"New Home, New Life"
is a radio soap opera designed and produced for broadcast in Afghanistan.
It was first aired in April 1994 and has since been aired weekly.
Each episode is broadcast three times from the BBC, once in the
morning, once in the evening and once in an omnibus edition during
The drama series has both practical and informative purposes.
It covers a whole range of subjects from women's
issues, the preservation of oral traditions and historical monuments,
income-generation activities, methods for conflict resolution,
awareness of mines, community participation in development, livestock
raising and agriculture to personal and environmental hygiene.
Soap opera was initially chosen as a format because it allows
for the repeating of educational messages as needed. Episodes
of particular relevance can be rebroadcast according to perceived
need or demand. Furthermore, soap opera is on-going and limitless
because it is rooted in real-life situations and it sounds real
and authentic to rural and urban communities. Characterisation
of problems, human conflict and dilemmas, and how to overcome
them through dialogue, are all part of the soap opera "genre".
It is, therefore, perfectly suited to carrying educational messages,
drawing on people's
experience, past and present. New themes are progressively incorporated
into the soap's scenario
as listeners respond to the story or as the project's
authors, particularly the evaluation team, integrate new concerns
and steer the drama towards further relevant topics. New problems
and cases for discussion naturally arise as the drama unfolds.
These points, in turn, have to be resolved to serve the story
and provide a structure to integrate practical advice.
Given the situation of conflict in Afghanistan, it should be noted
that radio is one of the few media that can reach each corner
of the country and one of the few technologies that can be found
in households. The crisis in Afghanistan, indeed, has encouraged
the use of radio. Demand has risen over the last two decades as
radio has provided almost the only source of information. According
to the latest data collected by the "New
Home, New Life" evaluation
team, the majority of the population have access to radio. People
either own a radio or listen to neighbours'
radios. Family group listening is very common, allowing for inter-generational
learning. Male listenership, however, is said to be higher than
women's. It is quite
usual for men to gather in the guest room or outside the house
around the radio. Recent surveys on the impact of the "New
Home, New Life" programme,
in February 1997, revealed that 83 per cent of women and men said
they listened to the BBC project. These figures, however, fluctuate
as families move from one area to another.
Employing the plot as an entry point for serious social concerns
and giving a true representation of society has necessitated the
use of a whole range of actors from every walk of life. It is
their diverse and contrasting opinions, stances and social standings
that breathe life into the story. The programme aims to reach
all family members and is based on the stories of two fictional
communities - Upper and Lower Villages. It brings people from
differing backgrounds and age groups into play. The drama focuses
on the villages' problems
and the dilemmas facing the inhabitants. The difficulty of the
project is translating educational content into dramatic action
and, at the same time, entertaining listeners. Although the drama
is directed at rural communities, people from urban areas, particularly
women, say that they appreciate the drama and find it relevant.
They mostly refer to the issues of income generation and education
in the drama. Nomadic communities also find a mirror for their
concerns in the stories about mine awareness.
Since the balance between drama and practical advice is difficult
to keep, and practical counselling is increasingly important,
yet less dramatic, programmes have since been divided into drama
sections. This division has meant that counselling and advice
can receive the maximum attention they warrant without interfering
in the plot. Initially, 12 to 15 minute feature programmes, the
reinforcement sections have turned into short packages, interviews
and then, in an innovative move, into songs backing up certain
themes and storylines in the drama. These songs are regularly
aired on the BBC Persian and Pashto services, and packages and
interviews fill slots in the Pashto and Persian service development
File" and "Village
Voice", besides other
programmes on the Pashto service such as "Merman"
"Da Zwanano Narhae"
(youth programme) and the science and medical programmes).
programmes concentrate on one topic from the soap in detail. They
stand between the "News
and Current Affairs"
and "New Home, New Life"
drama from the BBC. They are developed in such a way as to be
particularly convincing and informative. These particular issues
or reinforcements are then incorporated into the drama and give
substance to issues of concern; for example, women's
employment and girls'
education. The reinforcement team regularly visits Afghanistan
to interview people and returns with new themes and suggestions
for the drama. An expanded evaluation team has since been created
purposely to keep in contact with listeners at the grassroots
level and maintain the relevance of topics and drama cases. The
inital evaluations for the programme were carried out prior to
the programmes in refugee camps and in Eastern Afghanistan. Dynamic
contact with the listeners has, therefore, been one of the hallmarks
of the project since the beginning. It has meant that everyday
issues, of concern to people living in harsh conditions, can be
incorporated into the programmes and solutions suggested. One
episode shows the level of interactivity between the producers
of the programme and their audience. In 1994, a story was aired
in which a child's death
was described after a traditional midwife cut its umbilical cord
with a dirty knife and covered it in henna and ash. The descriptions
of the topic were particularly vivid and moving and many listeners
complained that they had their fair share of suffering without
having to listen to more - but the health message which advised
against such practices, also got through. The symbiosis between
learning source and learner had been achieved.
The project has gone through various stages of development and
refinement. With the installation of a BBC Peshawar studio in
neighbouring Pakistan and the introduction of a full-time BBC
producer to help in the preparation of materials from Peshawar,
it was decided that the BBC AED project (BBC Afghan Education
Drama Project) would itself prepare the two weekly development
programmes - "Village
Voice" and "Refugee
File". This was to increase
the level of topicality and create a body directly in touch with
the audience. Over the last year the programmes broadcast from
this station have consisted almost entirely of educational features
prepared by the BBC AED reinforcement team. In order to make the
reinforcement output more topical and enable BBC AED to line up
with NGOs working inside Afghanistan, the reinforcement team carry
out regular and targeted research trips to the field. Their findings
and support to the radio programmes are published in a newsletter
and cartoon magazine. These publications, in turn, back up the
and are a way of keeping listeners in touch with their service.
