Multi-Media Centre Provides Hands on Training for Youth in Benin

19 April 2004
Author: UNFPA

COTONOU, Benin—The new Multi-Media Centre complex is bustling with hands-on activity. In every room, young people from around the country—nearly 300 in all—are learning how to be print journalists, photographers, radio and TV broadcasters, magazine writers, layout artists, computer graphics experts, web designers, videographers, digital videotape editors, and radio and TV technicians.

This innovative initiative was started by UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, in cooperation with the Government. It integrates job training with education about preventing HIV/AIDS and unwanted pregnancies, so trainees can also become local advocates for healthier behaviour.

The Centre, next to the football stadium in Benin’s main coastal city, has its own television and FM radio stations offering programmes produced by and for youth. The TV station, launched in 2003, boasts an audience of 1 million. The radio station broadcasts 24 hours, seven days a week, and reaches over 300,000 listeners every day.

“We are learning by doing,” says Pierrette Gnanhoui, 22, who is being trained to edit digital videotape while also studying drama. “The radio and TV programming, the content of the scripts, the actual broadcasting—all aspects of production—are done by young people like me,” she points out enthusiastically.

" These programmes are heard by the whole community. I am now learning from my daughter. They have raised awareness of many health, education and work related issues important not only to young people, but everyone. "

--father of a trainee at the Multi-Media Centre

A year ago, Pierrette was working as a part-time secretary. She had dropped out of secondary school and had, in her own words, “not much of a future.” The Multi-Media Centre has given her purpose, poise and a newfound confidence. “Before coming here I could not speak in front of people. I was shy, retiring and unable to make decisions for myself,” she says. “Now all that has changed. I have developed a strong sense of self and intend to work in radio or TV as a dramatist or broadcaster.”

Pierrette is a member of the largest youth generation in history, an estimated 1.2 billion adolescents between ages 10 and 19. As in much of the rest of sub-Saharan Africa, close to half of Benin’s population is under 15.

One of the biggest challenges facing poor developing countries in sub-Saharan Africa is providing youth with education, health services and job opportunities. Education and job training are absolutely critical. Yet only 7 per cent of girls and 17 per cent of boys in Benin go on to secondary school. As a result, close to three quarters of all females and half of the males over 15 remain illiterate, with few prospects for jobs or independent income other than the informal sector.

At their home in the poor Akpakpa District of the city, Pierrette’s father Marcel is thrilled that she is acquiring a real skill and will be able to earn her own way. “I have 11 children,” he says, smiling. “Most of them are out of school and trying to find work. It’s a difficult time for young people today, since there are so many of them going after so few jobs. Most end up in the informal economy, or stay at home like two of my other daughters.”

Two other challenges confront Benin: preventing unwanted teenage pregnancies and combating HIV/AIDS. Close to half of all adolescent girls have their first sexual encounter before age 15. Many are forced into early marriages, one reason for the country’s high birth rate. Because of a lack of information about prevention and access to appropriate services, including condoms, HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted infections are on the increase among young people. As elsewhere in Africa, more girls than boys are infected.

The programme at the Multi-Media Centre is two-pronged: young people not only develop a variety of media skills, they also learn about substantive adolescent health and development issues. They then become recognized focal points for these important issues in their communities as well as effective advocates on radio, TV or in print.

The radio and TV programmes written, produced and broadcast by youth are having a real impact on Cotonou and its surrounding areas. The radio programmes pull the audience in with music—everything from hard rock and jazz to country-western and African hip-hop.

But wrapped inside the music programmes are short, informative segments dealing with current events and issues important to young people. A programme on young African musicians will suddenly feature the artists live on air talking about the threat of HIV/AIDS and how to prevent its spread. Another programme featuring mellow jazz will break for a discussion on safe motherhood and where to get pre- and post-natal care. An English language programme will insert into its on-air lessons a discussion on the importance of staying in school, delaying marriage and sexual health.

“The information and messages broadcast by the radio station are not just directed at youth,” says Marcel. “These programmes are heard by the whole community. I am now learning from my daughter. They have raised awareness of many health, education and work related issues important not only to young people, but everyone.”

The Centre is part of a comprehensive project, Health and Social Services for Adolescents in Benin, or EAGER, funded by the United Nations Foundation and executed jointly by UNFPA and UNICEF. The project also supports: youth and leisure centres; youth-friendly health clinics operated by the NGO OSV Jordan, which provide services tailored to the needs of young people, including counselling and family planning; and education, with an emphasis on reducing illiteracy among young women and girls.

The EAGER project addresses three of the UN’s Millennium Development Goals: Achieving universal primary education; promoting gender equality and empowering women; and combating HIV/AIDS and other diseases (Goals 2,3 and 6). It also supports two important ICPD goals: closing the gender gap in primary and secondary education; and promoting gender equality, equity and the empowerment of women through literacy education and job training.

The Centre is the brainchild of UNFPA Country Representative Philippe Delanne and Tony Simard, the Centre’s ebullient director and chief technical adviser. “This is a completely integrated multi-media centre,” Simard points out. “We use the latest professional equipment and teach by doing. After six months here, these young people all have real skills and are ready to work in any number of media professions – from computer graphic designers and editors to radio broadcasters and TV talk show hosts.” 

Most of the graduates also become effective community advocates for healthy lifestyles and behaviour change. “Once these young people complete our training programme, they become a valuable community resource for information on preventing HIV/AIDS and STIs, where to go to get adolescent-friendly reproductive health services, and the need to stay in school, get and education and delay marriage, among other issues,” points out Delanne. “This is a fully integrated package of training and services that reinforce and complement UNFPA’s other programmes, especially for the prevention of HIV/AIDS, reducing unwanted adolescent pregnancies and providing girls with life skills and education.”

Perhaps the best testimony to the Centre’s success is the reaction of its apprentices. “The Multi-Media Centre has opened up the world for me,” observes Pierrette. “I hope this can be the main training centre for youth from all over West Africa who want to learn real multimedia skills and become effective communicators on healthy lifestyles and other important issues. We have the laid the groundwork for the future.”

—Don Hinrichsen

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