School grounds were full of games, dancing, laughing, listening, and learning in multiple Burundi provinces in September and November of 2016. It was part of the activities surrounding an important radio drama, Agashi (“Hey! Look Again”). This unusual entertainment project is designed to address sexual and gender-based violence and the Burundian team responsible for the production decided to extend the drama’s messages into schools.
Over a span of five days in September 2016, members of the Agashi team went to two school districts and a total of six high schools to engage students in “Jeux Concours” or competitive quiz games on gender-based violence. The games occurred in the provinces of Cibitoke and Rumonge in Eastern Burundi, reaching more than 1,600 students. The trip was such a success that the team took the lessons learned and visited 14 schools in four provinces in November. They were able to reach an additional 8,500 students.
“The questions were designed to measure both the level of understanding of gender-based violence by school-aged youth and to involve them in the fight against violence,” says Bernard Bankukira, Agashi’s Communications and Promotion Officer.
During the quiz game sessions, team members would ask open-ended and yes/no questions related to gender based violence. This included questions about forms of gender-based violence, perpetrators and victims, consequences to victims and perpetrators, actions to be taken to assist or support the victims, and structures in charge of providing assistance to victims for moral, legal, economic, and health assistance.
Students were rewarded with pieces of clothes to make skirts and wraps, exercise book pens and school bags for correct answers. Overall, each school visit required about two hours for the quizzes, which were interspersed with breaks for lively dances, songs, poems, and more.
“I am so much delighted that my students have gained enormous knowledge that will help them to contribute to the fight against gender-based violence,” said Father Bacinoni, Headmaster of Lycée Buyengero, in Rumonge province. “In addition to these good prizes, this session will reinforce in them the spirit of research and the desire to acquire new knowledge about gender-based violence.”
Agashi is the product of an international nonprofit, Population Media Center (PMC), that specializes in using entertainment for addressing social, health, and environmental issues. They train local teams of writers, producers, and actors to create long-running dramas for TV and radio, often running multiple years, that entertain and educate audiences. Extending the impact of the dramas by engaging communities in additional activities is a common component of PMC’s work.
“Serial dramas are the cornerstone of our intervention,” says Lauren Montgomery-Rinehart, PMC’s Burundi Program Manager. “Our use of mass media for storytelling allows us to reach huge audiences with an effective tool for behavior change, but we also work to engage lots of key community groups to encourage interpersonal communication and extend the conversations and raise consciousness that the dramas are bringing to the community at large.”
The Burundi team decided to design games for schools because students are not only a large population subject to gender-based violence, but because informing today’s youth is also vital for making considerable steps towards eradicating this injustice. Youth in this age bracket are in their formative years developing opinions about issues, about themselves, and about their choices. This developmental age, in addition to their vulnerability to rape and other gender-based violence, makes them an important audience.
“Several reports across the country portray female students dropping their schooling because of unwanted pregnancies contracted from unsafe sexual relationships due to their vulnerability in various aspects,” said Bankukira. “Also, and most importantly, students are a potential category of youth and a dynamic group quick to understand, and thus who can play a considerable role in the eradication of the scourge once they earn a solid knowledge and relevant skills on the issue.”
Burundi is a small landlocked country in East Africa, about two-thirds the size of Switzerland with a population of about 11 million. Almost 87 percent of Burundians over the age of 15 can read and write, but more than 81 percent of the population lives below the international poverty line of US $1.25 per day (UNICEF, 2011). Today, Burundi is one of the five poorest countries in the world, and Population Institute has ranked Burundi the 4th most vulnerable state in their 2015 Demographic Vulnerability Report.
Agashi runs for 208 episodes from August 2016 to August 2018. It is the second season (the first season of Agashi ran from 2015-2017 and was hugely successful) and the storylines and characters weave together issues such as reproductive health, family planning, gender equality, nutrition, and gender-based violence.
“Visiting the schools reminded us of the way to behave as regards gender-based violence,” says Claude Ndayikeza, student representative of Lycée Saint Augustin de Rumonge. “It showed us how to rescue, both psychologically and materially, a victim of violence, such as rape. Moreover, knowing that some answers could be read through the Agashi serial drama, many of us will have to regularly follow this drama in order to win prizes such as those won today by answering the various questions asked.”
According to Bankukira, the school authorities highly appreciated the instructive sessions. Many school authorities and headmasters were able to get the whole school to participate in the activities to maximize PMC’s impact.
“In general, the competitive quiz games in the visited schools were so lively and students were very enthusiastic to participate despite some unavoidable constraints like rainfalls,” says Bankukira. “In the closing remarks by headmasters or their delegates, they all requested for such sessions in the near future.”
About Population Media Center
Population Media Center is a nonprofit leader in entertainment-education, dedicated to women’s rights and empowerment, population stabilization, and the environment. For the past two decades, PMC’s entertainment programming has promoted social and cultural change and has helped 500 million people in more than 50 countries.
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