New Home, New Life reflects real life

Afghan radio drama New Home New Life

Since going on air in 1994, radio drama New Home, New Life has become a household name in Afghanistan. It is the most popular cultural radio programme in the country, reaching 39% of Afghan adults according to an independent survey carried out on behalf of BBC Media Action in 2010.

Six episodes are made each week – three in Dari and three in Pashto – broadcast on BBC World Service in Afghanistan and on partner stations via the Internews Tanin network and Government ERTV (Education Radio and Television).

Reflecting real life

Storylines reflect real-life situations in listeners' lives and the information they need to help improve their own lives.

One such story saw the character Jandad – the son of a widow – lose his leg in a mine accident. The drama followed him being supported by people around him to have an artificial limb fitted and, with a renewed confidence, retrain as a tailor.

Felicity Finch, an actress on UK radio soap The Archers and radio drama trainer explains how the impact of this real-life approach was underlined when she travelled out to Afghanistan to work with production staff: "In the same way that The Archers has ardent fans so too does New Home, New Life", she says. "I recall condolence cards being sent to the Kabul office for a character that had died. Characters are so fondly regarded they become real."

This influence is also reflected in the reaction of listeners, who also value the radio format as key to information tool. Mamlakat, a housewife from rural Balkh province says, "Since I am illiterate and can't read books to get information, listening to these subjects on the radio is very important for me."

Drama and development

Celebrating ten years of New Home, New Life in 2004, then-UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said that it was "a perfect illustration of how the media can use drama and entertainment to advance the cause of peace and development."

He went on to commend radio's role in informing Afghans about mine awareness, the return of refugees and immunisation campaigns.

Independent studies have also highlighted the positive effect of this kind of programming. A 1997 evaluation on national mine awareness commissioned by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs found that of those people in mine affected areas, a non-listener was twice as likely to be a mine victim than a New Home New Life listener after broadcasts began in 1994. It concluded that a rapid decrease in the incidence of mine accidents across Afghanistan after 1994 could only be attributed to the information broadcast through New Home New Life.

Educational programming

New Home, New Life is made as part of Afghan Education Productions Organisation (Aepo). Aepo's other programmes reinforce the messages in New Home, New Life. Village Voice broadcasts practical information for rural audiences, Health and Life addresses health concerns faced by the Afghan public while Gold in the Dust focuses on supporting new business and entrepreneurship.

The publishing arm of Aepo has produced illustrated story books and cartoons to accompany the storylines in New Home, New Life.

Aepo also makes children's shows. These assist children who, as a result of years of conflict, have had little or no education. The series aim to stimulate their imaginations and create a desire to learn.

Aepo has managed to remain neutral in a shifting political landscape for more than 17 years, maintaining impartiality in order to continually deliver quality education programming to Afghans throughout years of political unrest.

Between 1994 and 2002 the organisation was located in Peshawar and broadcast to refugees. Aepo received no objections to broadcasting from the Taliban or any government of the day, and despite limited freedom of media in the region this acceptance remains in 2012.

Aepo has been funded by a range of donors since 1994 including the European Commission, the UK's Department for International Development and Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the UN and the Dutch and Belgian governments.

A perfect illustration of how the media can use drama and entertainment to advance the cause of peace and development

UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan

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