If you went to secondary school or were an avid listener of youthful radio magazine programs circa year 2003, chances are you will vividly recall the resonant chant “Get ready for Youth Alert! Youth Alert! Youth Alert! My life! My future!”
This phrase reverberated across the airwaves like a rallying cry during those days, a mantra that countless youth wore as a badge of pride.
It served as a north star illuminating the path for young individuals as they navigate the labyrinthine challenges of transitioning from childhood to adulthood.
Remarkably, this enduring slogan has continued to be a guiding light for two decades and counting.
Can you believe that it’s been two whole decades since the first melodious notes of Youth Alert Mix graced the airwaves of the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC)? Indeed, it’s been an incredible journey, and Family Health Services (FHS), formerly PSI Malawi, stands tall, brimming with pride at what we’ve achieved.
But, let me tell you, our journey has only just begun, and the future promises even greater heights.
Youth Alert Mix didn’t just set the standard; it’s been the unwavering custodian of that standard for twenty remarkable years.
For two full decades, the enchanting waves of Youth Alert Mix have coursed through national and community radio stations, touching the lives of countless young souls. It’s been a beacon of light, a trusted source of knowledge in the realm of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR).
This year, FHS reflects on this remarkable milestone, and dive into the inspiring stories of the lives transformed by YA Mix’s unwavering commitment to empower our youth.
Jephta Mtema, the Executive Director for FHS shares his excitement. “I am excited that we are celebrating twenty years of service through Youth Alert Mix. Throughout the years, YA! Mix has established itself as a trusted source of information by the youth. Youth Alert has contributed to shaping into responsible citizens and leaders whom twenty years ago were Youth Alert Mix listeners.” One would add to say It is not easy to keep such a big project and make it ran for 20 years. Especially with a change in donor priorities, change in consumer tastes and the emergency of new media.
Youth Alert Mix is a weekly radio magazine show that first aired on MBC in February 2003. A youthful and productive team was assembled to produce the first episode of Youth Alert mix, since then the program lived to its expectation and rose to be the country’s number one trusted source of SRHR information among young people.
This year Youth Alert Mix marks 20 years of serving Malawi’s young people with accurate, verified, and trusted information. It is a youth targeted behavior change communications program that is implemented nationwide by FHS.
The program was launched after a call from young people for a credible source of SRHR information and it has since then satisfied the need. It was launched in response to an identified demand for a national radio magazine show for young people.
Since its launch, Youth Alert Mix! has established itself as a mainstay young radio program in Malawian society, giving rural and urban youth aged 10 – 24 a platform to have their stories, voices and perspectives heard.
What has been the secret of Youth Alert mix! to remain relevant, provide all the information it has provided to young people across two decades and kept donor confidence? We know of similar projects that folded long time ago. FHS attributes this success to Youth Alert’s dynamic to change and adjust to fit changing situations.
In a fascinating journey through time, Youth Alert Mix has undergone a remarkable transformation. What was once a conventional mass communication program, operating under the one-way hypodermic-syringe model, has evolved into a dynamic force that embraces the digital age. Gone are the days of passive listeners; today’s young generation has become vocal critics and trailblazers. In response to this seismic shift, Youth Alert Mix effortlessly adapted, seamlessly bridging the gap between the old and the new, all while staying true to its mission.
Between 2004 and 2007, Youth Alert was part of the Bridge II project. Youth Alert worked with listeners clubs in 8 districts to complement and expand the impact of the Youth Alert! Mix radio program. Youths were engaged to begin radio listening clubs. They were encouraged to listen to weekly editions of the program and engage in discussions that would trigger actions for adoption of positive behavior change. Through activities called doable actions the target audience internalized and acted on the information contained in the radio programs. A household survey conducted in 2007 in the 8 BRIDGE districts found that high exposure to the youth activities including Youth Alert Mix among young people was associated significantly with self-efficacy to set long-term goals, self-efficacy to act on the goals set for oneself, self-efficacy to take small, every-day steps to meet the goal. This was first noted at midterm evaluation where it showed HIV/AIDS content in Youth Alert in particular reached segmented audiences, and served as a critical link to the community, offering messages of hope and empowerment that were cited by the community as essential in changing attitudes and behaviors at the community and household level.
