Thursday, November 6, 2014

Empowering South Africa's Youthful Voices

By: Jim Ryan
Produced & Edited by: Andrew Davis
Children’s Radio Foundation sheds light on issues facing South African youth
With a hint of nervousness, a young reporter approaches his subject — a South African author known for her children’s books. The reporter introduces himself, adjusts his microphone and asks his first question: “What did you eat for breakfast today?”
Stifling a giggle about her response — “Is that all?” — the reporter concludes his microphone check and proceeds to the real subject at hand: South African storytelling and youth literacy.
Author Lesley Beake later gushed about the preteen reporter’s professionalism, poise and confidence. His news organization, the Children’s Radio Foundation, aims to instill each of those qualities in its young reporters.
The foundation trains African youth ages nine to 20 to report and produce radio packages that air on radio stations around the continent. It reaches more than seven million listeners each week. More than one million of those listeners hail from South Africa, where the foundation has partnerships with a dozen community radio stations and puts almost 200 youth reporters to work.
They tell the stories of their communities and the issues facing them, such as the HIV/AIDS epidemic that plagues South Africa, international politics, education and health. They cover lighter topics, too. Stories about musicians, dance and childhood dreams are told during recent shows, published weekly on air and the online audio platform Soundcloud.
Children's Radio Foundation reporters interview United States
Ambassador Patrick Gaspard when he visited the Manenberg community
in South Africa. © Children's Radio Foundation
Reporters are not fed stories from a producer sitting behind a keyboard somewhere, either. They pitch the stories themselves, and make their final products reflective of what they are experiencing in their daily lives.
“They take ownership of the show and what it looks like,” said Nelisa Ngqulana, a Children’s Radio Foundation director. “It really gives them confidence that the product that comes out is owned by them.”
Growing up South African
The programs, funded in part by UNICEF, provide a unique glimpse into the lives of South African children. Given South Africa’s diversity, the living conditions and culture that children are born into there vary drastically.
In other words, there is no universal South African childhood. One child might grow up down the street from a Kentucky Fried Chicken, while another might grow up far from the nearest street.
Yoliswa Yolee Dyamara Gege, an avid listener and foundation alumnus, said listeners appreciate how each Children’s Radio Foundation story explains a different wrinkle of South African culture, as seen through the eyes of a child.
“(The Children’s Radio Foundation) is giving youth a great platform to learn more about radio,” she said, “it's really expanding in a very successful way.”
Getting a Head Start
Before reporters hit the streets to work on their first story, they are paired with professional mentors — many of whom have learned the ropes as a youth reporter — and complete a four-step radio training program.
Youth reporter Brighton interviewing Dr. Banda, the chairperson
for the nation of AIDS council, a bishop and advocate on HIV/AIDS
and gender based violence in Zambia. © Children's Radio Foundation

Thabo Leping, a manager for Aganang FM, a community radio station in South Africa’s North West province, said that radio stations jump at the chance to partner with the foundation because it offers them the opportunity to train prospective reporters and create content that interests a young audience.

“It is important to give young people opportunities to express themselves or come up with their own solutions on how to solve the challenges that we are facing as a society,” he said.
Furthermore, foundation officials say that their reporters are less likely to delve into lives filled with crime, drugs and gangs — problems some have chosen to report on — after they have gone through the program.
“Children's Radio Foundation has unlimited opportunities,” said Lee Vilakazi, a director for Emalahleni FM, a partner station in eastern South Africa.
Sydney Shearer, who worked in South Africa for the foundation in 2012, said that in addition to keeping kids out of trouble, the foundation promotes them from a largely unheard demographic to one that has a powerful voice.
“We create spaces for young people to develop into fully participating citizens,” she said.
Shearer said that the foundation informs a global audience about the struggles that South African children face while giving children an opportunity to express themselves in ways they otherwise would not be able to.
Andrea Emberly, a York University professor who has long studied the context that surrounds South African childhood, said that many children are particularly interested in documenting their lives.
During a recent month-long trip to the Limpopo Province with her students, for example, she said that local children were interested in her photographs and video as much as they were her education and philanthropy initiatives. Recording (and sharing) stories of their lives is common, she said, and kids there use cell phones “much more actively there than they do in North America.”
It’s no surprise, then, that the Children’s Radio Foundation attracts interest from a wide range of South African youths. Ngqulana said the foundation has little problem recruiting new reporters.
Once she and her colleagues get new reporters in the door it is not long until they are up to speed and working alongside their new peers. Within weeks, they can be producing packages about their lives; the issues that affect the environment in which they’re growing up.
In some respects, Beake said, the reporters are helping shape that environment as well. “I always feel that children — generally, not just in South Africa — need to be given the chance, more often, to be good at something, to succeed,” Beake said. “Children’s Radio Foundation is doing a very good job of that.”

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