Parents and teachers have long grappled with the issue of how young people can learn about important life skills and issues.  In the classroom, it’s possible to make science fun; who wouldn’t be enthralled the first time they make a volcano erupt using only vinegar and baking soda?  Shakespeare can come alive when students act out the scenes or are asked to translate the content into a modern rap.  But how can we engage youth on topics like financial management or sensitive issues like sexual harassment?

Entertainment education is a method of engaging audiences to teach, model, and inspire behavior change.  Historically, fables and stories have fulfilled this role.  In today’s times, entertainment education has been exemplified by the Cosby Show, with a focus on parent-child communication skills.   Body Love, an Atlanta-based radio show seeks to reduce racial health disparities.  USAID is leveraging the power of entertainment education to empower youth to lead healthier, safer, and more productive lives.

Fire and Gold Soap Opera Helps Youth Tackle Financial Management

Somalia has a strong story-telling tradition, and a USAID-funded soap opera titled Fire and Gold is building on this tradition to promote financial literacy and help youth plan for the future.  The title refers to themes in the series: Fire represents the problems and the conflicts that break out between newly wedded couples due to poor financial decisions, and Gold represents a pair of gold earrings that play a prominent role in the storyline, as well as the notion of prosperity and success.

A Somali woman stands in front of a promotional poster for a financial literacy soap opera targeting youth. She holds an MP3-enabled mobile phone that receives the program broadcasts. Photo: EDC

The soap opera is broadcast in the Somali language using MP3-enabled mobile phones.  Phones are distributed to provide free access to cellular content for groups of listeners, and offer several advantages over radio due to Somali radio broadcasting restrictions, the possibility of radio station shut-downs, and radio disruptions due to unrest or poor reception quality.

The MP3-enabled devices provide consistently high-quality audio on demand as well as an interactive learning environment.  After the MP3 audio program is delivered,  soap opera characters  ask students to answer questions about the day’s lesson.  The students determine and submit an answer as a group, and immediately receive encouragement for a correct response or additional instruction when needed.

Through Fire and Gold, USAID and implementing partner Education Development Center help youth to acquire the financial literacy skills they need. The project also helps youth network among the Somali business community to gain work experience and job prospects.  In the series, youth are asked to think about what they want to achieve both personally and professionally, and then to create a plan for reaching those goals.

Tosalel’ango Reality TV Show Brings Attention to Sexual Abuse in Schools

In the Democractic Republic of the Congo (DRC), a USAID-funded reality TV show called Tosalel’ango aims to give a voice to youth and to bring about social change in the DRC.  The program is produced by Search for Common Ground (watch an excerpt below). More than 20 percent of the 18 to 24-year-old population watch the program, and 98 percent of viewers agree that the series leads to positive change in their country.  Recently, two youth from the southern city of Lumumbashi, Jenny and Filston, contacted the program to raise awareness and engage with the Congolese authorities to stop sexual abuse in schools.

In the DRC, sexual and gender-based violence is a significant concern and schools, are not spared from this type of violence. Unscrupulous teachers or professors pressure female students to trade sexual favors for good grades.  The victims are often unaware of their rights and of the remedies available.  As a result, most of the perpetrators remain unpunished and abused youth, who report cases only to their parents, often withdraw from school, preferring to sacrifice their education to avoid harassment.

The eighth episode of Tosalel’ango, filmed in Lubumbashi, features Jenny, Filston and their friends. The show offered victims the opportunity to tell their stories and to testify about being sexually harassed by professors.  Their testimonies triggered a reaction of the local child protection service which immediately began an investigation. Jenny and Filston decided to engage further with the authorities of the province and took a camera crew to visit the Provincial Minister of Education, who pledged to personally follow up on the issue. Filston said, “The reality TV show Tosalel’ango gave us the opportunity to call upon citizens and authorities to address sexual violence in Congolese schools.”

The Fire and Gold soap opera and the Tosalel’ango reality TV program are examples of how USAID is reaching youth through innovative methods that are shaped around the audience’s interests and needs.  Hopefully, this will result in messages that are more meaningful and lasting.