A 22-year-old Somali house painter named Rooble spends his wedding money on chewing khat, a mild stimulant. This was money he promised to give to his bride Batuulo to furnish their new home.
Embarrassed, Batuulo attempts to earn the money back by selling her most prized possession, a pair of earrings—only to discover she has been scammed into selling them for a fraction of their worth. As the couple’s debt grows, their happiness deteriorates.
Rooble and Batuulo are two characters in a dramatic series of 40 audio episodes written for EDC’s Financial Literacy Interactive Audio Instruction (IAI) program. By listening to the lessons woven into the stories, Somali youth learn how to become financially responsible. Groups of youth listen to the stories via MP3 audio files played on a cell phone and amplified by speakers, learning how to organize their personal finances, create and manage budgets, and create goals for the future.
The reality is that many Somali youths have limited literacy and numeracy skills. “In a country rife with instability and uncertainty, the program gives youth the tools to identify and reach short-term and long-term personal financial goals,” says EDC’s Scott Frick. “This program helps the youth make wise, goal-oriented decisions. Better financial decisions lead to greater stability.”
About 1,200 youth are benefiting from the Financial Literacy IAI program, which is part of EDC’s Somali Youth Livelihood Program (SYLP). Also called Shaqodoon, the program engages youth through training, internships, work, and self-employment opportunities to increase the region’s economic stability.
The use of both cell phones and MP3 files to deliver information to participants makes this program unique. “IAI uses cell phones not just for audio delivery but to increase student interaction,” says Frick.
At the end of each 20-minute MP3 episode, a classroom facilitator dials EDC’s cellular server. Audio content then streams over the cellular network, and the students use the keypad to answer questions about the day’s lesson.
“The class might answer a question about how much Rooble spent on chewing khat,” says Frick. “We can log on the cell server from anywhere with an Internet connection to see their responses.” EDC tracks the participation and progress of youth through an online database.
EDC is also working on another dramatic audio series, one which will build on the Financial Literacy IAI to provide training in entrepreneurship to the same group of students.
“Entrepreneurship accounts for a lot of business in Somalia. Youth may start small market kiosks or a business to increase cellular and Internet connectivity,” says Frick. “In Somalia, youth understand untapped markets hindered by decades of unrest, and entrepreneurship is part of the hope many share for a brighter future.”
Originally published on July 20, 2011