Using radio to provide credible information during a pandemic

UNICEF is partnering with one of the most popular FM stations in Rwanda, KISS FM, to edutain Rwandans about the novel Coronavirus and address rumours and misconceptions about the virus and its vaccines.

By Steve Nzaramba and Redempter Batete
Man listens to radio while walking alonside a bicycle
18 May 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a widespread impact not just in Rwanda but across the world. Businesses have shut down, the economy has faltered, lives have been lost, jobs forfeited, and the social fabric that has long held societies together has been stretched to breaking point.

Despite all the challenges, Rwandans held steady and remained resilient in the face of the pandemic. The Government of Rwanda formulated a social protection plan for the delivery of free food to at least 20,000 of the most vulnerable households in the capital Kigali at the height of the first lockdown in April last year.

While health and social protection considerations often take center stage during a pandemic, it is equally important to communicate risks and engage with communities in a responsible way that protects people’s health.

That’s why among other inventions, UNICEF has partnered with one of the most popular FM stations in Rwanda called KISS FM, which reaches nearly 3 million listeners every day through its programmes, according to a survey of radio audiences conducted by the Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority (RURA). The network is popular among young people who make up almost 70% of the Rwandan population. This group, especially students, also happens to be most at risk against COVID-19.

Using programmes like ‘fact or fiction’, ‘conversations with experts’ and ‘street talks’, KISS FM’s hugely popular presenters including the soft-spoken Sandrine Isheja and the effervescent Arthur Nkusi take to the airwaves every day to engage with their listeners in a lively banter, making sure to educate their audiences on COVID-19 related  appropriate behaviours, while getting a laugh out of them. 

Cyusa Ornella is a young woman who lives in Muhima, a suburb of Kigali City. She’s a regular listener of KISS FM programmes, especially the popular breakfast show and gospel music that is a staple on the station.

She also listens to the fact or fiction radio show and the program has taught her a lot!

“As young people, at times we are nonchalant about certain things. But thanks to the ‘Fact or Fiction show, I understand that I have a responsibility to protect myself and by extension protect others from Coronavirus by washing my hands regularly with soap and clean water, wear my mask whenever I’m out in public, and maintain physical distancing without having to be supervised or constantly reminded by the authorities” Ornella says.

Woman listens to radio station
Cyusa Ornella tunes into 102.3 Kiss FM, a popular FM radio station in Rwanda that has partnered with UNICEF to broadcast life-saving COVID-19 prevention messages.

The programmes provide education and entertainment (edutainment) and something to look forward to for listeners in the form of gifts and rewards such as face and helmet masks, hand sanitizers, T-shirts, umbrellas and other practical items.

“When my family comes home from work, I always insist that they wash their hands with soap and clean water before eating anything or even before relaxing in the house. It’s very important to me and practicing handwashing is a simple yet effective way to stay safe,” says Nicole Munezero.

“I learnt this while listening to KISS FM’s breakfast show with Sandrine and Arthur. I’m glad KISS FM is bringing us these informative shows that not only increase our awareness about the deadly Coronavirus, but also enhance our lifestyles and imbue us with knowledge and practical life skills.”

“From the same radio station, I heard something that I had never heard in my life, I heard that mental health is a health condition just like a headache, stomachache… I heard that if one is struggling with mental health, they can be treated."

Nicole Munezero

“From the same radio station, I heard something that I had never heard in my life, I heard that mental health is a health condition just like a headache, stomachache… I heard that if one is struggling with mental health, they can be treated. It requires one to speak up about their feelings. Long before this, I thought mental health issues should be kept a secret and one should seek traditional medicine or go to Ndera Hospital for treatment” (Caraes Ndera Neuropsychiatric Hospital is the leading referral hospital for psychiatry in Rwanda).

Street vendor sells popcorn
Man tunes in to Kiss FM to listen to COVID-19 prevention messages

Niyibizi Damascene (pictured above) is a street vendor in Kinyinya sector, which is one of the rural sectors of Kigali City. He sells popcorn for a living. He excitedly tells us that he participated in the Fact or Fiction quiz show and was one of the lucky listeners who won a bottle of hand sanitizer and face masks.

“I was very happy to have won. The hand sanitizer and facemasks they gave me came in handy. Whenever someone comes to my stall either not wearing their masks properly or at times, not wearing it at all, I insist that they wear it, and ask them to sanitize their hands!” he says.

“As part of my daily work as a street vendor, I encounter lots of people and I try to sensitize them to take COVID-19 seriously, and embrace the prevention measures as a part of their lives until this pandemic is overcome,” he adds.

“I even got vaccinated recently, and if it weren’t for listening to KISS FM and being convinced that the vaccines are safe and effective, I probably wouldn’t have accepted to be vaccinated.”

Niyibizi Damascene

This partnership really matters because it continues to foster community engagement that is intrinsic to practicing a human rights-based approach to development and humanitarian action.

“A program like this helps get the message to people using a language that they easily understand and relate to. Also, as a radio presenter a partnership like this one shapes our thinking and behavior, it makes us walk the talk; hence influence the people we live and meet with,” says Sandrine Isheja, whose melodious and calm tone has endeared her to the Rwandan radio audience and is the driving force behind the show.

Inside the Kiss FM studios where the shows are recorded
Sporting their UNICEF t-shirts for World Children's Day, Rebecca and Divin took over Arthur and Sandrine's popular morning radio show on KISS FM.

Her co-star Arthur Nkusi echoes these sentiments.

“Me being an entertainer, it feels good to be part of a program that does both entertaining and educating. Our society needs information, and I was very happy to be the one to give it, says Arthur.

“Thank you, UNICEF Rwanda, for trusting us with the responsibility of educating our society through this partnership”.