In April 2020, MIET AFRICA realized that school closures, travel restrictions and other challenges linked to the COVID-19 pandemic were making it impossible to continue its FutureLife-Now! programmes in Lesotho, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe as they were originally planned.
MIET AFRICA also realized that the pandemic was creating a major challenge for countries: How to get practical, accessible and factually accurate information about coping with COVID-19 out to the public.
One solution was to use radio, with linked SMS messaging, to reach schools and other audiences across each of the countries. The venture into radio started with 20 weekly programmes called: COVID-19: Together We Can Beat it!. From mid-August 2020, these ran on national stations in all four countries. This partnership project, to strengthen SADC and Member States’ responses to the pandemic, was supported by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC).
It soon became clear that radio had the power to engage audiences across the countries. In particular, programmes reached marginalized communities that often lack access to critical information, and engaged listeners in active discussion around issues they were grappling with.
This motivated MIET AFRICA, in partnership with the government ministries in the four countries, to launch three more programme series: Youth Talk, Family Talk and Our Changing Climate: Our Time to Act! The initial target of 80 episodes across four countries between August 2020 and February 2021 increased to 288.
Fifteen episodes of the youth focused Youth Talk and 10 of Family Talk have been broadcast in partnership with UNESCO and UNFPA, again with support from SDC. Youth Talk engages youth panelists and audiences in lively discussion around critical issues such as sexuality, peer pressure and responsible decision-making. Family Talk stimulates often unprecedented discussions between youths and parents around the same issues.
Our Changing Climate: Our Time to Act! comprises 12 episodes in English plus two local languages throughout Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The series, a partnership with UNITAR and UN CC:Learn, creates awareness of the impact of climate change on listeners’ daily lives, regarding for example, droughts and floods, higher temperatures and crop failures. It talks about how people in each country are already adapting to climate change and inspires listeners to be part of the change.
Feedback from presenters and media specialists across all four countries reflects that MIET AFRICA’s programmes have built a strong, new brand and a loyal, excited listenership that is actively engaged in the discussions.
The initiative was not without its challenges. For example, technicalities, COVID-19 restrictions and load shedding affected programming, but there was also overwhelming success thanks to a winning format. This included stimulating topics; dynamic, young hosts and panelists; active listener participation through phone-ins, SMS and WhatsApp; constant engagement with radio stations; support from relevant ministries; and active WhatsApp groups with instant trouble-shooting in all countries.
Another advantage was the strong, supportive in-country networks that included the MIET AFRICA teams as well as contracted-in radio specialists to critique and problem solve where necessary.
The success of these programmes and the excitement generated among listeners, have resulted in broad-based appeals from all countries that the programmes continue.