Staff Spotlight: Tom Kazungu
As a child in Kenya, Tom Kazungu became a captivated radio fan by listening to Kikulacho Ki Nguoni Mwako (“Your Enemy is the One Very Dear to You”). The radio drama about deceit and conspiracies aired in the late 1950s and early ’60s.
That theme is very different from the transformative social behavior change communication (SBCC) radio and television programs Population Media Center (PMC) produces. But Kazungu’s passion for radio eventually led him to work for PMC, where he became the PMC-Kenya Country Director in 2020.
His current role is only the latest in Kazungu’s long association with PMC. He started as Director of Radio Production Training when PMC President Bill Ryerson founded the nonprofit in 1998. Kazungu then became PMC’s Kenyan liaison, a position that evolved into Country Director.
“I was easily drawn to PMC’s mission because I believe every human being should live a decent life, making sure we also conserve the environment in the process,” Kazungu says.
Before he joined PMC, Kazungu worked for 20 years as a producer at the Voice of Kenya, now the state-run Kenya Broadcasting Corp. During that time, the show he loved as a child re-emerged through his occasional collaborations on radio dramas with some of the program’s actors.
“It was a dream come true for me, working with people I admired in my formative years,” Kazungu says. “Working with those veteran actors was quite rewarding because I picked up some ideas from their experience.”
His experience with Voice of Kenya prepared him well for his PMC work.
Kazungu and several Voice of Kenya colleagues studied drama production at the Mexican media company Televisa. They studied under the direction of Miguel Sabido, who pioneered a methodology to promote behavioral change through radio and television. Afterward, Kazungu produced the Voice of Kenya’s first drama using the Sabido Methodology, which was foundational in the development of PMC Methodology.
Kazungu’s first Voice of Kenya radio show, about family planning, received technical support from the nonprofit Population Communications International, where Ryerson worked before he started PMC.
As the head of PMC-Kenya, Tom and his team have made a difference with its regular radio programs that address social and health issues including gender-based violence, female genital mutilation (FGM), family planning, and early-childhood development.
Two radio shows, Maisha Pakacha (“Life is a Carrier Bag”) and Isbadalka Maalmaha (“Changing Days”) have been broadcast so far.
One listener reported that at a public meeting he attended, the organizers, who were with a non-governmental organization, mentioned Isbadalka Maalmaha in speaking out against FGM and gender-based violence. They urged those at the meeting to tune in to the PMC program.
Listeners tell PMC-Kenya staff that the radio shows provide entertainment and educate them about societal issues. “They always say they learned a lot from the struggles that the characters endure in the shows,” Kazungu says. “We hope to sustain this momentum through other dramas in the near future, so that many more people can be reached with life-changing messages.”
Kazungu’s duties are varied as he helps develop programs with life-changing messages. In addition to fundraising and overseeing office operations, he’s involved in programming, from writing scripts and ensuring creative teams are in place to coordinating with researchers on monitoring and evaluating shows.
“I love working with creative people — writers, actors, and actresses,” Kazungu says. “I enjoy what I am doing because even as Country Director, I still find myself in the studio, working with the producers, assisting them whenever they meet challenges.”
When not addressing work challenges, Kazungu enjoys listening to African and Caribbean music, particularly rhumbas from the Democratic Republic of Congo and music of the West African kora, a harp-like instrument.
He’s also an avid reader of mysteries by James Hadley Chase, Agatha Christie, Robert Ludlum, and others.
Kazungu’s love of mysteries may have its roots in the radio program of intrigue he listened to in Kenya as a child. That program started the journey that ultimately led him to PMC.
“What I like most about my PMC work is that I am doing what I have a passion for,” Kazungu says. “That means impacting people’s lives positively through the entertainment medium that is radio drama…to bring about the desired change in the various issues communities struggle with day to day.”