Radio that Resonates in Senegal

October 22, 2010 • Senegal, Serial Dramas, Radio Serial Dramas, PMC in the News

Below is an article about PMC’s radio dramas in Senegal that appeared in Audience Scapes.

Radio that Resonates in Senegal
By Paromita Pain

Senegal is using the popular and entertaining medium of the radio drama to tackle some of its most pressing public health problems. Ngelawu Nawet (“Winds of Hope”) and Coñal Keele (“Harvesting the Seeds of Life”) are two serial dramas that represent the first time that “entertainment-education” has been attempted in Senegal. The plots involve serious health issues presented in the form of absorbing narratives.

Women and adolescents are the target audience for the dramas, which are being produced by the Population Media Center, an NGO working worldwide to encourage family planning. Many Senegalese homes own a radio and radio is one of the country’s most influential mediums. People listen to these radio shows in groups, especially in community settings.

Stories about Issues that Touch Everyone

Ngelawu Nawet consists of 168 episodes and is broadcast nationwide in the national language of Wolof. The episodes incorporate information on birth spacing and its relationship to maternal health, reasons for using family planning methods and involving men in family planning. According to PMC’s website, Senegal has a “burgeoning population” of 5.3 children per woman. This strains resources and hampers the country’s development, by limiting progress in education, healthcare and infrastructure.

The program also addresses other health issues, such as prenatal consultation and neonatal health, child survival, care of those living with HIV/AIDS and the importance of completing treatment for tuberculosis. Underlying all of these issues are the critical aspects of gender equity that influence behaviors related to family planning, maternal and child health, and prevention of HIV.

Coñal Keele airs in the Pulaar language, and is broadcast in the Matam region of Senegal. The Matam region has been identified by UNFPA as a priority region for youth health interventions. Consequently, stories about adolescent reproductive health, female genital mutilation and early marriage are touched on frequently in this drama.

The programs began broadcasting in 2008, but because of technical problems they were completely rebroadcast in 2009. This summer a new feature was introduced to encourage more participation from listeners. In August, the PMC held its first monthly debate about the issues addressed in Ngelawu Nawet and Coñal Keele. Now listeners phone in to ask questions, or share comments and opinions about themes from either program. Topic experts are invited to the studio during the broadcast to respond to any technical questions that might arise. The subject of the first debate was family planning and reproductive health, and the second featured a discussion about child survival and nutrition.

Listening to the Audience

Recently, PMC field workers visited Ngelawu Nawet listeners’ groups in the Kaolack region. They report that it was immediately apparent how popular the program is: Children in the region now refer to any person who coughs as “Bakk” (a character in the program who has tuberculosis). More importantly, the children will go on to encourage that the person seek and complete treatment.

When visiting Matam, a young girl in the listener group started to weep while listening to episodes of Coñal Keele. She confided to the PMC team that she had lived through the same experiences as Jahdigel, the character who is featured in the story line about early marriage. Like Jahdigel, she had suffered greatly at the hand of her mother-in-law.

Coñal Keele mirrors real life in Matam in other ways, as well. The story line about female genital mutilation featured a trial where the circumciser is brought before a tribunal, and is sentenced to six months, with a warning for the grandmother of the mutilated girl. This resembles closely a 2009 case in the Matam regional court, where the circumciser of a 16-year-old girl was sentenced to six months in jail. The parents of the girl were sentenced to 16 months probation. The verdicts caused riots between groups opposing the continuation of female circumcision, and those who support continuation of the practice. Scriptwriters of Coñal Keele incorporated this controversy into the drama, which continues to fuel heated debate in the country.

Both programs receive financial support from USAID and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)-Senegal. Produced in Senegal, the scripts are written by two teams of nine scriptwriters, composed of experienced men and women in the two languages specially selected for these programs. As part of the selection process, the scriptwriters attend an intensive training workshop on the Sabido methodology, under the supervision of two Senegalese experts in the methodology. The Sabido methodology is used to design serialized dramas on radio and television that can win over audiences while imparting common values.

The production team is led by Mansour Sow, at the RAES Studios in Dakar. Two popular Senegalese artists, Baaba Maal and Souleymane Faye, have also provided their support to the programs, by composing and recording the theme songs for the two programs.

Learn more or listen to program episodes here

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