Young Reporters in South Africa giving a helping hand to spreading a lifesaving message
Half a million children will die this year due to diarrheal diseases and pneumonia – deaths that could have been prevented by one of the most cost-effective life-saving interventions that exist: handwashing.
By Emma de Villiers
Cape Town, South Africa, 12 October 2013 - The voice on the radio is that of a teenage girl, but it speaks with authority as it challenges a male friend about his handwashing practices. As the public service announcement on handwashing is playing on a community radio station in South Africa’s Western Cape province, community members cannot help but pay attention.
“Handwashing is such an important practice, but one that is often neglected by members of our community,” says youth radio facilitator Neorisha Julius “Saving lives and preventing disease is as simple as washing your hands with soap, and as young people we wanted to be ambassadors for this life-saving message.”
Neorisha facilitates a group of young radio reporters from the community of Atlantis near Cape Town, South Africa. The radio reporters are part of the young reporters network – a partnership between UNICEF and the Children’s Radio Foundation. Reaching nationwide, the initiative equips children and young people to produce programming for community radio about issues impacting their communities.
Ahead of Global Handwashing Day 2013, partners UNICEF and the Unilever Foundation challenged the network of reporters to come up with innovative radio programming to advocate for handwashing. Seven community radio stations’ teams of young reporters rose to the challenge.
A cost-effective and life-saving practice
“By adopting effective handwashing practices, communities are preventing diseases and saving lives,” said UNICEF Chief of Health and Nutrition Dr Sanjana Bhardwaj. “Washing hands with soap and water at critical times helps reduce the incidence of diarrheal disease by more than 40 per cent.”
Realising the potential impact they could have on their communities to influence positive change, the young people produced radio features and conducted live interviews conveying the importance of handwashing, taking their role as handwashing ambassadors very seriously.
“The level of commitment demonstrated by the young people to make a difference in their communities was incredible,” said Unilever SA Sustainability Manager Pamela Stander. “Reaching millions of people with hygiene and sanitation messages is a priority, and the efforts of these young people is definitely a step in the right direction.”
A group of young repoters from a community radio station in Atlantis, near Cape Town, walked away with the grand prize. The group, who calls themselves “Teen Express” was awarded for their efforts at an awards ceremony hosted by their community, UNICEF, the Children’s Radio Foundation and Unilever in October.
Tailoring messages for their communities
One of the greatest strengths of the Young Reporters Network is the ability of reporters to speak directly to issues affecting their communities. Instead of a blanket message related to handwashing and sanitation, , children and young people produced radio inserts relating to their specific community’s issues.
“The challenge we issued to the young reporters was to be creative about hygiene and sanitation practices in the way they conveyed the message,” said UNICEF South Africa Chief of Communication and Partnerships Thierry Delvigne-Jean. “The result was public service announcements in a number of South Africa’s official 11 languages, speaking to their respective communities about the importance of handwashing.”
South Africa has set itself the target of achieving Millennium Development Goal 4 of reducing child mortality. It has found itself an ally in the voices of children and young people across South Africa, dedicated to spreading the lifesaving message of handwashing to their communities.