South Africa, February 2014: Children’s voices making "air" waves on community radio
LIMPOPO, South Africa, February 2014 - Like many other children living in South Africa, Koketso grew up to the sound of the radio playing somewhere in the background. The voices emanating from the airwaves were as familiar as that of his family members’, and he would often find himself humming along to a particular song or tune that was playing as he did his homework.
“Sometimes I wondered what being the voice behind the microphone would feel like,” says Koketso. “I would listen to the radio all the time – even on my way to church. I had a wish that one day I would be there.”
The once shy and withdrawn young man’s dream came one step closer to fulfillment when the Young Reporters Network established a group of youth radio reporters in Koketso’s hometown. As nervous as the young man felt about auditioning, he set his fears aside and added his name to the audition list.
“I kept on thinking ‘what if they don’t pick me,’” he recalls with a nervous smile. “But they did and I was so happy to have been selected.”
Koketso’s life would never be the same. Selected to be one of fifteen young people to join the Young Reporters Network at his local community radio station, he was given the opportunity to live out his dream of becoming the voice behind the microphone.
Young voices reaching audiences nationwide
The Young Reporters Network is involved with 14 community radio stations across South Africa. A partnership between UNICEF and the Children’s Radio Foundation, the network brings stations and young people together to allow their voices to be heard regarding issues affecting their lives.
Close to 200 young people have been mentored, trained and equipped with the necessary skills to produce and broadcast a youth-led show per station every weekend. Across South Africa, an estimated 856, 000 listeners tune in to listen to the shows every week**.
“Every Saturday morning for thirty minutes our voices and stories can be heard on air,” says Koketso, beaming with pride. “We are touching so many lives out there as we speak to other young people and community members live on air.”
Koketso’s neighbourhood, like many others in South Africa, faces the reality of domestic violence. During the 30 minutes they have each Saturday, Koketso and the other young reporters make the most of the opportunity to tell community members how this, among other challenges, is perceived by children and young people.
“Giving young people the opportunity to speak about matters that are important to them, is key to putting children’s rights in action,” said UNICEF Chief of Communication and Partnerships Thierry Delvigne-Jean. “Children account for 35 per cent of the South African population – their thoughts, opinions and experiences cannot be ignored.”
“3, 2, 1 and we’re live on air!”
The broadcasting studio fills with nervous energy and excitement as the group of young reporters prepare for their 30 minute-long show. The second the red light starts flickering indicating that they are live on air, however, all traces of nervousness disappear. One could easily mistake the confident voices ringing out over the airwaves as those belonging to professionally trained radio presenters.
One of the first callers to dial in, comments on the dangers of abusing one’s child emotionally. “As a parent you should be careful of the words you say to your child,” he warns.
Protecting vulnerable children and preventing abuse from happening in the first place is no simple task. The Safer South Africa for Women and Children Programme, a partnership between UNICEF, UNFPA, the South African government and other local partners, acknowledges the role of communities in addressing violence and abuse. The programme aims to improve access to existing response services and allows for greater community and individual involvement.
The Young Reporters Network is regarded as part of this integrated approach. By giving young people the platform to voice their opinions; they are actively involving themselves in becoming agents of change in their communities.
One of the greatest challenged faced by communities, is the high rate of sexual violence in South Africa. To address the trauma experienced by survivors, Safer SA also supports an integrated approach to the care management of rape survivors. The nationwide Thuthuzela Care Centre model, provides for a unique one-stop, integrated response to the burgeoning incidence of violent sexual acts against women and children and its intersect with HIV and AIDS.
“The idea is to ensure a child-friendly environment right from the start - from the crime reporting stage all the way through to the provision of follow-up victim support services,” says UNICEF Child Protection Specialist Patrizia Benvenuti.
Mastering professional skills in the field
The Young Reporters Network members are far more than voices behind a microphone. Like true professional journalists they venture into their respective communities, microphone and notepad in hand, bravely approaching community members for their take on issues affecting their lives.
“I used to be so incredibly shy to speak to strange people,” says Koketso. “But the Young Reporters Network has given me so much confidence – more than I could ever dream of having. Now I even find myself speaking to big groups of people or interviewing people on the street.”
As the half an hour show draws to an end every Saturday, Koketso and his fellow reporters proudly sign off yet another life-changing experience for the group of young people. Thanks to the Young Reporters Network, their stories carry further than their dreams could ever have imagined.
“You have to listen to your children and support them,” says the young presenter before they sign out. “They are the leaders of tomorrow.”
**All Media and Products Survey (AMPS®) 2011/2012 figures
The Young Reporters Network
Partnering with UNICEF and the South African Department of Basic Education, the Children’s Radio Foundation established the Young Reporters Network in 2012. Involving 180 youth between 10-18 years of age at 12 community radio stations across the country, the reporters take on issues like health, HIV/AIDS, the environment, and education. They interview their peers and community members, host debates, and broadcast weekly live shows on radio in their local languages. The initiative offers a unique opportunity for South African youth to foster a nuanced dialogue about community-specific issues, to tackle them in a youth-friendly manner, and to encourage positive behaviour.
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