UNESCO is the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. It is a part of the United Nations. Created in 1946, UNESCO originally rebuilt schools, libraries, and museums destroyed in Europe during World War II. Today, it sponsors international programs, conferences, and publications. The agency recognizes and awards global leaders in the fields of education and science. UNESCO also works to improve the educational, cultural, and economic development of the most impoverished regions of the world.

UNESCO organizes its 193 member countries into five regional groups: Africa; Arab states; Asia and the Pacific; Europe and North America; and Latin America. In each of these regions, the agency establishes programs and activities that are specific to the needs of their location.

UNESCO’s programs are divided into five major sectors: Education; Natural Sciences; Social and Human Sciences; Culture; and Communications and Information.

Education

UNESCO’s Education Sector promotes education as a way of encouraging economic and social development around the world. The “Education for All” program is its largest program. It aims to expand early childhood care and education, provide free education for all children, increase adult literacy, and set global learning standards in reading and math.

The United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI) aims to ensure that girls and boys have an equal opportunity to succeed in school. In many parts of the world, girls are discouraged from completing their education. Economic development can be slow in these regions, because half of the population (women) is unable to reach its potential. Making sure girls receive a fair education enriches not just girls, but the entire community.

UNGEI focuses on the educational obstacles and opportunities that girls face at home and in their communities. In Chad, for example, the initiative gears literacy programs toward out-of-school girls and adult women. In the most undeveloped parts of this African country, teaching girls and women to read is more important than focusing on girls who are already enrolled in school. Additionally, the initiative promotes girls’ education through radio, audio-visual, and theatrical programs written in French, Arabic, and other local languages.

EDUCAIDS, UNESCO’s HIV and AIDS education program, is another important component of the Education Sector. The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) causes AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). AIDS is a leading cause of death in the developing world. EDUCAIDS helps communities educate people about the causes of HIV and the dangers of AIDS. For instance, HIV can be transferred from a mother to her unborn child. However, pregnant women can take steps to reduce the infection rate from 25 percent to one percent. EDUCAIDS helps provide communities the ability to take these steps.

In Cambodia, EDUCAIDS has worked with the Cambodian Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport to implement Community Learning Centers that focus on HIV/AIDS education. They have developed and produced materials—such as teachers’ manuals, textbooks, and charts—in Cambodia’s official language, Khmer.

Natural Sciences

UNESCO’s Natural Sciences Sector organizes international programs and research in science, engineering, and renewable energy. Its programs are designed to respond to the scientific aspects of international issues, such as climate change and poverty. The sector focuses on underdeveloped countries, especially those on the African continent, and on natural disasters.

One of the sector’s main initiatives is the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (ICO). The ICO helps scientists from all over the world understand and manage ocean resources. Early in 2010, it held a series of workshops in the Republic of Benin on managing the impact of human activities and natural hazards on the coastal zones of Africa. These workshops focused on strengthening observation systems. Observation systems can measure human impact on coastal areas, including pollution and oil drilling. Observation systems can also document the impacts of climate change on Africa’s water resources, through tracking currents and weather patterns.

The Natural Sciences Sector also has a program that focuses on small island countries that are in the process of economic development. These countries are known as Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and include such nations as Samoa, Fiji, Tonga, and Grenada. The sector aims to strengthen each island’s unique economy, society, and culture while also unifying them into a collective identity. One program, Youth Visioning for Island Living, trains young people in skills that emphasize local and sustainable development. Topics have ranged from environmental planning in small villages of Madagascar to sustainable fish farming in Papua New Guinea.

Social and Human Sciences

The mission of UNESCO’s Social and Human Sciences Sector is to improve the social conditions of member countries. The sector does this by encouraging intellectual cooperation on the values of justice and freedom.

Through this sector, UNESCO supports human rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights says, “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” The sector leads the fight against all forms of discrimination to guarantee human rights all over the world.

The European Coalition of Cities against Racism is one part of the sector. In 2009, representatives from more than 50 European cities met with human rights organizations to discuss how to better address racism and discrimination. Their discussions focused on improving employment and housing opportunities for discriminated groups, such as North African and Arab immigrants. It also encouraged these groups to increase their participation in the social and political life of their city.

UNESCO’s Social and Human Sciences Sector is also committed to eradicating, or ending, poverty. One of its current projects supports ecotourism in mountain areas in Central and South Asia. This region includes parts of India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Nepal, and Pakistan. The program trains local people in mountain guiding, hotel or restaurant management, and the production of high-quality craft items, such as rugs. The program encourages tourists to visit the area and invest in the local economy by taking tours, staying in local hotels, and buying local arts and crafts. Increased tourism could reduce poverty in the region.

