By: Emma Beck, Associate Communications Manager, PSI
“In Northern Malawi,” Maureen begins, “some parents exchanges girls for cows.”
Maureen turns to George, her YouthAlert! co-host. She points to him, “Remember that episode?”
He nods his head vehemently. The girls’ parents had forced their 15-year-old daughter into marriage. They got the money. She got status as the third wife, with contraception far from her purview.
Maureen explains that it is just one of the more than 1,000 stories aired in the four years since YouthAlert!’s radio programming launched on Malawi’s national airwaves.
Since 2014, Youth Alert! has established itself as a mainstay in Malawian society, giving rural and urban youth aged 10-24 a platform to have their stories, voices and perspectives heard. From teenage breakups to young girls who report experiencing rape at the hands of family members, the magazine-style and youth-run show identifies topics of immediate relevance to young people’s lives.
Through young Malawians’ personal narratives, the weekly radio program injects information on sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) and GBV prevention, giving its 15 thousand young listeners per month the tools and knowledge to own their health decisions. YouthAlert! is powered by PSI and funded through USAID and the German Government through KfW Development Bank.
For George and Maureen, serving as YouthAlert! hosts has been a privilege of a lifetime.
“I saw an advert in the paper calling for hosts four years ago,” George says. He speaks with ease. “I never thought of myself as a communications person. But I knew I loved listening to people.”
George chuckles, turning to Maureen. “I love making noise. That’s my thing.”
The dynamic duo—celebrities of sorts— have engrained themselves across 14 of Malawi’s priority districts with the highest teen pregnancy rates to hear from and share young people’s stories on YouthAlert!’s programming. More than 630 of Youth Clubs nationwide gather each Sunday to listen to YouthAlert, using the forum to discuss the SRHR issues raised, and the relevance the topics have to club members’ own lives.
Across the districts in which YouthAlert! airs, roughly three in 10 Malawian girls aged 15-19 have had or are expecting a child. Among this group, one in five girls will drop out of school. The need to bring health information to some of the country’s most vulnerable youth remains a priority.
Maureen recalls a girl who recounted the trauma of an uncle who raped her.
The girl had raised it with her mother, who warned her to stay quiet. “Sounding the alarm would ruin her aunt and uncle’s marriage,” Maureen recounts.
YouthAlert! was the first time this girl had a space to share her story, be heard and receive information that served to protect her. But from the girls experiencing domestic abuse to the young people who exchange sex for commodities, these youth’s stories are not theirs alone.
“This isn’t about rescuing youth. It’s about making change,” George says. “Young people do not have to suffer in silence. YouthAlert! delivers them a platform to speak out.”