Radio programme “Amal” in Somalia highlights plight of young girls

A child-focused Somali radio drama starring a 10-year old Somali girl named Amal, takes up difficult issues such as girls being denied education and forced into child labour and has succeeded in grabbing the attention of both children and adults across Somalia

Children – and especially girls – in Somalia face critical challenges including access to affordable education, safety, sanitation, and intellectual growth. IMS is among the international actors that are contributing to raising awareness of the well-being, education, and safety of children in Somalia through media and radio programmes. With “Amal”, the IMS-run humanitarian broadcaster Radio Ergo is seeking to create awareness, generate public debate, and ultimately galvanize positive changes around child protection, girls’ education and empowerment.

13 episodes of “Amal” are being broadcast on Radio Ergo every Friday. The series will run through March 2019, addressing issues such as health, hygiene, water, education, and child labour. The radio drama series was enacted by child actors, which is highly unusual, if not unique on Somali radio. The parents of the children involved were also part of the acting group.

The drama was pitched for consumption by the widest possible audience across all regions of Somalia. This meant that whilst the voices of actors used represented all communities, with regional accents included, the language chosen was ‘mainstream Somali’ as opposed to May May dialect, which would have limited its appeal. It has proven to be popular among listeners in Baidoa, not least in the camps for internally displaced people (IDPs).

No school, only work

The drama centres around a 10 year old Somali girl named Amal, who lives with a very supportive family. Through Amal and her family, some of the problems and challenges afflicting children in Somali society are highlighted and addressed.

In one episode, Amal, her brother Liban, and their mother Ubah are out in the market together when they hear a girl screaming. “Do not hit me! I beg you, let me go! Take me home!” the girl is heard shouting.

Amal rushes off to find the source of the screaming, and finds a girl being beaten by the female owner of a small restaurant. Amal’s mother and brother have walked past, but Amal goes to bring them back to look into what is happening. The girl being beaten works in the restaurant, where she is treated virtually like a slave, paid no wages and regularly beaten.

Amal’s mother Ubah tries to intervene and reprimand the woman, but she doesn’t want to listen. So Ubah reports the incident to the local elders. The elders decide to confront the woman in the restaurant . They manage to locate the girl’s mother, who is a very poor single mother of several children living in a camp for the internally displaced.

In a dramatic scene at the restaurant, witnessed of course by Amal and her young brother, the elders tell the restaurant owner how wrong it is to treat the girl so badly and to withhold her pay. They warn that she may have committed a criminal offence by assaulting her physically. They also talk sternly to the girl’s mother, making it known that the girl needs to go back to school as she is too young to be going out seeking employment.

The story is ongoing. It is hoped that Amal, who already seems to have captured the emotions of the audience including children, will become a well-known character in Somalia, who can raise awareness through her adventures and encounters and help to change social norms.

Strong feedback from listeners

This and many of the other episodes have made a strong impression of many of the drama’s listeners. IMS carried out audience research in three Somali cities: Mogadishu, Beletweyne, and Hargeisa. The focus groups had a total of 73 participants across the three cities. The research concluded that the listeners found the episodes interesting and educational. They liked hearing what children can offer to the community, the importance of proper parenting, supporting those who are vulnerable, and awareness on the importance of hand washing before eating food. The participants said they did not like the difficult situation that the poor family lived in, or hearing about children eager to eat food without hand washing. This, of course, validated the purpose of the drama, bringing home the educational messages of ensuring that proper hygeijne is observed and dirty water avoided when possible and raising awareness of good parenting and the need for schooling.

The feedback from listeners will serve to improve future episodes, but has also shown the strength of radio in Somalia. Radio is extremely popular in Somalia and remains the main source of news and information for the majority of people.