The documents also provide opportunities for developing literacy
and numeracy skills. The reinforcement team inside Afghanistan
has a two-pronged approach. It is they who bring back programme
material which is more representative of what is actually happening
inside Afghanistan but who also forge partnerships with NGOs working
in the field to allow them to make full use of the radio training
Besides the monthly cartoon magazine, special editions of the
magazine have also been prepared on humanitarian issues, health
issues for children and sports and peace. A separate edition of
the cartoon magazine has also been prepared, based on mine-awareness
storylines from "New
Home, New Life". Recently,
BBC AED began producing "educational
packages" on particular
themes dealt with in "New
Home, New Life". These
consist of a mix of drama sequences, clips from reinforcement
programmes, and songs. Several NGOs have expressed an interest
in using these "educational
packages" in their training
programmes. As the programme develops and the audience for the
radio project grows, the reinforcement efforts of BBC AED will
be directed towards completing "these
tackling all the themes covered so far in the series and ensuring
that NGOs working in the field inside Afghanistan get to make
full use of them. The reinforcement team are currently streamlining
the distribution system of the monthly magazine. Improving the
system should lead to greater distribution of the magazine to
provide feedback on its reach and usefulness. A new option being
considered is the rebroadcasting of specific episodes of "New
Home, New Life" for
schools, in tandem with the use of the cartoon magazine. For this
to be successful, local radio stations will receive tapes and
schools the accompanying magazines. Targeted distribution of "educational
packages" for local
rebroadcasters should allow them to become familiar with the aims
and audience of the project and, again, allow for the optimum
use of the product. The BBC AED with its new multi-faceted approach
to reinforcement is now present at most levels in the field and
in the topical programmes on the BBC Persian/Pashto service. A
recent example of this strong position on the ground and on the
air waves was the back-up provided by radio to the immunisation
campaign inside Afghanistan.
The radio project is funded by the BBC World Service, UNESCO,
UNICEF, UNOPS, UNOCHA, FAO, UNHCR, WHO, ICRC, ODA. As an indication
of costs, a year's broadcasting
and production costs US $407,369, monitoring and evaluation US$
58,000, reinforcement sections US$101,733 and the cartoon magazine
US$ 77,700. The radio programmes have been positively evaluated
with listeners giving favourable responses to the topicality and
interest of the project. Listeners tell researchers how they identify
with the characters of the programmes and, during evaluations
say how they want to avoid situations characters have found themselves
in. Furthermore, they wish to find out more about issues (hence
the need and necessity of reinforcement sections) and wait to
see how problem resolution is weaved into the story. Dramas typically
cover drinking water, hygiene and mines which are day-to-day problems.
An interactive network has been created around the project, with
listeners writing directly to the broadcasters and reading letters
coming from other members of the public. These letters are included
in a specific listeners'
section in the project magazine and cartoon publication. This
comes out once a month and shows the extent to which radio has
facilitated an open learning community in and around the soap
Given the situation in Afghanistan and the collapse of several
infrastructures, radio is having to fill in on many fronts. It
has, accordingly, taken on greater responsibility in terms of
increasing learning opportunities and information. The BBC AED
radio programme has brought many forces into play in Afghanistan
and within neighbouring Pakistan. Outside Afghanistan, it has
maintained knowledge of Afghan customs, history and current affairs
in times of strife. It has kept those cut off by war in touch
with their motherland and helped strengthen community ties that
could have easily been severed. Inside Afghanistan, the soap opera
has provided practical advice, education and entertainment.
The drama is totally Afghan in context and content. It has drawn from the rich history of community action and customs to achieve its high degree of relevance. It has, therefore, played a significant role in reviving old traditions and customs. "Hashar", the old tradition of collective work and local "jirgas" or councils were more or less forgotten or considered less important. The radio drama has revived these to some extent with collective actions being undertaken as a result of listening to the radio. Oral legends and customs are also being written into the drama which is progressively being used as an expression for the safeguard of Afghan traditions.
Short extracts from the story
Jandad has had his foot badly injured by a mine. In the clinic,
he is in serious need of blood. Zaynab's
blood group does not conform to that of her son Jandad, and no
one else is ready to donate blood, citing one excuse after another.
Finally, Nek Mohammed's
son Karim comes forward and his donation of blood saves Jandad's
life. Later, the doctor is forced to amputate Jandad's
foot from the ankle.
Taj Bibi carries her son Ahmad home from the clinic on her back.
Being pregnant with her ninth child, she develops a pain in her
back and wants Gulalai to come and treat her. However, Gulalai's
mother will not allow her daughter to visit Jabbar Khan's
Soon after Gulalai is appointed as a health-worker in the clinic,
there is an outbreak of malaria in Upper Village. Palwasha, the
youngest daughter of Akbar and Zarmina, is the first to be affected,
having been bitten by a mosquito in Zaynab's
house. After that Nek Mohammad is determined to counteract the
harmful effects of such mosquitoes by fixing nets to the windows
of his house.
Some extracts of letters sent to the radio broadcasters:
"We should again emphasize that people should give blood because those who are hurt like Jamdad need blood."
"I suggest that you incorporate some special messages and pictures for children so that they can improve their reading as well as their health awareness. I appreciate your efforts."
"The messages regarding preservation and maintenance of public properties and natural wealth such as forest, dams, buildings, roads and bridges are very effective."
BBC Afghan Education Drama Project
P.O. Box 946, University Town
Tel: 92 521 842320
Fax: 92 521 842319