Acting for children’s rights
in Burundi, a radio soap opera to protect children
Burundians may not know their faces, but they for sure recognize their voices.
“People often ask me for guidance or advice when they have questions about how to best protect children”, says Marie Rose Nimubona, although for the public she is known as Domina, a farmer whose teenage daughter is struggling to avoid early marriage.
In real life, Marie Rose is a doctor and a mother of four. She has been a radio soap opera actor since 2013, and she loves it. “My fellow doctors encourage me a lot, she says. And when I can combine my passion for acting with my passion for children’s rights, I am happy!”
Bobine, alias Jeanine Nihezagire, is a 15-years-old farmer’s daughter in the soap opera. In reality, she is 18 and studies Science in one of Bujumbura’s universities. “ I believe I have a gift for acting”, she says.
Icicore Cacu, “our mirror” in Kirundi language, is a radio soap opera produced with UNICEF support by ABR, the Burundian radios association, and broadcasted weekly over 11 radios nationwide. Every week, the listeners follow the lives of urban and rural families- an opportunity to emphasize the challenges that Burundian children are exposed to, and moreover the solutions that can be found.
The soap opera is firstly designed for the adult population. It carries change behavior messages, mainly directed towards parents, administrators and communities. But of course, children listen to it too, and it gives them a great opportunity to know about their rights and where to seek help when needed.
In Icicore Cacu, Gaparata, Domina’s husband, is a farmer who would be happy to see his 15-years-old daughter married to an older man. In real life, Emile Nsabiyumva teaches English in a secondary school outside Bujumbura. He has always dreamt of acting and by doing so, he also wants to inspire his four sons to follow their dreams. “I receive a lot of messages from listeners”, he says.
The relationship between the soap opera and its audience does not end once the radio is switched off. Through Whatsapp groups and “children rights clubs”, the conversations continue well beyond the broadcast. Over 150 messages, questions and testimonies from listeners are received every month.
“Now I know what to do when a child needs help”, says another actor, 28 years old Eliane Keranda, a university graduate who plays Colombe, an urban teenager whose mother wants to take her out of school. “I know what structures are available to protect children and how to refer them”.
While no audience measurements are available for Burundian radio stations, there is no doubt that Colombe, Domina and Bobine’s fate generate a great interest throughout the country. For a majority rural and farming population, scattered over the hills, television is an unattainable luxury, and radio brings a welcome distraction after the long working hours. Throughout the episodes, themes such as early marriage, sexual exploitation, dropping out of school are addressed, blatantly depicting the cruel reality that too many Burundian children have to go through.