Amidst the ever-evolving media landscape, Youth Alert Mix has not only maintained its relevance but has also endeared itself to the hearts of young audiences. How did it achieve this remarkable feat? By boldly venturing closer to its core demographic. No longer confined to traditional airwaves, Youth Alert Mix has embraced the intimate realm of community radios, creating an unbreakable connection with its listeners.
Yet, it’s not just about where they broadcast; it’s about who represents them. The introduction of field presenters has proved to be a masterstroke, a strategy that yields dual rewards. On one hand, it has brought the program within arm’s reach of young people residing in semi-urban and rural areas, bridging the geographical gap that often isolates them from mainstream media. On the other hand, it has provided these budding talents with an invaluable platform to discover and cultivate their skills in radio production, igniting a spark of creativity that ripples through the airwaves. In this way, Youth Alert Mix not only remains a trusted voice but also becomes a nurturing ground for emerging talents, reinforcing its profound impact on the youth. A position that FHS board member Khumbo Sambo shares this.
Ricky Nyaleye, the first ever presenter for YA Mix recalls the exciting challenge of producing and presenting the first ever edition. “It was great experience knowing that you are working on a program that is aimed at changing young people’s lives positively. I believe that service to humanity is the best work of life, and for me, this is the type of work that satisfies my soul” He recalls.
Apart from utilizing these strategies, YA Mix has enjoyed good support and relationship with its donors. Over the years the program has received financial and technical support from several donors.
Some of the key donors include USAID, JICA, and FCDO and since 2013, the federal Republic of Germany through KfW, to increase access to quality sexual and reproductive health services.
FHS’s executive Director, Jeptha Mtema, shares his delight to all these donors. “Without your continued support, we would not have been talking of twenty years of Youth Alert Mix! existence. Thank you for your support.”
Lilongwe City District Youth Officer adds: “It is good to know that we have a program that puts young people at the heart and help them with life skills to overcome challenges as they transition to adulthood. It is also pleasing to note that as a youthful program it is flexible to adapt and address diverse of issues that affects young people such as COVID-19.”
One of the campaigns that Youth Alert implemented around 2007 is the Sex can wait but my future cannot. The campaign was aimed at encouraging young people to focus on their studies and not indulging in risky behaviours to prevent HIV/AIDS and unwanted pregnancies.
Nancy Nkanda is the young lady who was featured in one poster. She recalls how exciting and scary it was for her to feature in a campaign.
“It was an exciting and scary moment at the same time because I knew I would be cast in the spotlight across the country, and I was quite young. I was about 15 years old” she recalls.
She attributes some of her success in life to her exposure to Youth Alert messages. The life skills she got from Youth Alert helped her navigate through peer pressure to complete her secondary and university education. She recalls that as someone who was exposed to YA messages, she benefitted a lot.
She says “It helped cement in me the importance of focusing on my studies and opened my knowledge of the actual ‘realities of the world’ because I grew up in a conservative home with strict parents. I realized the challenges girls faced in that time and the opportunities that discipline and a good education can open. I ended up being selected into the University of Malawi to pursue my bachelor’s degree” Says Nkanda who is now married, has three children and running a successful business she established with her husband. She is currently studying for her second master’s degree.
As FHS reflects on this feast, the organisation assures young people that Youth Alert Mix is here to stay and continue to be their trusted number one source of information. “I want to assure young people that Youth Alert is here to stay. Youth Alert will continue to be your trusted source of credible information. Youth Alert will continue to innovate and remain relevant while providing information on emerging health issues affecting young people” Mtema concludes.