Coronavirus: Rwandan radio stars spread hygiene message

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A group of young people in Rwanda have been writing and producing a series of radio dramas to teach listeners about the vital role hand-washing and sanitation play in preventing the spread of diseases such as Covid-19.

image copyrightWaterAid/Elena Heatherwick

The radio plays were produced in partnership with the charity WaterAid, over an 18-month period.

And photographer Elena Heatherwick has created a series to show the radio producers at work.

image copyrightWaterAid/Elena Heatherwick
image captionSandrine, 14, plays Agasaro, with her mother, Kanakuze, played by Solonge, 20

Broadcast on Radio Ishingiro, the plays reach four million listeners, a third of the population of Rwanda.

image copyrightWaterAid/Elena Heatherwick
image captionSolonge's brother Danny, six, listens to her on the radio

Rwanda imposed Africa's first lockdown following the spread of coronavirus, on 22 March.

image copyrightWaterAid/Elena Heatherwick
image captionThe cast have a pep talk before recording

Martha Uwimana, a school water, sanitation and hygiene (Wash) officer for WaterAid in Rwanda, says: "The dramas are playing a crucial role in helping prevent the spread of Covid-19.

"People are being encouraged to remain at home for 14 days, so radio is a powerful tool."

With fragile health systems and a lack of access to clean water, African countries may be severely affected by the virus.

image copyrightWaterAid/Elena Heatherwick
image captionEvode, 20, wants to be a professional actor. He lives with his disabled father, who was attacked during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, and his mother, a farmer

And with one in four Rwandans unable to read and many not owning a television, radio is the most popular medium for news and information.

The young people produce everything in the dramas, including the writing, acting, and even sound effects such as creaking doors and animal noises.

image copyrightWaterAid/Elena Heatherwick
image captionSolonge lives with her family in Bugesera, eastern Rwanda

Solonge says: "I taught my mother how to be hygienic and showed her that if you don't wash your hands, you are going to catch diseases.

"The dramas really are changing lives and that makes me feel important and really happy."

image copyrightWaterAid/Elena Heatherwick
image captionSandrine, 14, who plays Agasaro, says: "It feels good to listen to yourself on the radio"
image copyrightaterAid/Elena Heatherwick
image captionEmmanuel, 17

Her mother, Emelthe Mukashyakh, says: "All my neighbours have been listening to her and talking about her and that makes me feel really proud.

"I never used to cover the latrine or wash my hands after going to the toilet.

"I now understand good hygiene and sanitation is the source of good health.

"It is so important."

image copyrightWaterAid/Elena Heatherwick
image captionSolonge, Emelthe and Danny listen to one of the plays
image copyrightWaterAid/Elena Heatherwick
image captionA cloth covers the equipment, as rain stops the recording

All photographs courtesy WaterAid/Elena Heatherwick/People's Postcode Lottery