Author: Amensisa Tefasilasie, DATE 2014 - The Jember team pulled in the crowds when they set out to meet listeners face to face in Ethiopia’s Amhara region.

Mother-of-two Addisie Beryihun visits her local market occasionally but today she’s in for a surprise. At the upper end of the crowded square, above the rows of colourful stalls that sell virtually everything - from clothes and animals to dried red pepper – is an improvised stage full of dancers. The Jember radio roadshow has arrived in Chagni, a town in Ethiopia’s north-western Amhara region.

This is our target area. Nearly 18 million people live in Amhara. Over 4 million of them listen to Jember (which means ‘Dawn’), BBC Media Action’s weekly radio programme in Amharic aimed at improving maternal and child health. But we want to reach even more. There's still a strong need to increase awareness about family planning, how important it is to visit a health centre during pregnancy or when to vaccinate your baby.

Broadcast on Ethiopian national radio (EBC) and on Amhara radio, Jember is among the most popular shows on both stations. It has become a source of valuable information for health workers and our researchers regularly stumble upon the phrase “I heard this on Jember” when out on field trips. “We would have saved a lot more mothers and children if Jember had come earlier”, a listener who lost her best friend during home delivery told us. “Thanks to Jember, now no one in our village gives birth at home.”

A truck full of presenters

Chagni was among the 12 Amhara towns we chose to visit to spread the word about Jember during our two-week roadshow. These are local centres that provide administrative and health services to the numerous villages surrounding them. We thought that arriving there on market day would be the best chance to connect with a bigger audience. We were right! Showing up with a truck full of dancing presenters, traditional musicians, loudspeakers and posters, Jember added a new and different blend of colour and sound to the market.

The live music, our question-and-answer sessions, the dance competitions, the public service announcements we played were new additions to the bustling market life that drew in hundreds towards our improvised stage.

We were definitely the main attraction, sometimes playing to nearly 2,000 people at a time. The “Jember word”, however, reached many, many more as we were clearly audible across the packed market square.

The dancing mother

Adults were the majority of our audience. But young boys, girls and children also attended the shows. All were keen to dance, but the quiz about important maternal and child health practices and Jember broadcast times was where parents shone brightest. Surprisingly, mothers won nearly all the prizes – proving to be more attentive Jember listeners despite radio ownership being a traditionally male domain in Ethiopia.

Among them was Addisie Beryihun who didn’t think she would end up dancing in the market when she went out to buy food that day.

“I heard the music, saw the crowd and didn't hesitate to join in,” Addisie told us, chuckling at our bewilderment on seeing a mother with a baby on her back and carrying a traditional zembil bag doing the frantic twirl of the local Agew dance.

“What a blessing, she added, “to shop, dance and get introduced to an important radio show, and also meet the people who make it. I definitely got more than I expected!”

It was great value for us too - a very successful market day for Jember!

Click here to access this BBC Media Action blog and related links on their work in Ethiopia.
Image credit: BBC Media Action

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