Author: BBC Media Action's Eastina Massaquoi, originally posted on March 24 2017 -  How a Comic Relief funded radio programme is helping inspire young people through discussion and positive role models in Sierra Leone.

I was walking along the beach by the golf club in Freetown when it happened. A man jumped down from a tree, grabbed me, covered my eyes and tried to rip away my bag. I fought back but he slapped my face and punched me. Blood was everywhere, pouring down my face and from my mouth.

Another man ran to my rescue and scared him away. I escaped into the sea, shaken, scared and hurting. I tried to report my attack to the police but they said I had to buy a pen and paper to make the statement. I couldn’t afford these things, so I just left the station. They never caught him.

Changing the narrative

Although memories of that day have faded, it’s an experience I’ll never forget. I now work as a producer of a weekly interactive youth radio show Dis Na Wi Voice (This is Our Voice). Through discussion and positive role models, the show aims to discuss issues affecting young people – and help inspire solutions to overcome them. The young production team is full of ideas – and experiences like mine provide insight into what our audience is dealing with and informs what we broadcast.

We know that young people in Sierra Leone are online too so we create shareable social media content to run alongside the radio show on places like the BBC Media Action Sierra Leone Facebook page, which with more than 300,000 followers is the most popular in the country.

Real role models

Our most recent episode focused on crime, gang violence and abuse against women.

In the first part of the show, we interviewed a reformed gang leader called ‘ICE’, who talked openly to us about his old life and why he gave up violence to work with The Anti-Violence Movement in Sierra Leone (AVMSL). He encourages young people to build a peaceful life that is beneficial to their community rather than starting a life of crime.

''There is no pension in crime'' said ICE. "It's never too late to transform to a positive life.''

In the sports segment of our show, Kung Fu expert Ezekiel Bangura teaches our presenter, Maraya Conteh, some new moves which could be used to ward off attackers.

“I was surprised to learn the Kung Fu is a game of discipline” Maraya says breathlessly after recording the training. “There are misconceptions that this sport is violent, but it is all about self-defence and peace.”

And in our discussion segment, representatives from the police department highlighted the serious consequences of having a criminal record – and the dangerous effects of drug and alcohol abuse.

Media has played a role in perpetuating negative stereotypes for young people here but we know it also has a significant role to play in changing them. By highlighting young role models and real stories in Dis Na Wi Voice – we hope to inspire young people to create positive change for themselves, their families and for everyone in Sierra Leone.

Dis Na Wi Voice is produced as part of the Queen’s Young Leaders Programme, funded by Comic Relief and produced by BBC Media Action.

Click here to access this BBC Media Action blog and related links on their work in Sierra Leone.

Image credit: BBC Media Action

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Media.action@bbc.co.uk