Kit Yasín directs projects in Latin America, the Caribbean, and the Horn of Africa. Her work in interactive radio instruction, educational songwriting, and girls’ education has brought her to Haiti, Ethiopia, Colombia, Egypt, Somalia, Gambia, Grenada, and Djibouti. She works in EDC’s International Education Systems Division in Washington, D.C.
Radio instruction has really taken hold around the world. Where is this happening and why?
Radio is often a perfect solution in volatile or remote locations. In Haiti, school is interrupted because of political unrest; in Colombia, a large percentage of the population is displaced; and in Somalia, there is unrest and populations of pastoralists or nomads who move about continually. When children have little continuity in their lives, we can reach them through media such as radio. People in very remote areas have said, “Nothing has ever reached us before, especially in our own language and geared toward our children and open to everyone.” People are listening in Quranic schools, in public schools, even truck drivers are listening—just about anybody with a radio. Somalia, for example, has some of the highest radio listenership in the world. Our work there started small and has expanded tremendously. The main reason for its success was the Somalis’ love of radio. These are good programs—they’re interesting and entertaining.
What is featured in the Somali program?
We use local stories, poems, and music. While it essentially provides reading and math instruction, lessons also address drought, health, malaria prevention, water filtration, and conflict resolution. Parents find this extremely useful. Many adults are listening, and that wasn’t anticipated.
What do you enjoy most about the work?
It gives me a creative outlet when I write scripts or songs. Our songs are like “Schoolhouse Rock” in Somali or Haitian Creole, so that’s fun. It’s also rewarding to provide kids in very poor situations with quality programming that inspires them, and where you can see results.
What kind of impact have you seen?
One Mogadishu shopkeeper sets his radio speakers on top of his shop. Everyone in the marketplace can listen, including the street kids, and all six of his own kids, only one of whom—the boy—attends school. I hope many girls who don’t attend school also are able to tune in and learn, wherever they are.
We heard about a little girl named Najmo from Mogadishu who had to stay home from school when the fighting escalated. It was right outside her house. She was sad because she wanted to hear the programs she knew from school. Then she realized she could still listen at home. We are providing continuity in her very disrupted life.
You work in areas of so much struggle and hardship. What kinds of things are you thinking about after an in-country visit?
In a lot of these countries, your emotions can run from feeling like your work is another drop in the bucket, to reflecting on an amazing moment in a refugee camp school where all the kids knew all the words to our song and were smiling and singing along despite their quite desperate circumstances. We see the impact extend beyond the kids. One young man from a script-writing workshop claims it inspired him to write a novel. When you see results among adults, knowing they’re caring for the kids, that’s very rewarding.
How is this work developing in ways you hadn’t anticipated?
Cell phones are a great resource. Working landlines for telephones are scarce in Somalia, yet the country is served by at least five cell phone companies. It’s the cheapest place in the world to make a cell phone call. Connecting teachers via their cell phones can help with data gathering, getting feedback, attendance, taking photos, or being in touch if there are technical problems. In countries still reliant on dial-up connections or where cell phone use is more expensive, this isn’t possible.
What direction do you see this work taking? Where is there promise?
Collaboration across the board. Private sector companies, religious organizations, and other community organizations have intense interest in supporting the health and well-being of the community. When you plant a seed and not only produce an effective and interesting program, but also get these parties involved, this helps keep things alive and brings lasting results.
It’s also invigorating because local groups can brainstorm about ways to solve problems, reach populations, and offer their expertise to overcome challenges. They also will tell you right away if they think an idea is a good one.
Originally published on May 1, 2007