Over our 35 years of history, we have created countless radio and TV programs all over the world in partnership with local media professionals. Some of them are acclaimed journalists working for famous news outlets. Some are on-the-ground reporters, armed only with a tape recorder and the determination to tell an important story. Some are women who fought back against gender discrimination and found a powerful voice.
And some of them… are in middle school.
Garcia, Ismail, Ketsia, and Christopher were all born in the 21st century. They are taking the airwaves by storm in the Central African Republic, producing radio programming on children’s rights that’s reaching communities all across the country, including in the capital Bangui. It was our project Zo Kwe Zo (All People Are People) that set them on the path to becoming young radio reporters.
We launched Zo Kwe Zo in collaboration with the National Youth Council and USAID in late 2015, with the goal of reducing interreligious conflict and promoting an inclusive peace process. The project’s tactics range from short-term actions, like mobile cinema screenings, to long-term initiatives, like partnerships with women’s groups, the creation of spaces for dialogue in civil society, and workshops for young people on how to develop and run grassroots peacebuilding programs.
Media work is also an important component of Zo Kwe Zo. Our staff provide coaching on journalism and help local producers create radio programs that foster discussions on social issues. That’s how the children got involved in the project.
After a two-week training course, during which they learned how to gather information and conduct interviews, they started a radio series called Children in Action. The show raises awareness of young people’s rights, peace, and social cohesion. So far, 14 episodes have aired.
This series is helping young people have constructive conversations on the peace process — a rare opportunity in an environment where communities are segregated along religious divides. “I was able to transform the opinion of my friends at school,” explained Garcia, 14, the oldest of the group of young reporters, “and discuss perceptions of peace in CAR with my friends in the neighborhood.”
Children in Action turned its producers into an inspiration for other young people in the community. “If today in my neighborhood I am called the little child journalist, […] it is because I give [all my effort] to become a role model, not only for Muslim children but for all Central African children.”
Since taking part in Zo Kwe Zo, they have resolved to pursue a career in journalism, despite the challenges posed by traveling to remote places, finding interviewees, and working with public figures. 12-year-old Ketsia isn’t discouraged by these difficulties; she is working hard to become a great reporter, regardless of her age.
So is Christopher, the youngest in the group. “Today, our challenge is to encourage other children to do as we do,” he said, “to become leaders in the CAR, because the CAR lives in us.” He is hopeful about the future. “I know that one-day peace will come back to the CAR, and children and their parents will live a better life. It is true that peace is a long process, but one thing is certain — it will eventually return,” he explained.
At the graduation ceremony for Zo Kwe Zo, the young reporters met with the Political and Economic Advisor from the United States Embassy in the Central African Republic, Mr. Todd Unterseher. With him, they discussed their future expectations and vision for the Central African Republic. Mr. Unterseher highlighted their courage and remarked that foreign actors cannot impose peace on Central Africans; it’s the actions of all Central Africans that will bring peace back.
We believe that he’s right. And with people like Garcia, Ismail, Ketsia, and Christopher at the helm of the generation charting the course of the country’s future, there are plenty of reasons to be hopeful.
Emilee Derbas is an Africa Intern at Search for Common Ground, based in Washington, D.C.