Author: Jackie Christie, August 29 2014 - The assignments I take on for BBC Media Action sometimes take my breath away. Take my most recent project, for example: travel to the Horn of Africa and facilitate the creation of a 24-episode radio drama, I was told.

Make sure it fosters a sense of Somali identity and inspires young people to engage in their communities and the social issues that affect them. It goes without saying it has to be relevant to all three regions of Somalia (Southern, Puntland and Somaliland).  It must be entertaining, well written, have high production values and relevant to its target youth audience. Oh, and you’ve got ten days.

Sometimes working here can feel a bit like the start of a Mission Impossible film.

To be fair, we didn’t have to create all 24 episodes. But writing and producing four of them still felt like a tall order.

Return to Somalia

It’s been eight years since I was last in Hargeisa and my memories of it are a bit vague. On arrival I’m shocked to see how the hot dusty little town, famous for its “plastic bag trees” has grown into a metropolis, albeit still pretty hot and dusty. Hotels are bursting at the seams not just because the town is hosting the 7th International Book Fair but also because the diaspora has come home for the summer.

Somalia’s 800,000-strong diaspora is spread far and wide but most people maintain strong ties to the homeland.  I was told that "Somalis never lose each other", such is the strength of solidarity that exists among Somali families. If the value of the remittances is anything to go by (approximately $1.3bn USD annually) this comment would appear to be very true.

Perhaps it’s no surprise then that our young writers Yasmin Mohamed Kahin, Yasin Ali and Rahma Said chose to feature migrants’ stories in the drama.

Each told me stories of people they knew who had left Somalia, most in search of a better life in Europe or America who continue to send money back to the family at home.

Some of these stories do not end well. Rahma talked about the people who set out on foot to cross the Sahara attempting to reach Europe via the increasingly treacherous Mediterranean route. All had stories of Somalis who had been detained for travelling on false documents, beaten and worse.

Another all too common hazard are the people smugglers who promise to take people to Europe but then essentially kidnap them until their family can pay the thousands of dollars they demand.

Real-life inspiration

Our radio drama Maalma Dhaama Maanta (A better life than today) is the story of young Somalis who dream of a better life.

All the characters fall somewhere on the spectrum between staying in the homeland and making a life for themselves, and looking to a better future elsewhere.

It is a story of hard choices, hope and possibility as the young characters explore the sometimes difficult decisions they have to make to keep their lives and identity together.

Supported by the Somalia Stability Fund it will be Somalia’s first interactive radio drama where audiences regularly get to determine the choices the key characters make.

Each month radio listeners will have the opportunity to vote via SMS [text message] on a crucial decision or dilemma facing one of the characters and the writing team will incorporate the popular vote into the storyline of the drama.  It will be broadcast across the whole of Somalia via partner stations and the BBC Somali Service.

To get a taste of the drama, listen on SoundCloud to a song from one scene which takes place at a sitaad, a traditional gathering where Somali women come together to sing devotional songs, share stories and offer support to each other.

Storytelling in Somalia

Storytelling is strongly rooted the oral culture of Somalia. "A lie has a short leg, the truth will soon catch it up" is a saying I heard at a writers session at the Hargeisa International Book Fair this year. 

The young writers I have been working with on Maalma Dhaama Maanta have a great responsibility to tell the truth of the migrant story in a way that will engage, inform and stimulate young Somalis.

It definitely puts my task as the facilitator into perspective.

Maalma Dhaama Maanta begins on 12 September 2014 and will be broadcast for six months.

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

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