New Tool to Quell Violence in Ethiopian Refugee Camps: Podcasts

A team of researchers and humanitarian professionals have developed a unique approach to combat domestic violence in the refugee camps of Dollo Ado in Ethiopia.

The approach involves the co-creation of a podcast series called Unite for a Better Life, together with Somali refugees living in the camp to target the underlying factors that contribute to intimate partner violence in this setting.

Theodros WoldeGiorgis, research manager and intervention specialist in humanitarian crisis, told VOA displacement and the breakdown of social structures is driving intimate partner violence in the refugee camps.

“People are always on the move, they are suffering from displacement, they are traumatized and their troubles have been aggravated by poverty,” he said.

WoldeGiorgis explained that “when displaced people have [a] shortage of basic needs, they will get into conflict and particularly the women and children are mostly affected.”

Over the past month, eight young Somali refugees have been trained and mentored to produce these podcasts in the local language. Together with researchers on the team, they have been developing content they believe will be effective in changing the way domestic violence is viewed in their community.

Ikra Dagan is seen rehearsing a script for a podcast, at the Bokolmanyo refugee camp, in Bokolmanyo, Ethiopia. (M. Birungi/VOA)

Podcaster Ikra Dagan said one episode was about empowering change.  

“So if I talk about a bystander, you don’t just stand by and look as someone is being victimized or subjected to violence. You must take action and help our sisters, mothers and even our friends,” Dagan said after rehearsing her script.

The podcasts tackle a broad range of themes, including understanding gender and gender norms, providing insights into healthy and unhealthy relationships, discussing sexuality and pleasure, and addressing Khat, a stimulant drug derived from a plant that is widely chewed for cultural and social reasons and is linked to intimate partner violence.

How to handle conflict

The Unite for a Better life podcasts give people practical advice on how to build healthy relationships based on, for example, effective listening skills, or handling conflict in a healthy way.

“We gave them some take home messages like violence is never acceptable, there is always an alternative to violence. We also informed them that violence hurts everyone,” said podcaster Mahad Noor.

Mahad interviews a man at the Bokolmanyo refugee camp, in Bokolmanyo, Ethiopia. (M. Birungi/VOA)

Belete Seyoum, the humanitarian assistance and program head at the Administration for Refugee/ Returnee Affairs in Bokolmanyo Camp, hopes that the podcasts will help reduce intimate partner violence in the refugee camps.

“It is one of the major Information education communication mechanism to minimize and mitigate any violence happening in the camp,” Seyoum said.

The podcast project is the brainchild of a team of researchers from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Addis Ababa University, and Women and Health Alliance (WAHA) Ethiopia. It builds on research being conducted in the camps since 2014.

Vandana Sharma, the principal investigator of the research study, says there is a growing interest in using technology-based solutions to address intimate partner violence, especially in humanitarian settings.

“Typically, programs addressing intimate partner violence involve in-person participatory sessions.  We believe that an approach such as the podcast series, could have a much farther reach, as people could download the podcasts and share them peer-to-peer and in a humanitarian context. This means we could reach many people very quickly,” she said.

Negussie Deyessa of Addis Ababa University acknowledges that podcasts are a unique and promising intervention that can help relay important messages, change attitudes and behavior and enable community members to unite for a better life.

A sign leading to the Bokolmanyo Refugee Camp is seen in Bokolmanyo, Ethiopia. (M. Birungi/VOA)

Already though, the creation of the podcasts has been a transformational experience for the podcasters.

“Whenever I hear about podcasts, I seem to be an expert. Now I can go with my mic, I can record the voice, I can edit, I can produce very fantastic audios, now I am a great podcaster,” said Mahad.

With intimate partner violence in humanitarian settings increasingly coming under the spotlight, podcasts are providing a unique intervention, which can help relay important messages, change attitudes and behaviors and enable community members to unite for a better life.  

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