Since 2017, Developing Radio Partners (DRP) has been supporting nine community radio stations in Malawi to provide information to youth around sexual and reproductive health. Young people are being trained as journalists to develop 30-minute youth magazine programmes dealing with issues such as teen pregnancy, child marriage, and sexual abuse. The radio programmes are being complemented by public service announcements (PSAs), listening groups, and community gatherings to reinforce information and allow for feedback.
Produced for youth by youth, the radio programmes are intended to support Malawi’s National Youth-Friendly Health [YFH] Services Strategy, which was launched in 2015 to promote YFH services for young people ages ten to 25. Half of Malawi’s 19 million citizens are 16 or younger, and 1 in 5 women begin childbearing while still in their teens. The initiative, therefore, gives priority to ensuring that young people complete their education, delay their sexual debut and first birth, and reduce HIV transmission.
Teams of up to 15 young journalists have been trained at each of the 9 community radio stations. They are between the ages of 13 and 19 and are chosen based on essays they submitted explaining why they would like to become journalists. The training conducted by DRP involves basic broadcasting and journalism skills, such as interviewing, editing, and fact-checking, and how to use these skills to advocate for more accessible and higher-quality YFH services. The journalists are also trained in creative personal storytelling, as behaviour change is more likely to occur when peers talk to other peers.
Training also includes how to use digital editing software, a desktop computer, and digital recorders. As part of their training, youth are sent on a field trip where they conduct real interviews. The trainer, who trains in the local language, observes the youth and makes suggestions and then helps them produce a story for the weekly radio magazine programme. Staff at the radio stations are also trained on supportive supervision and adolescent development so they can act as effective mentors to the youth following their initial training.
DRP also provides training on doing follow-up stories, as they have learned that this helps with the collection of measurable impact. For instance, in October 2020 and continuing through December 2020, the stations began doing stories within their weekly programme on what gender-based violence (GBV) is and where and how to report it. During a follow-up session, one of the partner stations, Nkhotakota Community Radio, received data from the district police showing an increase in the number of reported GBV cases across the entire district.
All stations are equipped with recorders and a desktop computer for the youth to use, and youth are given a small stipend for transportation and other expenses incurred to produce the programmes. The teams of reporters at each of the nine community-based radio stations are also provided with weekly tip sheets or bulletins that provide detailed information on a different youth-related health topic to help them develop programme themes and report stories accurately. The radio magazine programmes cover issues of concern to youth, including the need for parents to talk to their children about sex, the importance of girls staying in school, the issue of early marriage and harmful cultural practices, sexual harassment by teachers, and where young people can access counselling on family planning or treatment for sexually transmitted infections. To ensure the information is accurate and to prevent myths and misinformation from spreading, the programmes almost always have a local or district health or education expert on the show. The young reporters also produce PSAs that are broadcast daily, which have contained messages for girls about the right to say no to sex and to demand that their partners use a condom.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, youth reporters have also produced shows on the impact of COVID-19 on rural communities in Malawi. One impact is the exponential rise of teenage pregnancies, child marriage, and sexual violence. The youth reporters have focused on tackling these once-taboo topics head-on and have made a difference in many communities. In one case, in July 2020, Mudzi Wathu youth reporters interviewed a traditional authority about the increase in child marriages, and he immediately called all his village heads together and told them to do more to stop child marriages. District reports show that a number of marriages were dissolved, and DRP believes that at least some of those are the result of youth reporters’ efforts to hold traditional authorities accountable for child marriage.
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