Rosalind Yarde – From ComDev Thesis to UNICEF Project

May 19, 2011 · 1 comment

It’s Saturday and I’m sitting here in the office in Moshi, northern Tanzania, with Mkombozi staff Simon Nyembe and Exaud Mgaya, and a group of kids who’ve just come back from recording some interviews. The radio programme goes out tomorrow and it’s about 10 minutes short. We haven‘t recorded the links yet, some pieces still need to be edited and then the whole programme has to be mixed and brought to the radio station in time for the broadcast. Sixteen year old Modest, who lives on the street, is holding the mike. Gaspar is noting down the numbers in the book. This week they chose to do a programme about ‘talents’. : In Tanzania, children aren’t really encouraged to express themselves – in fact it’s often seen as ‘bad behaviour’ for a child to speak out or to ask questions. Many parents don’t see the point of children being involved in non-academic activities so this week they chose to use the program as a platform to show off their talents and to discuss the issue on air.

‘How about you interview Gaspar about why he likes to sing?’ I suggest to the group.

So Amina takes the mike and asks Gaspar about the songs he composes. ’I live on the street. Life is really tough. Singing makes me feel good.’ Then he performs a rap straight off the top of his head, which Amina records.

When we play it back, his smile is so broad it infects the whole room. Tonight he’ll sleep somewhere on the street but right now he’s been able to express himself through his song. And tomorrow tens of thousands of people in Moshi, Arusha and even Tanga and Dodoma will listen. He’ll be back next week to work on the next programme, hoping again to connect with the community in which he lives through radio.

A year ago I was here in this same office but with a different group of young people. That time I was working with only four boys from Mkombozi – an NGO that supports children living on the street – helping them to make a radio programme as part of my thesis on youth empowerment and participatory communication.

The project work was the culmination of my ComDev Masters which I began in September 2008, a few months after moving to Tanzania from Sudan where I had headed a behaviour change communication project for the BBC World Service Trust.

After years of working as a print and broadcast journalist, I had moved to the desert city of Khartoum in 2006 and into a different but related field. Our radio broadcasts targeted Internally Displaced People in Darfur and were based on the idea that information dissemination could change behaviour on a range of issues including health, sanitation, protection, gender and youth issues. As professionals, the programme producers were firmly in control, defining the problems in consultation with experts mainly from international organisations, setting the agenda, deciding on formats and messages to be conveyed to the listeners.

Working on the BBCWST project was a steep learning curve and while the programmes were deemed to be successful in terms of audiences, we were never able to measure the impact of the ’messaging’. I felt I needed to understand the theory behind what we were doing and what we were claiming to have achieved. I had always wanted to pursue further academic studies but the pressures of the ‘rat race’ in Britain had never allowed me to do. So when I decided to take redundancy from the BBC in 2008 and we moved to Tanzania – where my husband is from – it seemed an ideal opportunity to consolidate with academic study, the practical experience I had had as a journalist.

Initially I was thinking of doing a distance MA in Mass Communication but then I came across the Malmo ComDev Masters and it seemed ideal as it would build upon my experiences in Sudan. Once I began the course, it was as if someone had opened a curtain in a dark room. I not only began to understand better how the Darfur project fitted into the ComDev field, I also began to question whether we should have done it differently.

The project work was an opportunity to test a different approach. This time I wanted
to see what would happen if we handed over control of a programme to our ’beneficiaries’ through a participatory approach. Rather than focus on individual behaviour change, I wanted to explore how a participatory radio programme might be a vehicle for empowerment, community engagement and – in the long term – social change.

I branded my project work as a one-off ’experiment’ or ’pilot project’ since it was clear that one radio show could only have a minimum impact. As it happened, the response to that one show was extremely positive and the youth producers, Mkombozi, the radio station and even the local authorities were keen to have more shows. However, while I completed my thesis, nothing further happened.

Then soon after I was examined, the Mkombozi director contacted me, asking if I would be interested in working with them on a new C4D project being initiated by UNICEF Dar es Salaam. They wanted to set up a Youth Radio Network involving young people, NGOs and radio stations in Tanzania. UNICEF’s approach was very similar to the participatory approach I had taken in my fieldwork. ie they wanted to train groups of young people to make radio programmes, which would be used as a vehicle to empower them through giving them a platform to raise issues and express their views.

It was almost a duplicate of my fieldwork and for me, an opportunity to move from ’pilot project’ to regular programming. So in February I attended a training of trainers in Dar es Salaam run by a South African organisation, the Children’s Radio Foundation. Here was an opportunity to learn how to work with children and to have a broader understanding of what had been done in other countries. A week later, we were back in Moshi, training 15 children in making radio, five of whom live on the street. Out of that workshop came the first of our series of radio programmes, which the children named ’Mlango wa watoto’ (Children’s Door).

So far we have made nine programmes which have covered a range of issues including street children, corruption, disabled children, poverty, the environment and attitudes to girls. The young producers have set the agenda and chosen the formats – which have included story-telling, interviews, talk shows, song and audio commentaries – and have taken turns in presenting. Since starting the project I have seen how they have blossomed, I have seen some discover talents they didn’t know they had and I have heard how listeners have engaged with the issues raised in the Tuesday discussion programme that follows the repeat broadcast.

Working on a project so closely related to my thesis has, in a way, validated my project work, as I now have more evidence that we can make the theory work on a practical level and that it can be sustainable. It’s also helped build my experience in the ComDev field. I’ll be leaving Tanzania in June but I am confident that the programmes will continue without me as I have been training the Mkombozi staff in programme production and editing. That, I believe, should be the aim of the ComDev ‘expert’: to kick-start the dialogue, to build the capacity and empower – in order to be able to walk away.

Rosalind Yarde, May 2011

If you would like to read Rosalind’s full MA thesis you can access here through Malmö University Electronic Publishing.

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