Responding to Malawi’s HIV epidemic, the One Community project of the Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs is a five-year activity funded by the United States’ President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The primary objective of One Community is to mitigate the impact of HIV and prevent new infections among priority populations. One Community’s strategic approach focuses on building strong HIV-competent communities, families and individuals. It is based on a socio-ecological model that links the actions of individual children, adolescents and adults to the actions of families and communities, the services available to them, and the norms, policies and social structures that govern them.
The project has currently recruited and trained over 2,000 Community Resource Persons (CRPs) who are community level volunteers that conduct household assessments and provide individualized case management and referrals for health and social services. They also facilitate discussions within their community on HIV risk avoidance, testing and treatment, and gender and cultural norms in order to promote adoption of behaviors that reduce HIV acquisition, transmission and impact. With the intention of recruiting even more CRPs as the project expands, this cadre of community health workers require ongoing capacity building in terms of technical knowledge, skill strengthening, and reminders of project processes and procedures. In order to reach these thousands of volunteers across 7 of Malawi’s southern districts, One Community has developed a Radio Distance Learning (RDL) program. This strategy allows the project to concurrently offer the necessary support and guidance these CRPs need as they link households and communities to high impact HIV and health interventions.
This past year, One Community developed and initiated production of the 26-episode RDL program, Umoyo Wabwino (Good Health). Umoyo Wabwino is broadcasted twice per week on two national radio stations, the first on MBC on Thursdays from 3:30-4:00 and the second repeated airing on Zodiak on Tuesdays from 10:30-11:00.
Radio Listening Group in Zomba District
To ensure efficacy of the RDL project, CRPs have formed into listening groups of 10 who meet for the weekly program. Each group is led by a facilitator and has been equipped with a solar-power radio and support print materials. The group facilitators have also been supplied with a Listeners Guide, complete with step-by-step instructions on how to conduct these listening group meetings, with group discussion questions and exercises to ensure that CRPs internalize information received by the radio program. Each episode of the series incorporates a health topic taught by the weekly clinician, Bambo Charles Malata, as well as a skills topic such as parenting roles and responsibilities, laws governing child protection, HIV related discrimination, and counselling community members. The 30-minute program also incorporates a drama narrative threading across the series for both entertainment and educational purposes.
With the development of the first half of the program finalized, two members of the radio production team recently completed a 5-day field visit with One Community’s SBCC officer to all of the 7 project districts in order to gather feedback from the CRP listeners. Audience comments were noticeably laudatory. Most of the CRPs concluded that the support of the program has aided them in refreshing the knowledge and skills that they had received in previous One Community trainings. In addition, there were also several noteworthy personal testimonies:
“The Umoyo Wabwino radio program has helped me have adequate skills for my job such as in the community we have a husband that physically abuses his wife as a result the children do not have peace which affects their performance at school. I used to think that the wife had probably done something wrong but ever since I started listening to the radio program I realized that the man was abusing the wife and the children. After I explained to the man that he was being abusive he stopped and now the children are doing well in school.”
Another CRP reflected on how she has been able to build her inter-personal skills after hearing and learning from the characters in the program drama:
“The Umoyo Wabwino radio program has helped me a lot because at first I was so shy with talking to people but now I am very open with the clients that I deal with. I can openly discuss HIV related topics with them.”
Although the radio program is specifically produced for the consumption of One Community’s community-based volunteers, this project has also had a positive effect on the communities in which they work. One CRP reflected, “… when you’re working in the community that you stay in, people don’t trust you since they feel like you will betray their confidentiality. After the program came, we are able to let them know that we can keep a secret.” Another CRP concurred and added, “… the radio has helped people to accept us as CRPs. Now they know us and receive us when we visit their homes without being rude to us since they heard from the radio what a CRP is and what our job is. When we visit them, they are very open with us.”
The team did not set out to solely gather praise and acclaim for the Umoyo Wabwino program during the field visit. They were also able to gather listener suggestions and proposals on how to enhance the program, such as editing broadcasting timeslots, providing listening groups with copies of the broadcasts, etc. One Community plans to further monitor listener group participation and feedback throughout the continuation of the series. With the successful implementation of Phase 1 of the 26-episode program, One Community has planned to develop a curriculum and drama for a Phase 2 series to be rolled out in 2018. Umoyo Wabwino is just one tool that One Community currently wields in its programmatic response to Malawi’s HIV epidemic. Yet, elementary cost/benefit analyses demonstrate it to be a worthwhile investment in community strengthening. Initiatives such as this RDL program prove to be one possible solution in stretching organizational resources to meet project needs.
Radio Listening Group In Chikwawa District