This awareness-raising initiative centres around a youth-led weekly broadcast from a radio station covering Luang Prabang province, a mountainous area of northern Lao People's Democratic Republic (PDR). The programme is part of a 4-year-old initiative run by Lao National Radio and the Children's Cultural Centres (CCC), with backing from the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and funding by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida). Their joint aim is to give children the tools to use their voice - via both the airwaves and an accompanying road show designed to raise awareness about health and child rights issues.
"Smile of Hope" is the name of the weekly radio programme, led by young disk jockeys and featuring interviews with young people. The idea is to give youth an opportunity to express their thoughts and opinions on child rights-related issues, and to share them with audiences of a similar age.
Once a month, the youth radio team piles onto a rented bus and heads off into remote corners of the province, home to some of the country's economically poorest communities. For example, members of the Luang Prabang youth radio team perform a play highlighting the dangers of preventable diseases like measles, for community members such as those in Kok Ngiew village, Luang Prabang province. The show is a colourful, noisy, and highly participatory mix of music, drama, dance, and puppetry. It kicks off with a game led by a young person dressed in a chicken costume in which a group of excited children try to pop balloons tied to each other's feet. The point of the game is to raise awareness about the dangers of avian influenza, outbreaks of which have occurred regularly in Lao PDR over the past two years. Next, a puppet show highlights the threats posed to children by preventable diseases such as measles. That is followed by a sketch act in which the radio team (wearing paper masks) play the part of the diseases, before succumbing to the power of immunisation, represented by a giant syringe. The players' comic antics are intended to generate laughter amongst the audience while teaching important lessons as well.
Youth reporters from the station might interview child members of the audience for feature in the next edition of the radio programme.
Children, Youth, Rights, Health, Immunisation and Vaccines.
Luang Prabang is one of 10 provinces where the initiative is working. In addition, in October 2008, with UNICEF support, Laos National Radio launched a new weekly national show with a specific focus on life skills.
The deputy director, Houmpanh Vithayaphone, says that while people in Luang Prabang can get information from many different sources, the youth radio team provides a different and vibrant perspective.
"Humour is one of the best ways of getting the community to accept important messages about health," said Director of the Children's Cultural Centres (CCC) of Luang Prabang, Chanpheng Singphet. "The shows these kids put on are really helpful in reinforcing the work done by regular health outreach teams."
Lao National Radio, Children's Cultural Centres (CCC), UNICEF, Sida.
Youth Radio Initiative Spreads Health Messages in Lao People's Democratic Republic, UNICEF, January 16 2009 - sent to the Young People's Media Network (YPMN) listserv on May 5 2009.