Culture

UNESCO’s Culture Sector protects and manages world heritage in all its forms. UNESCO defines heritage in six categories: cultural and natural; tangible and intangible; and movable and immovable. Most heritage items fall into more than one category.

Cultural heritage is usually made up of pieces of art, such as Leonardo da Vinci’s famous painting of the “Mona Lisa,” which is displayed at the Louvre Museum in Paris, France. Natural heritage is usually defined as a unique ecosystem, such as a coral reef. A piece of tangible heritage is something you can see and touch, such as ancient Egyptian manuscripts written on papyrus. Intangible heritage is something you can’t see or touch, such as language or regional music. Movable heritage includes artwork in museums that can travel. Immovable heritage includes entire buildings or geographic sites, such as Ayers Rock in Australia.

The Culture Sector’s most important program is the World Heritage Site list. Created in 1972, the World Heritage list establishes places that would benefit from UN and government protection. The Galapagos Islands were one of the first World Heritage sites. Mount Wutai, a sacred Buddhist mountain in northern China, was recently added to the list.

In addition to physical places, the list includes cultural expressions, traditions, and languages—intangible heritage. The tango, a type of dance that originated in Uruguay and Argentina, was recently included in the Intangible Cultural Heritage List, for example.

Finally, the Culture Sector provides emergency assistance to damaged or threatened World Heritage sites. In 2010, for instance, UNESCO provided support to help restore a minaret—a tall tower from which Muslim prayers are called—that collapsed in the World Heritage city of Meknes, Morocco.

Some World Heritage sites have been damaged by human activity. Virunga National Park, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, is the oldest national park in Africa. For years, the plants and animals of Virunga, including mountain gorillas, were threatened by the civil war taking place in the country. The conflict ended in 2007, and Congolese communities are working with UNESCO’s culture sector to help restore the mountain forest ecosystem of Virunga National Park.

Communication and Information

UNESCO’s Communication and Information Sector has two main objectives: promoting universal access to information and encouraging diverse expressions in the media.

The sector’s Initiative B@bel supports a number of projects aimed at increasing multilingual content on the Internet. One of the initiative’s projects is a multilingual web browser. This web browser was originally designed to create and view web pages in the Burmese language, but is now available to software developers so they may write the program in their own language.

The Communication and Information Sector also helps improve the training of media professionals. After the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, for instance, UNESCO allowed journalists to work from UNESCO offices. The journalists’ own offices had been destroyed by the quake. People could stay informed about the recovery effort in Haiti through newspapers, radio, and the Internet. UNESCO now hopes to develop a more diverse media sector in Haiti, including community radio stations, multimedia centers, and a public broadcaster that can reach the whole country.

Special Themes

UNESCO supports a number of initiatives, known as special themes, which often combine the work of the five main sectors. Some of these themes are global climate change, gender equality, and post-conflict and post-disaster responses.

Post-conflict and post-disaster responses, for example, supports the reconstruction of areas damaged by conflict and natural disasters. This special theme may help rebuild schools and museums in Haiti after the earthquake, for example, combining the work of the Education and Culture sectors. The Natural Science Sector may contribute to this special theme by developing technology to help predict future earthquakes. The Social and Human Science Sector may remind relief agencies of the needs of the disabled. Information about survivors of the earthquake could be broadcast with the help of the Communications and Information Sector.

UNESCO is a huge organization. It commits itself to improving the lives of millions of people through the development of knowledge, the creation of local-global partnerships, and direct-action programs.

UNESCO
UNESCO increases awareness of the diverse economies, sciences, and cultures of the world.

Ambassadors
Many celebrities support the work of UNESCO and bring attention to its programs through Goodwill Ambassador, Honorary Ambassador, and Ambassador for Sport programs. Celebrity ambassadors may travel to regions in support of a UNESCO program focusing on education, gender equality, or human rights.

Some famous UNESCO ambassadors include:

  • Miguel Bose (Panamanian musician)
  • Laura Bush (former American first lady and literacy advocate)
  • Pierre Cardin (French fashion designer)
  • Celine Dion (Canadian singer)
  • Roger Federer (Swiss tennis player)
  • Angelina Jolie (American actress)
  • Nelson Mandela (former South African president and human rights activist)
  • Pele (Brazilian soccer player)
  • Michael Schumacher (German racing driver)

Delisted
If UNESCO believes the government is not working to maintain a World Heritage Site, it can remove the site from the list. In 2007, for instance, oil was discovered beneath the Arabian Oryx Sanctuary in Oman. (An oryx is a type of antelope.) The Omani government reduced the area of the sanctuary by 90 percent in order to pursue oil drilling. The Arabian Oryx Sanctuary is no longer a World Heritage Site.

