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Sawa Shabab: A ray of hope for young people in South Sudan

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Can you still follow your dreams growing up in a country torn by years of civil war? In an attempt to answer this question, on 9 May of this year, Free Press Unlimited launched the programme ‘Sawa Shabab’ (‘Youth Together’) in collaboration with the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP). This new radio drama series offers fresh perspectives to the youth of South Sudan and shows them that they can have a positive impact on their environment.

Sawa Shabab follows four young residents of South Sudan who overcome personal challenges to become peacebuilders in their community. Poverty; interethnic strife; gender inequality: these are but a few of the issues dealt with by the characters in this new South Sudanese drama series on a daily basis – much like the young listeners themselves. In addition, Sawa Shahab focuses on everyday themes like school, friendship, family, love and hopes for the future. The different storylines are set against the backdrop of ongoing war and violence in this country in north-east Africa.

Serious topics broached through often hilarious writing
Civil war and recurring tribal conflicts are a source of ongoing misery in South Sudan. One unique aspect of Sawa Shabab is that its cast includes people from a variety of ethnic backgrounds. Sawa Shahab Project Manager Hannah Rounding: “In the beginning, this new situation took some getting used to, but by now the cast members have become very close. Their ability to work together proves that we can establish a peaceful society.” Since Sawa Shabab is offered in a number of languages – Arabic, English, Dinka and Nuer – most listeners in South Sudan are able to follow its broadcasts.

Despite the serious topics broached in its broadcasts, first and foremost, Sawa Shabab is a fun programme for its young listeners. Rounding: “It’s entertainment – not that many NGO projects are actually fun and entertaining for their target audience. Most programmes are quite serious. But in Sawa Shabab, the scriptwriters call attention to serious topics – through often hilarious scenes. This sparks the young listeners’ interest, contributing to the series’ accessibility and success.”

Form your own opinions
In contrast with other South Sudanese radio programmes, which often talk to their listeners from the pulpit – telling them what’s ‘proper’ – Sawa Shabab teaches young people in South Sudan to form their own opinions through interactive programming. After each broadcast, the main character asks the listeners to share their opinion of his or her dilemma with Sawa Shabab via text messages. By encouraging listeners to reflect on the characters’ plight, youngsters learn how to deal with their own problems and make their own decisions. Since the programme’s launch on 9 May 2014, this method has already proven highly successful. Rounding: “Over 150 people texted and called in after one of our broadcasts on Radio Miraya (which can be received throughout South Sudan). They all wanted to join the debate and get involved in the programme.”

Objective information: vitally important
Free Press Unlimited’s local office – known in South Sudan as Free Voice South Sudan – works to provide the people of South Sudan with objective information about what is going on their country. Besides facilitating objective news coverage for adult listeners via Radio Tamazuj, Free Voice South Sudan also caters to South Sudan’s youth via the daily broadcasts of Sawa Shabab. The drama series airs on the Catholic Radio Network, Radio Miraya and local stations across the country.

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