"I love and listen to the Golaafala drama every Wednesday because it is a real reflection of the villages we live in and it's like hearing your own voice,” says listener Bezina Getachew from the eastern town of Harar.
Funded by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and broadcast across Ethiopia’s vast Oromia region, the drama aims to draw attention to the harmful effects of traditional ways of cooking, heating and lighting homes.
Indoor air pollution is a big problem for Ethiopia. In terms of household air quality, the country ranks 172 out of 178 in the international Environmental Performance Index for 2014. Inefficient cook stoves, the smoke from open fires and kerosene lamps are seen as the main cause of life threatening respiratory illnesses and the reason for thousands of premature births.
“Golaafala – it’s that big!” Assistant producer Firaol Belay tries to measure the popularity of BBC Media Action’s new drama PHOTO: BBC Media Action
BBC Media Action have chosen an unconventional approach – to confront the issue by dragging us into a “mesmerising tale that includes a love triangle, a bitter rivalry over a beautiful woman and the pleasures and difficult moments that life can throw at us,” says Golaafala Senior Producer Dawit Batri.
“We decided that using storytelling and radio theatre is the best way to address such a serious topic,” he explains. “The spoken word, poetry and music are very popular in Oromia and appeal to the artistic nature of the Oromo people.”
The subtle tactic seems to have worked. Audiences are hooked to the storyline without being lectured and criticised about their old ways. Apart from the occasional coughing, it is only in episode nine that BBC Media Action comes clean about what the drama is really all about – one of the main characters is taken to hospital with a serious lung problem. Until then, the fictional world of the radio theatre has served the purpose of creating a realistic picture of traditional uses of energy that can be harmful.
And now, the Gollafala team have completely come out about indoor air pollution – they’ve recorded their first public service announcement (PSA) that clearly hammers the message home.
“Why are you crying my baby? Is it because you are too spoiled?” a mother asks.
“She is not spoiled,” the father argues. “The smoke you’re making in the house makes her eyes bleed!”
But despite careful attempts not to spill the beans, it seems that audiences were in on the secret all along.
“I like Golaafala because it portrays the harmful traditions in our community in an entertaining way," says one of the messages left on BBC Media Action’s phone answering machine.
The Golaafala team receives dozens and dozens of them every week. And that’s not counting the calls made to Oromia Radio. National broadcaster EBC has now also started airing the drama on its Oromiffa service.
"I would like to thank you very much for the gift of Golaafala. I’m learning a lot from the drama and it's very popular in my community," says another listener.
“The issues the drama raises are very important to us because of their relevance to our daily lives,” a participant in one of BBC Media Action’s focus discussion groups about the show points out. He adds that Golaafala has triggered lively discussions in his village.
The radio drama does not only raise awareness of how indoor pollution can damage people’s health, it also aims to provide solutions.
“What can I do to help my daughter?” asks the father in Golaafala’s first PSA.
“Hey, man - stop living in the past!” says the drama’s storyteller – a traditional singer who inhabits Golaafala’s tej (wine) house and comments on the lives and ways of the play’s characters.
“Buy an improved cook stove and make sure that your family is healthy!”
Sound guru Kulanen Ikyo makes sure the ambience is right during recordings in the tej (wine) house PHOTO: BBC Media Action