16 January 2009

Swaziland: Radio Powered By Children

Mbabane — People are calling Swaziland's first children's radio programme "Ses'khona", which literally means, "We're here", but in the SiSwati language it implies the arrival of a group that intends to stay and be heard.

Beginning in February, Swazi children will be able to tune in to hear their contemporaries report the news, entertain them and discuss issues that matter to pre-adult listeners.

"This is peer-to-peer communications in its purest form. We were looking to support meaningful child participation in programmes involving children," said Nonhlanhla Hleta-Nkambule, communications officer at the Swaziland office of the UN Children's Fund, UNICEF.

The programme is an outgrowth of "Super Buddies", a children's magazine launched in 2003 with UNICEF backing, which uses child actors in photo stories to address child welfare issues. Like the new radio programme, Super Buddies is written and, in some instances, photographed by children.

The magazine is the country's only publication aimed at children and has spawned a string of clubs where activities are carried out and discussions held on topics such as HIV/AIDS, teenage sex and pregnancy, peer pressure, bullying, education, abuse, family problems, friendship, poverty and love, which will also feature in the radio show.

"So far, we have 33 active school clubs nationwide and the demand for the clubs is growing. We felt there was a need to use another medium to reach these children," said Siphiwe Nkambule, National Coordinator of the clubs. "We are confident that through the forum of radio the children themselves will get an opportunity to discuss issues that affect them."

The show is to be broadcast on the government radio station, SBIS-2, and will feature four presenters, two producers and two technical directors, all aged 12 to 14.

We felt there was a need to use another medium to reach these children

Listeners will be able to suggest topics. "A child might write that a friend is thinking of committing suicide, so the reporters will find information on child suicides and get child welfare authorities, psychiatrists and others, as well as depressed children themselves, to contribute," said Nkambule.

Elizabeth Kgololo, communications director of Save the Children, an international NGO that works to improve the lives of children, along with a former broadcaster who now runs the government television service, has mentored the child producers and presenters.

"The children are extremely brilliant. It is amazing how they get behind the microphone and articulate peer issues. We've taken sample shows around to play at primary and secondary schools, and the students' feedback has been so positive. They find the topics relevant, and they are excited that the show's direction comes from children themselves," Kgololo told IRIN.

Finding youthful talent

The search for on-air and producing talent found children with broadcasting ability from all backgrounds. "We held auditions. Some [children] are from very poor neighbourhoods, like Msunduza [an impoverished township in the hills above Mbabane, the capital]," said Kgololo.

Technical training followed, impressing radio veterans like former government spokesman Percy Simelane, who now runs the national radio service. "Children's voices in our communities are muted, and there are limited avenues for them to express their aspirations," he said.

"There is a need to open platforms where they will not only talk to one another, but also articulate issues that affect them and influence policy, with special attention to ensuring that their voices are equally heard."

As much as 90 percent of Swaziland's population of 960,000 are regular radio listeners, and 200,000 children are expected to tune into "Ses'khona" each Saturday at two in the afternoon.

"A very high percentage of our youth and children rely on radio for information. There is a need to improve radio programming in both the SiSwati and English channels," said Simelane.

The first programme will be broadcast in SiSwati, and interviews with English speakers will be translated.

[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations ]

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