WASH on the airwaves

WaterAid Nigeria have taken an innovative approach to spreading the word about safe water, clean toilets and good hygiene practices, with popular radio drama Make e flow (Make it flow).

When the team at WaterAid Nigeria were tasked with spreading the word about good hygiene practices, they knew they had a challenge on their hands.

But thanks to some creative thinking - and the support of some big names in the media industry - they were able to launch Make e flow (Make it flow), an innovative radio drama recorded in Pidgin English and covering a range of themes, from the impact of collecting water on children's education to HIV and the health risks of open defecation.

Listen to the episodes here and scroll down to read an interview with Oluseyi Abdulmalik, Communications and Campaigns Manager for WaterAid Nigeria, about how the series came about.

Who came up with the idea for Make e flow?

The idea for Make e flow started in 2011, when we were set the challenge of coming up with creative ideas to bring attention to the fact there are so many people in Nigeria without access to safe water and clean toilets.

We quickly realised how impactful advocacy work through the media would be in reaching people and empowering them to demand their right to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services. So we began engaging radio, TV and Nollywood [the cinema of Nigeria] script writers and producers to see how they could include WASH in their work.

We were all in awe when two popular producers and actors, Tina Mba and Bimbo Manuel, agreed to work with us. We all became great friends and made them friends of WASH too!

Why radio?

Radio has incredible reach in Nigeria. It has both immediacy and intimacy, and it's cost-effective too.

Another factor was language. Make e flow is recorded in Pidgin or 'Broken' English as it's sometimes called, a mixture of English and ethnic Nigerian languages. It is arguably the most common language in Nigeria and cuts across all ethnic and socio-economic divides, ensuring our messages have the most reach and impact.

Who was the drama aimed at?

The main audience is the population that lives in rural areas, close to or below the $1 poverty mark. We also wanted to reach decision makers in the public and private sectors, and students.

Handwash stickers created by WaterAid Nigeria
Handwashing stickers created by WaterAid Nigeria.
Credit: WaterAid Nigeria

How much input did you have on the scripts?

We had 100% input on the scripts. We had a number of in-house consultations where we came up with the themes, then we had external consultations with the producers and attended a scriptwriters conference – three hectic but fun days of discussions to come up with agreed storylines. After that, the creative producers took over and developed the scripts further, but they shared them with us every step of the way so we could continue to have an input.

Did you have a favourite character?

I had lots! Every episode in the series was different and they all spoke to me. Some made me laugh, some made me cry. I loved Abe's girlfriend in the episode 'Na My Enemy Dem', about the importance of clean, safe water for vulnerable groups such as those living with HIV or AIDS. She was so down to earth and accepting of everyone, whether they were of her, or not. I loved how she was full of life even though she was living with AIDS.

What was the most gripping plot turn?

It's different for everyone, but for me it was the episode 'Dangerous Connection'. It's a tragic tale of an ordinary mother trying to make a living for her family. Unfortunately, she practices bad hygiene and neglects its importance for her children, too. She’s well-intentioned, that's what makes it so sad.

How successful was the show?

Very successful. Everyone was raving about it! It was the first time we'd done anything like this and it made big waves. We broadcasted for 13 weeks with an average reach of 8.5 million people. Many of these broadcasts also reached neighbouring states. Small surveys carried out by our partners show that we certainly contributed to raising awareness about the importance of safe water and clean toilets to human development, improved health and wellbeing.