Lifesaving Tales

Could you introduce yourself?

B. T. : My name is Brukty Tigabu, and I am a wife, a mother and the CEO of my own children educational media com­pany. I studied at Kotebe Teacher’s College and taught school for three years. During that time as a teacher, I wanted to find a way to reach millions of children with quality education and make an impact in their lives.

Why did you create Whiz Kids Workshop?

B. T. : Ethiopian kids face a lot of diffi­culties: poverty, disease, poor nutrition, limited access to quality education, har­mful traditional beliefs, etc. My hus­band and I created Whiz Kids Workshop together because we saw millions of preschool-age children across Ethio­pia lacking the necessary readiness to enter school with the chance of succee­ding. We also learned that, in Ethiopia, around 300,000 children under the age of 5 annually die from preventable diseases: pneumonia, diarrhea, malaria, measles and malnutrition. These child­ren deaths are mostly the result of one thing – health illiteracy. We used exis­ting research on mass-media education – radio, print and cell phones – to put that belief into practice.

What kind of content do you broadcast?

B. T. : Whiz Kids Workshop has produced four television series that engage, ins­pire and empower Ethiopian children: Tibeb Girls, Involve Me, Little Investiga­tors, and its flagship series, our first ever children education show, Tsehai Loves Learning. Tsehai Loves Learning targets children ages 3-8 and currently broadcasts on the Ethiopian television and the Amhara Mass Media broadcas­ting channel every Saturday, reaching up to five million viewers, and another ten million listeners through our radio productions, airing on both networks. In 2010, I won the Rolex Award for this enterprise.

Tell us about an episode of Tsehai Loves Learning?

B. T. : We created an episode about hand washing. Tsehai and her little bro­ther, Fikir, finished playing and rush to eat their lunch, cooked by their dad. Dad tells them to wash their hands pro­perly. Tsehai and Fikir rush again and don’t use soap. We then introduce the rudimentary concepts of what germs are, how they make us sick and how hand washing with soap is the solution to stop germs dead in their tracks.

How did you produce all these TV series?

B. T. : At first, it was just the two of us in 2005 doing every single aspect of the production by ourselves: wri­ting the script, composing the music, making the puppets, filming in our living-room, editing, etc. Once we started broadcasting on national TV and demonstrated the learning outco­mes, we began attracting support from donors. We are currently supported by USAID Ethiopia, running a five-year project under Tsehai Loves Learning.

What has been the impact of your work?

B. T. : We brought this basic health information to millions of kids nationwide. We see that children who watch our program not only have fun, but also gain precious knowledge from it that in some cases can actually save their lives. A randomized controlled trial of children’s learning from the Tsehai Loves Learning Healthy Whiz Kids program found that children’s health knowledge doubled after expo­sure to the television episodes.

What are some challenges that you are currently facing?

B. T. : We have to educate the public on the value of educational media such as books, videos and games. We are constantly searching for ways and means to get funding to keep our pro­ductions going and get our much needed content out to the millions who need it. Also, we are committed to improving the marketing and distribution of our products to move us in the direction of becoming financially self-sustaining. Another challenge is finding quality media professionals who share the same passion that we do for improving the lives of children and youth.

Do you think it is possible to apply your method in other countries?

B. T. : Most African countries face simi­lar challenges. Culturally appropriate educational programs that are created on the continent are needed eve­rywhere. First, we want to continue our success by scaling up all our programs nationwide. In the last few years, we began adapting some of our videos and books to specific regions, languages and cultures. Then we will be able to repli­cate our methods across the African continent and ultimately all around the world, wherever it is needed.

What are your plans for the future?

B. T. : One of our latest innovations is Tibeb Girls, an animation and comic book series featuring three teenage girls acting as agents of change. Sadly, one fifth of Ethiopian girls still marry before age 15, one third of girls don’t go to school, one third of girls can’t read, and two thirds of girls believe that wife-beating is justified. Using the TV series and comic books, Tibeb Girls will bravely seek to foster much needed conversations about previously uns­poken taboos.

By Fleur Weinberg