Urunana (Hand in Hand), a project of Health Poverty Action (formerly Health Unlimited)'s Well Women Media Project, is a radio soap opera that works with local audiences to develop interactive weekly programmes that promote positive attitudes to women's reproductive and sexual health. Urunana went on the air in 1999 as a Kinyarwanda radio soap opera, written and produced in Rwanda. The content is audience-led, with researchers visiting audience groups in Rwandan villages to chat to listeners about their health concerns.

Although the programme was initially launched by Health Unlimited, the organisation has since founded a local non-governmental organisation (NGO), Urunana Development Communication (Urunana DC), to develop the soap locally and sustainably. Urunana DC was launched in April 2007, and Health Unlimited is helping to build the capacity of the organisation in organisational, financial, and technical management through a project funded by the European Commission and charitable foundations, which will run until 2010.
Communication Strategies: 

The actors play members of the fictional village Nyarurembo. In addition to recording in the studio, they also regularly visit rural areas to record the shows. These recordings attract up to 10,000 people and give the team another chance to address topical health issues in an interactive way. The organisers co-ordinate with a large number of stakeholders at each stage of the production, which gives everyone a sense of ownership of the production. These key groups include the Ministry of Health, other NGOs, the National AIDS Control Commission (CNLS), and the Treatment and Research AIDS Centre (TRAC). The Urunana team ensures that the health messages it portrays are in line with the Ministry of Health's policies.

The team consults regularly with Urunana's listeners, for pre-testing storylines, and gathering feedback after the show has been broadcast. This feedback is recorded and given to local health policy makers, which increases their awareness of the health issues facing their communities and ultimately influences health policies. It is also processed by the Urunana team to influence future storylines. According to organisers, the Urunana scriptwriters regularly spend time living in villages to help them ensure that their writing reflects real life experiences. Individuals also submit written feedback on the soap, which gives the production team further insight into the daily struggles of listeners.

The programme airs twice a week on Radio Rwanda and the BBC Great Lakes Service.

Urunana also organises road shows; the right-hand image above depicts the character Langwida performing a sketch in front of 10,000 people.

Editor's note: In addition to the video included below, a video introducing the project may be found on the European Commission website.

Development Issues: 

Women, Reproductive and Sexual Health, HIV/AIDS.

Key Points: 

A Rwandan government literacy rates survey in 1996 showed that 47.3% of the population over 6 years of age did not know how to read or write. 58% of this figure comprised women and girls. Organisers say that, in Rwanda, there are 101 radios for every 1 television set, making it the dominant medium in the country.

Urunana has received these awards:

  • In 2009: Best Infotainment Solution, from the Rwanda Information Technology Authority (RITA); and Certificate of Merit, from the Rulindo district authority (for Urunana's contribution to the promotion of sexual and reproductive health including increasing the use of family planning, which has reached 52% in the district compared to 36% nationally).
  • In 2008: Special Award for Development Media, from the One World Broadcasting Trust; and Award for Excellence in HIV/AIDS Strategic Communication, from AfriComNet.
  • In 2007: Community Service Award, from Community Development Initiatives (CDI).
  • In 2002: WHO Roll Back Malaria Award - Prix.

In September 2008, the programme celebrated its 1,000th episode, which was broadcast live at a celebration attended by 180 people, and included the participation of the Minister of Health, who was written into the episode. To promote the 1,000th episode, a community outreach show focusing on family planning was also organised in Kigali. According to organisers, it was attended by 15,000 people.

Urunana's estimated audience is 10 million people each week; 74% of the country's population regularly tune in. According to organisers, its impact includes reducing the national HIV infection rate from 11% to 3% of the population over the past 10 years. Organisers say that the project has stimulated discussion of sensitive subjects which are rarely discussed in Rwandan families. They attribute this success to some of the following lessons learned:

  • programmes less than 15 minutes in length are more marketable to broadcasters who have 15-minute transmission slots to fill
  • the listener's ear tends to 'tune out' after 15 minutes
  • drama serials with longer episodes have a shorter life span
  • varied storylines and characters over time add contrast and ensure that there is something for and about every type of listener
  • plotting a story's development on a grid storyboard reduces the risk of inconsistency, repetition, or missed educational opportunities
  • ongoing storylines engage listeners over a long period, but occasional 'hot stories' that begin and end across just 2 episodes give instant drama
  • constantly incorporating listeners' feedback into the design of the soap and the time and frequency of transmission keeps it relevant to the audience
  • broadcasting 2 episodes a week and an omnibus builds audience loyalty
  • repeating simple messages reinforces information
  • educational messages work at varied levels, e.g., making first aid tips incidental to a main storyline
  • characters with someone to confide in within the story enable the audience to hear what characters feel about events and work out how they would respond to the same dilemmas in real life
  • storylines that involve action then consequence draw the audience along with the character's self-learning
  • dialogue can be prescriptive while remaining realistic.
Partner Text: 

BBC, Health Unlimited.

See video

Health Unlimited website on October 13 2003 and November 9 2008; emails from Andrew Chetley and Helen Stack to The Communication Initiative on December 9 2010 and December 13 2010, respectively; and Health Poverty Action website on December 9 2010.