Celebrating Biodiversity
UNESCO declared 2010 the International Year of Biodiversity. It is sponsoring a number of events around the world to celebrate the variety of life on Earth. One can go to a "Biodiversity Fair" in Washington, D.C., attend an environmental film festival in Costa Rica, and participate in the International Youth Conference on Biodiversity in Aichi, Japan. These events and many more hope to inspire people to take care of the variety of life around them.

access
Noun

ability to use.

additionally
Adverb

more.

AIDS
Noun

(acquired immune deficiency syndrome) disease that debilitates the immune system, making the victim vulnerable to infections.

ambassador
Noun

person who represents a place, organization, or idea.

ancient
Adjective

very old.

antelope
Noun

grazing mammal.

Arabic
Noun

language that is most common in north Africa and the Middle East.

assistance
Noun

help or aid.

audio-visual
Adjective

having to do with sound (audio) and sight (visual).

Ayers Rock
Noun

(143 feet/348 meters) large red rock formation in central Australia.

benefit
Verb

to be helpful or useful.

Noun

all the different kinds of living organisms within a given area.

broadcast
Verb

to transmit signals, especially for radio or television media.

broadcaster
Noun

person or organization who participates in television or radio communication.

Buddhist
Noun

person who follows the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha).

city
Noun

large settlement with a high population density.

civil war
Noun

conflict between groups in the same country or nation.

Noun

gradual changes in all the interconnected weather elements on our planet.

collective
Adjective

combined or unified.

conflict
Noun

a disagreement or fight, usually over ideas or procedures.

Noun

one of the seven main land masses on Earth.

cooperation
Noun

the act of working together.

coral reef
Noun

rocky ocean features made up of millions of coral skeletons.

craft
Noun

artwork usually made by a person not formally trained as an artist.

culture
Noun

learned behavior of people, including their languages, belief systems, social structures, institutions, and material goods.

Noun

steady, predictable flow of fluid within a larger body of that fluid.

damage
Noun

harm that reduces usefulness or value.

Noun

growth, or changing from one condition to another.

dignity
Noun

self-respect or self-esteem.

direct-action program
Noun

project that takes action for a specific purpose.

disabled
Adjective

person who has a physical condition that limits one or more major life activities.

discourage
Verb

to disapprove or encourage someone not to do something.

discrimination
Noun

treatment based on a group to which a person belongs, not the person himself.

diverse
Adjective

varied or having many different types.

document
Verb

to keep track of.

economic
Adjective

having to do with money.

economy
Noun

system of production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services.

Noun

community and interactions of living and nonliving things in an area.

ecotourism
Noun

act and industry of traveling for pleasure with concern for minimal environmental impact.

emergency
Noun

sudden, unplanned event that requires immediate action.

emphasize
Verb

to stress or place importance on.

employment
Noun

job or work.

encourage
Verb

to inspire or support a person or idea.

engineering
Noun

the art and science of building, maintaining, moving, and demolishing structures.

enroll
Verb

to enter or participate.

ensure
Verb

to guarantee.

eradicate
Verb

to destroy or remove.

establish
Verb

to form or officially organize.

expand
Verb

to grow or get larger.

fish farming
Noun

art and science of raising and harvesting fish and other seafood, such as shrimp or crabs.

gender
Noun

physical, cultural, and social aspects of sexual identity.

government
Noun

system or order of a nation, state, or other political unit.

guarantee
Verb

to promise or confirm.

heritage
Noun

cultural or family background.

HIV
Noun

(human immunodeficiency virus) virus that is a cause of AIDS (anti-immune deficiency syndrome).

human rights
Noun

basic freedoms belonging to every individual, including the rights to social and political expression, spirituality, and opportunity.

identity
Noun

how a person defines themselves, or how others define them.

immigrant
Noun

person who moves to a new country or region.

impact
Noun

meaning or effect.

impoverished
Adjective

very poor.

include
Verb

to contain.

increase
Verb

to add or become larger.

infection
Noun

contamination or invasion by harmful organisms, such as a virus.

initiative
Noun

first step or move in a plan.

Initiative B@bel
Noun

United Nations organization that supports linguistic and cultural diversity on the Internet.

intangible
Adjective

unable to be touched or easily described.

intellectual
Adjective

having to do with knowledge, or a knowledgeable person.

Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (ICO)
Noun

United Nations organization that helps scientists understand and manage ocean resources.

international
Adjective

having to do with more than one country.

Internet
Noun

vast, worldwide system of linked computers and computer networks.

invest
Verb

to contribute time or money.

Noun

body of land surrounded by water.

journalist
Noun

person who reports and distributes news.

Latin America
Noun

South America, Central America, the Caribbean, and Mexico.

Leonardo da Vinci
Noun

(1452-1519) Italian artist, engineer, and scientist.

literacy
Noun

ability to read and write.

local-global partnership
Noun

agreement or cooperation between a local group and an international organization.

Louvre Museum
Noun

large art museum in Paris, France.

manage
Verb

to control or organize a situation or activity.

manuscript
Noun

written material.

media
Noun

means of mass communication, such as television or the Internet. Singular: medium.

minaret
Noun

tower used to call Muslim worshippers to prayer.

Mona Lisa
Noun

(1503) oil painting by Leonardo da Vinci.

mountain
Noun

landmass that forms as tectonic plates interact with each other.

mountain gorilla
Noun

mammal (primate) native to Africa.

multilingual
Adjective

involving more than one language.

multimedia
Adjective

involving more than one method of communication, such as sound and images.

Muslim
Adjective

having to do with Islam, the religion based on the words and philosophy of the prophet Mohammed.

national park
Noun

geographic area protected by the national government of a country.

natural disaster
Noun

an event occurring naturally that has large-scale effects on the environment and people, such as a volcano, earthquake, or hurricane.

natural hazard
Noun

event in the physical environment that is destructive to human activity.

observation system
Noun

method of tracking or monitoring specific activities in a region.

obstacle
Noun

something that slows or stops progress.

oil
Noun

fossil fuel formed from the remains of marine plants and animals. Also known as petroleum or crude oil.

oil drilling
Noun

process of digging below the surface of the Earth for oil.

originate
Verb

to begin or start.

oryx
Noun

antelope native to Africa.

papyrus
Noun

aquatic plant native to the Mediterranean Sea.

participation
Noun

taking part in an activity.

Noun

introduction of harmful materials into the environment.

poverty
Noun

status of having very little money or material goods.

prayer
Noun

communication with a spiritual deity.

predict
Verb

to know the outcome of a situation in advance.

promote
Verb

to encourage or help.

protect
Verb

to take action to prevent injury or attack.

public
Adjective

available to an entire community, not limited to paying members.

publication
Noun

communication that is shared with the public, usually in print or electronic format.

racism
Noun

governmental or social systems based on the belief that one race or ethnic group is superior to others.

recent
Adjective

new or happening lately.

reconstruct
Verb

to build again or re-create from an original plan.

recovery
Noun

restoration or return to a defined state of being.

reduce
Verb

to lower or lessen.

renewable energy
Noun

energy obtained from sources that are virtually inexhaustible and replenish naturally over small time scales relative to the human life span.

resource
Noun

available supply of materials, goods, or services. Resources can be natural or human.

science
Noun

knowledge focused on facts based on observation, identification, description, investigation, and explanation.

social
Adjective

having to do with a community or other group of organized people.

society
Noun

large community, linked through similarities or relationships.

software
Noun

electronic programs of code that tell computers what to do.

sponsor
Verb

to support and finance.

sustainable development
Noun

human construction, growth, and consumption that can be maintained with minimal damage to the natural environment.

tango
Noun

style of dance that originated in Latin America.

target
Noun

person or object accused of something.

technology
Noun

the science of using tools and complex machines to make human life easier or more profitable.

threaten
Verb

to scare or be a source of danger.

tourist
Noun

person who travels for pleasure.

tradition
Noun

beliefs, customs, and cultural characteristics handed down from one generation to the next.

transfer
Verb

to pass or switch from one to another.

underdeveloped country
Noun

country that has fallen behind on goals of industrialization, infrastructure, and income.

Noun

the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization.

unify
Verb

to become a single unit.

unique
Adjective

one of a kind.

United Nations
Noun

international organization that works for peace, security and cooperation.

universal
Adjective

used or understood everywhere.

weather pattern
Noun

repeating or predictable changes in the Earth's atmosphere, such as winds, precipitation, and temperatures.

web browser
Noun

software tool for finding information on the Internet.

World Heritage Site
Noun

location recognized by the United Nations as important to the cultural or natural heritage of humanity.

World War II
Noun

(1939-1945) armed conflict between the Allies (represented by the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union) and the Axis (represented by Germany, Italy, and Japan.)