Since August last year, I and my team in Juba have been producing Our Tukul, a weekly radio programme that aims to improve the lives of mothers and children in South Sudan by tackling misinformation and misconceptions about maternal and child health.
And one thing's been clear from the off: to really improve people's lives, we need to both educate and entertain our audience.
In one of our editorial meetings, therefore, we came up with the idea of commissioning some songs to break up the information-heavy segments in the programme. We began compiling a list of South Sudan's top musicians and over the next few weeks started talking to them to see what they had to offer.
But the initial results were disappointing. Most message-based songs commissioned by non-governmental organisations who worked on health issues were wordy and sounded like they were targeted at other NGOs, not at ordinary people. Other songs seemed to simply tell the audience what to do.
So the South Sudan team decided to have a go at writing the songs ourselves. We announced an internal staff competition for song ideas which we called ‘Juba Idol’ and set to work.
I started thinking about how a song could address the issue of how it’s best for women’s health if they don’t get pregnant until after they’re 18. I came up with a song called Give Me Time in which a young woman sings about why she needs more time before she gets married. (Listen to the song on SoundCloud.)
I was deeply inspired by an interview I conducted with a 22-year-old woman who had four children and lived in Rumbek, the capital of Lakes State in the centre of South Sudan.
She told me that she was afraid she would die soon from the constant struggle of childbirth. I’ve never forgotten that interview and was thinking about her when I wrote the lyrics. "You're telling me again that you love me, and you know that I feel the same way too, but you know that I’m young, and not ready…"
Thinking outside the box
I've been playing traditional drums and singing in the church choir since I was 16 and write religious songs in my free time. But for my co-producer Zuhur Fauzi, the experience of writing music and lyrics was completely new. "I was under pressure and forced to think out of the box because no one could come up with the kind of songs we wanted," she says.
BBC Media Action radio producers Daniel Realkuy Awad Barnaba and Zuhur Fauzi.
Zuhur says she tried to think of one of the most common tragedies in the country: the death of a child and how that affects a husband and wife.
"South Sudanese men don’t like to show their emotions but I thought about what a woman would want her husband to say to her if this happened," says Zuhur. So in her song, Turn Back Time, the husband sings about whether the death could have been prevented if he had been there for his wife and supported her more during her pregnancy. Zuhur’s lyrics say, "I’m sorry, I wish I could turn back the time." (Listen to Zuhur's song on SoundCloud.)
It's no coincidence that both songs are directed at men. This is because a lot of health communication has neglected men who are the opinion formers in the family and influence decisions about health care and finances.
Both songs are being played as part of Our Tukul, which packages interviews, opinion and expert advice to provide information, explore social beliefs and increase people's confidence in how they can keep their families and children healthy.
On a personal level, I was extremely happy to hear the final result after we recorded my song. And I wasn't the only one excited about it all: when he heard the song, my five-year-old son didn’t believe I’d written it!