In South Sudan, radio is the most effective and accessible source of information. 74% of the population has access to the radio (GESS2 midline survey, 2020-2021). However, this leaves 36% of the population without access to this communication channel and the vital information that it can provide. The lack of radio access is often due to a lack of coverage in remote areas, or the financial barrier to owning a radio.
GESS uses the radio programme, ‘Our School’, as part of its behaviour change communication component. ‘Our School’ aims to create an enabling social-cultural environment for supporting girls’ education. The radio programme is produced in local languages and aired on 30 radio stations across the country.
GESS community mobilisation activities bring solar-powered and wind-up radios pre-loaded with content to communities in media dark areas. School communities partake in listening groups and then discuss the content through community dialogues.
When schools in South Sudan closed due to the outbreak of COVID -19, GESS community mobilisation activities were forced to adapt. Isaac, a Community Mobilisation Volunteer, in Munuki Payam, Juba, explains how, “When there was lockdown, the community listening clubs came to a standstill. Instead, we shifted to carrying out family listening groups, where only members of a family listened to the programme. I would select a leader in the family who acts as a facilitator to ensure that discussions happen after listening. I used to take the radio away from one family to another after two weeks to allow another family to listen. The families were happy about this activity because parents and children got the opportunity to listen together and talk about education”.
Since the lifting of the lockdown by the government, community mobilisation activities have resumed. Now, individuals from several households meet to listen to ‘Our School’ and to discuss the topics at hand. “I started in this community recently and they are picking up very well. some of these people were not here before and might have not heard the programme. They are happy to hear programmes on education, especially programmes on pregnant learners or young mothers being allowed to return to school. They are happy with the programmes on pregnant learners/young mothers because when schools were closed, many schoolgirls became pregnant and the parents didn’t know whether they are allowed in school or not. The programmes have made them know that such girls are allowed to re-join school”, Isaac adds.
Community members actively participate in the listening clubs in their localities. “You know, most times men listen to the radios alone as women do housework, but when it is a community listening group, the men feel like women should attend. That is when I go and listen to the programmes about girls’ education and we discuss how we can support our girls”, Susan, mother of nine, Juba.
Susan adds, “The programmes are important. They make me strong. Now I have the belief that if my children are educated, that will be an achievement for me because I am not educated. I have seven daughters and I want to see that they are all educated. I bake local cakes and mandazi to raise school fees. I used to do this before, but I did not focus on providing for my girls. After I heard the story of an educated girl in the radio programme who said she is now providing for her parents and taking care of herself, I felt my daughters should also become like her”.
Through community listening groups, many members of the community have become ambassadors of girls’ education. “I share with people what I hear from the programme. For example, there was this young girl in our area whose mother was encouraging her to get married. Maybe the mother saw that she was not having the ability to support the girl in school, but after I spoke to the mother, she changed her mind. It was difficult but she later understood why her daughter should complete school first. It is from the programme I heard in the group meeting that made me want to speak to the mother of the girl”, Mawa, and community listening group member, Juba.
GESS continuously works with members of the community to understand what topics they would like to be covered in the radio programming. One community suggested that they needed more discussions on how parents can relate to their children and have open discussions around education. “Some parents who are not educated find it difficult to talk to their children about education, but if we can have programmes that help us know how to have discussions with our children, and also for the children to listen to us, that would be good”, Julia, a mother in Juba.
GESS improves it’s programming through periodic refresher training for both the radio producers and the Community Mobilisation Volunteers. This is to ensure that the programmes produced are relevant and easy to understand.
Radio producers and Community Mobilisation Volunteers have recently been trained on adaptive approaches in crisis, including during pandemics; disability inclusion; working with children, and safeguarding.
GESS continues to work closely with school communities to ensure that community mobilisation activities continue to take place even after the Community Mobilisation Volunteer moves to another school community. This is achieved through the involvement of community leaders, like chiefs and religious leaders, who play a major role in facilitating community gatherings.
Though there is evidence of positive shifts in attitudes and behaviours towards girls’ education, it is key to note that behaviour change is a long-term process. By the end of the first phase of GESS2, the ‘Our School’ radio programme reached 2 million listeners, whilst community mobilisation activities reached 51,581 individuals in 1,763 school communities. By March 2024 – the end of the second phase of GESS2 – we hope to reach over 2 million individuals through ‘Our School’ and 2,700 school communities with community mobilisation.
Behaviour change communication activities have proven to be adaptable and resistant to external shocks. Frequent reminders to parents, community leaders and all stakeholders on the importance of girls’ education are important to realise long-lasting, sustainable and positive change.