, Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) at the regional level. These resulted in strategies that were adopted at the regional level and expected to be followed up at the country level. 

The most recent strategy presented and adopted by the SADC in June 2022 was that of ESD. It was an important milestone as it represented years of work of governments, universities, and civil society. As a follow-up step, governments were supposed to review their ESD work and align with the recommendations in five areas (policy, capacity building, partnerships, research and monitoring, and skills and jobs). After a year, a few governments started developing their policies, inspired by Namibia’s policy efforts.

 Southern Africa has been at the receiving end of all kinds of environmental disasters. The governments, in partnership with all the stakeholders therefore need to fast-track their work in this area. Given the nature of this official document, the term climate justice does not appear in the document. It is therefore urgent that one interrogates this ESD Strategy and find spaces and platforms where the notion of justice could be used to transform policies and programs so they matter to the lives of those severely affected by both natural and man-made disasters.

About the Author

Carolyn Medel-Anonuevo is from the Philippines where she headed the Center for Women’s Resources, before being recruited to UNESCO Institute for Education in Hamburg, Germany in 1993. She went on to be Deputy Director of what became UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL). One of the highlights of her work at UIL was to lead the conceptualization of the first Global Report on Adult Learning and Education (GRALE). In 2015, she joined the UNESCO Regional Office for Southern Africa, to head the Education Unit of the Regional Office based in Zimbabwe. Email:

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