Children’s charity using radios to dial up connectivity in lockdown

05 September 2020

International Day of Charity, is marked each year on 5 September and is an event established by the United Nations to help mobilise people and to promote volunteer and philanthropic activities. Unicef UK has been the Charity Partner of the Clipper Race for three editions and today we shine a light on the work the children’s charity has been carrying out to help young people have access to education and social care despite the global lockdown.

With schools closed across the world due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Unicef has supported projects to help children continue their learning remotely. This is especially needed in South Sudan where the literacy rate for women stands at just 14.5% for women and 35% for men.

In May 2020, an educational radio programme was launched in Juba, South Sudan to ensure children were staying engaged. Set up by the Ministry of General Education and Instruction (MoGE&I), together with Unicef and education partners, radio programmes for primary and senior classes were developed covering English language, mathematics and science. Distance learning through radio was the best option for the country’s children as radios are the most common and accessible devices in the home or local community.

Lessons were broadcast live Monday to Friday with children given a toll-free number to call, to ask teachers any questions they might have and to also participate in on air quizzes. Further pre-recorded lessons were also available on the weekend. South Sudan radio stations, Radio Miraya (which is operated by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan) and SSBC (the national public broadcaster), promoted the lessons with Unicef’s large network also helping spread the world to communities across the country.

At the time of the programme’s launch, Hon Awut Deng Acuil, Minister of General Education and Instruction said: “Education is a right for all children. In this difficult and uncertain time, education becomes much more important, particularly for girls and children with disabilities, who are most hit by this pandemic.”

Image: Radios have been distributed to local communities with the support from UNMISS - UNICEFSouthSudan/Bilazio

Radios have also been used in South Sudan to tackle the issue of child marriage. 35 radio stations have been broadcasting dramas, with child marriage at the heart of the storylines. The aim has been to increase awareness of its negative impact on girls and to help end its practice.

The radio dramas are produced and broadcasted by Amalna, a South Sudanese cultural organisation, in partnership with Unicef. Unicef estimates that more than half of all South Sudanese girls were married or in a culturally recognised union before they were 18 years old and one out of three girls had been made pregnant before they were 15 years old. Early pregnancies put at risk the health of both the girl and the baby, jeopardises the girl’s education and increases her vulnerability to abuse and exploitation.

The aim of the radio dramas is to raise community awareness on the negative effects of child marriages on girls and societies at large. By focusing attention on the violence, abuse and psychosocial distress girls are exposed to, these dramas try to steer a dialogue on gender inequalities and patriarchal values in South Sudan which perpetuates child marriages and limits girls’ opportunities for reaching their full potential.

“Every girl married before reaching adult age, is one too much. Child marriage is a serious child right violation, condemned by international and national South Sudanese legislation,” said Dr Mohamed Ayoya, the UNICEF Representative in South Sudan. “Unfortunately, the practice of child marriage is still deeply embedded in the habits of the communities in South Sudan. The radio dramas will help stimulate a debate within the communities and can hopefully contribute to ending the practice of child marriage in the country.”

A Unicef supported programme close to many Clipper Race Crew’s hearts is the Isibindi Safe Park. The safe park has been visited on the last two stopovers in Cape Town with crew witnessing first hand the life changing work that is carried out there.

Covid-19 restrictions were having a big impact on the one on one sessions normally carried out between the programme’s care workers and local students. However, through resources and funding from a local telecommunications company and corporate donations facilitated by Unicef SA, the National Association of Child Care Workers has been able to establish a virtual programme in partnership with the Department of Basic Education.

Virtual lifespaces have been created to enable mentors to provide online psychosocial services and educational support to children and youth in the community. Through phone calls, texts and WhatsApp calls, virtual group activities are held including debates on mental health and gender-based violence, reading groups and also sessions on protection against Covid-19 and social issues such as substance abuse. Care workers have also been able to carry out virtual child protection and safety check-ins.

Image: Mbali on one of the virtual group sessions organised by the local care workers - @UNICEF South Africa/2020/Prinsloo

“My biggest worry was that we were going to lose the relationships that we had built,” says Thembani Yende, a mentor and child and youth care worker from Diepkloof, Soweto. “But through this programme, I was able to tell the children: “Just because we can no longer see you or be with you physically, through this virtual connection, we are able to keep track on how you are doing at home. We can help you manage the anxiety and stress you might be going through during this lockdown.”

So far, 133 virtual groups have been created, with 3678 individual sessions, involving 1000 children and young people. Mbali Nkosi, 15 loves reading: “I have apps about reading and we have a group chat with my English class where we have to read pages our teacher sends us. I think this programme is going to help other kids because as you read, you discover new words. It will help other children also to be able to speak and read fluently.

During the 2019-20 edition, the Clipper Race gifted a Team yacht entry to Unicef UK. Clipper Race Crew, staff and Partners have been fundraising for the children’s charity as the ‘big blue boat’ races around the world and it is hoped that the total amount of money raised over the last three editions will reach the £1million mark.