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Engaging school-aged youth to write radio dramas on COVID-19
Engaging school-aged youth to write radio dramas on COVID-19

A case study by WaterAid in Rwanda

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Country and region: Bugesera District (Eastern Province) and Nyamagabe District (Southern Province), Rwanda

Organisation: WaterAid Rwanda in partnership with Radio Ishingiro

Point person and Role: Maurice Kwizera, WaterAid Country Director

Population served by the programme: Our work is estimated to reach around 7 million people.

Unique characteristics of the setting: When Rwanda declared a nationwide lockdown, including school closure, in response to COVID-19 on 22nd March 2020, reaching the population became more challenging. Radio is the main communication media in the country, listened to by about 80% of Rwandans. We had already been doing radio-based programming and so we decided to adapt our existing radio programmes to focus on COVID-19 prevention in March 2020. Rwandans are familiar with the radio drama format as narrative-based radio programmes have historically been used to address sensitive issues such as conflict resolution and peace building.

Number of cases and deaths due to COVID-19 at time of publishing: 3,672 cases and 15 deaths

Image: Recording radio dramas about COVID-19 at a School Hygiene Club in Bugesera district, Rwanda

Briefly describe the key components of your COVID-19 response programme

Since March 2020, WaterAid Rwanda has been supporting the creation and broadcast of COVID-19-related radio dramas. Radio dramas are dramatized acoustic performances of relatable local narratives which are then broadcast on radio. Radio dramas utilise dialogue, music and sound effects to help the listeners imagine the characters and story. Our dramas have been aired on local and national radio stations, in partnership with the local media company, Radio Ishingiro.

All of the COVID-19 radio dramas are written by a group of young people from different schools in rural districts of Bugesera and Nyamagabe. Students worked with trained teachers to develop and refine the radio scripts. These are then recorded in the schools by Radio Ishingiro and aired on local and national radios. The COVID-19 radio dramas have focused on promoting handwashing with soap, physical distancing, and use of facemasks. Students have also been asked to share misconceptions and misinformation about the disease and then develop dramas to address and challenge these, based on their own experiences within their communities or with their family members. The radio dramas advocate for positive change from local leaders and decision-makers, but also young people and the wider community. WaterAid Rwanda is also working with young people to develop COVID-19 prevention messages and stories for sharing on Facebook, Youtube, Twitter or mass communication 3-2-1 digital services such as Viamo, with the goal of diversifying delivery channels and increasing community reach.

What process did you use when designing your COVID-19 response programme?

WaterAid has been active in Rwanda since 2010. Over the past ten years, we have been working on programme implementation, political leadership and advocacy, social mobilisation, and research and learning within the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) sector. To design our COVID-19 response, we have built on this experience and adapted our existing School WASH project, which was operating in more than 100 schools in the two rural districts of Bugesera and Nyamagabe.

Our existing School WASH programme is a behaviour change intervention aiming to empower children to become WASH advocates through the establishment of School Hygiene Clubs. As members of these clubs, children and youth are trained on different behaviour change messages such as handwashing with soap, appropriate use of WASH facilities, and menstrual hygiene management. Students are encouraged to reflect on these messages by writing their experiences and ideas into WASH Journals or dramas. The most engaging WASH Journals have been published on quarterly WASH reports distributed to local leaders and decision-makers and the most interesting dramas have been recorded by our local media partner and broadcasted on local radios. Both WASH Journals and dramas have been successful in raising awareness about WASH and mobilizing local leaders and decision-makers to dedicate time and allocate funds to WASH-related issues (e.g. adequate and sustained provision of soaps in school-based WASH facilities).

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit Rwanda in March 2020, we decided to use our existing successful drama writing initiative to engage communities around COVID-19 preventive measures.

What is one thing that has been working really well so far and is there something other programmes could learn from this?

During the nationwide lockdown, radio was the main communication channel utilised by the population. We realised that this is likely to be the best way for populations to receive COVID-19-related information, ask questions and share opinions.

Using the radio to air our advocacy dramas seemed highly relevant in this context. We have been able to leverage our experience in producing dramas before the COVID-19 to quickly adapt our programme to the response. For example, we knew how to engage with students to write scripts and record them and we already had the partnerships in place to broadcast our dramas widely.

Empowering children and youth to be WASH advocates in their communities has also been a key factor of success for our campaign. We strongly believe that messages conveyed by children and youth create a greater emotional motivation for adults, local leaders, and decision-makers to act upon, and they have the power to mobilise their peers. For instance, before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and following the broadcast of their radio drama, students from one of our schools were able to obtain the commitment of local decision-makers and leaders to ensure continuous and free provision of soap in all WASH facilities in their school.

Since the start of our campaign, we have received several requests from other organisations to use our dramas in their own COVID-19 communication packages. For instance, the UNHCR aired our dramas in refugee camps as part of their Risk Communication and Community Engagement programmes.

What is one challenge that you have encountered and how are you trying to overcome this?

Schools were part of the nationwide lockdown that was in place between March and May 2020. This meant that we were unable to work with students within the school environment.

To adapt to this situation we initially aired COVID-19-related dramas that were recorded in early March as well as dramas which we recorded prior to the pandemic but which focused on handwashing with soap. As time went on we were able to adapt our radio drama creation process. With a reduced number of schools and students, we conducted a series of phone calls, via their teachers or using their own phones (for the older students) and used the content of these conversations to create new dramas. This allowed us to continue to gather experiences from students and to develop radio dramas about new behaviours like physical distancing and the use of facemasks.

Since the easing of lockdown, we have been able to go back to the communities and resume our writing and recording activities with more students from more schools, while observing safety measures.

How have you been engaging communities throughout your programme and what feedback have you received?

Feedback on our drama initiative has been regularly collected among students and community members since the start of our School WASH Programme and this has continued during the COVID-19 pandemic. At the end of each radio broadcast, listeners are invited to share thoughts, comments and questions by calling into the show. We gather recurring questions and common misconceptions with the aim to address them in our following dramas.

We are also planning to conduct a formative research study in partnership with the University of Rwanda to assess the impacts of the COVID-19 and evaluate our radio programmes.

Image: Solange with her mother Emelthe and six-year-old brother Danny gather around the radio to listen to one of Solange's radio plays about hygiene and health on Radio Ishingiro. Rwanda. 2019 - Photo WaterAid/Elena Heatherwick

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