Three people wearing handball jerseys pose for a photo with a man in a red shirt
the latest

A Handball Game in Rwanda Has Goals Beyond the Net, Impacting Child Nutrition and Family Planning

Jan 22, 2015

KIGALI, RWANDA–On Sunday, January 11th, a crowd gathered around the handball court at Kimisagara, the biggest youth center in Kigali, the capital city of Rwanda. It was the second day of a two-day handball tournament – and today the senior players were on the court.

“About 4,500 people attended the event on Sunday,” says Alfred Twahirwa, Head Writer and Producer for Umurage Media Center. “Since 1983, when handball was introduced in Rwanda, it’s the first time that such a number attended a national handball tournament and everybody was happy.”

But the happiness and exercise on the court weren’t the only things about this tournament that impacted the health of people in Rwanda. The tournament was organized to promote an ongoing radio drama, Impano n’Impamba (“A Gift For Today That Will Last a Long Time”). The drama addresses child nutrition, gender-based violence, adolescent reproductive health, and family planning. It is produced by Umurage Media Center, a Rwandan nonprofit that operates with the assistance of Population Media Center, a US nonprofit. PMC specializes in using entertainment-education to address health and human rights issues. PMC’s specific methodology creates serial dramas that engage audiences and create behavior change.

“Our number one rule is that every drama must be top-notch entertainment,” says Kriss Barker, PMC’s Vice President of International Programs. “If it’s not entertaining, people won’t tune in and it won’t work. The drama keeps people coming back, but it’s the issues addressed that get people talking to their family members, neighbors, and friends to discuss what they think will happen next and which characters they identify with.”

PMC’s unique approach is based on the Sabido methodology and features positive, negative, and transitional characters. Never during the drama is the audience told what to do. Instead, characters role model different actions and realistic consequences, showing the audience a variety of approaches, understandings, and outcomes all around the same issue.

“We have various sports federations and the Rwanda Handball Federation was reported to be among the best in terms of management and activities and partnership,” says Théodore Nzeyimana, Technical Assistant for Umurage Media Center, talking about how the handball event came to fruition. “By the end, the Rwanda Handball Federation wished this could be a yearly event matching as many teams as possible and reaching different places of the country.”

The geographic distribution was an important element, drawing teams from around the country to make it a truly national event in what the organizers called “Drama and Sport for Change.”

“It was a good opportunity, as teams from all over the country attended the tournament and now you can see an Impano n’Impamba t-shirt in different districts because every player went home with a t-shirt,” says Twahirwa.

And, as with many sporting events, the organizers made use of the time when the handball teams were not on the court. Time-outs and breaks between games were used to share information about the drama and to simultaneously entertain with dancers, comedians, inline skaters, and acrobats. The event drew media attention from numerous media outlets, including Rwanda TV, Lemigo TV, Tele 10, and Radio Salus.

“Even local TV journalists were amazed by the power of our edutainment approach,” says Emmanuel Rugira, the Country Representative for Umurage Media Center, “and proposed that we could conduct joint outreach interventions.”

By Sunday evening, the crowd was excited to cheer on the champions as they received their awards. Certificates and medals were given to all who participated. The Police Handball Club earned the title for the male senior champion teams and the Gorillas Handball Club won on behalf of the female senior champion teams.

“The audience and members of the Rwanda Handball family will be the first to benefit from the drama, as they are now regular listeners,” says Twahirwa. “The officials promised that at all 10 handball events this year, a place to talk about Impano n’Impamba will be reserved.”

Population Media Center is a nonprofit, international nongovernmental organization, which strives to improve the health and well-being of people around the world through the use of entertainment-education strategies, like serialized dramas on radio and television, in which characters evolve into role models for the audience for positive behavior change. Founded in 1998, PMC has over 16 years of field experience using the Sabido methodology of behavior change communications, impacting more than 50 countries around the world.