Stories and photos collected by Aija Kuparinen  |  Written by Corrie Butler

You can’t help but draw nearer to the beckoning drum base of music in the distance and bellowing laughter echoing through the streets. Coming closer, you can see people dancing and singing. This is not just any community gathering. Believe it or not, it is also helping people tackle major health challenges in their community.

With more than thousands of volunteers across the country, Rwanda Red Cross has a unique advantage. They are not only able to reach tens of thousands with critical information and prevention education, but they are trained to do it in an incredibly powerful and engaging way – through music, dance and drama.

1. Mobile cinemas: “every time they come, they learn something”

People love the mobile cinema because they love watching cartoons and movies. They have come to realize that every time they come, they learn something. It is a very popular event, we have a lot of people coming to see the show.

Marie Louise Mukakalisa

Volunteer, Rwanda Red Cross

The very first time we did a mobile cinema show in the camp we had 28,000 people participating. We write a script and IFRC then hires someone to do the films. We do some material of our own as well: we come up with a script and go to experts and produce the material, such as small films and sometimes photos.

Matthew Rwahigi, Communications Manager at Rwanda Red Cross

“The living conditions in this community are not so good. When you look at the biggest challenges, you see that there are a lot of issues with people’s mind sets, especially when it comes to health issues.

We learn about hygiene and sanitation, we learn practical ways of doing it. And we learn about ways to have a balanced diet in our families. It is a good way of preventing diseases in our communities.”

Jeanne Mutumwinzoga, community member

2. Music and dance: “We put a lot of effort on mobilizing the people.”

We put a lot of effort on mobilizing the people. We do entertainment, music and dancing to attract even more people. When we go back to the communities later, we see that the knowledge on the issues we have been talking about is higher and that people are trying to adopt some practices they learned about.

Eugene Bwanakweli

Branch coordinator, Rwanda Red Cross

“These days I wash my hands more often than before. I wash them every time before eating.”

David Shumbusho, community member

“I came here because I heard the noise and the music and I knew it was the radio that had arrived. They teach us a lot about disease prevention, especially malaria, sexually transmitted diseases like AIDS and on general health practices.

One of the things I have learned is to sleep under the mosquito net. Now when we go to sleep at home, I check that everyone is sleeping under one.”

Aime Tresor Nibitanga, community member

3. Community-based and mobile radio: “a voice of the people on health issues

The show is called “Sangira ijambo na Croix Rouge” (share your voice with the Red Cross). The Rwanda Red Cross radio show is based largely on those we invite to the studio, such as health experts. We also go to communities and collect peoples’ comments and we broadcast their voices live on air.

I feel like the show has had a big impact on the community. It has become the voice of the people on health issues. We have seen the incidences of waterborne diseases, malaria and nutrition problems going down.

Claude Yussuf Siyarewo

Radio host, Rwanda Red Cross

We had over 100 children under 5 years who had moderate malnutrition and 30 that had severe malnutrition – that was in 2010.

Today, as we speak, we only have four cases of moderate malnutrition and one of severe malnutrition. We have managed to reduce it significantly. It was thanks to the radio show and the door-to-door mobilisation.

Jacque Nsengiyumra, health expert, participating on the radio show

“I have been here in the camp for 3 years. I escaped the conflict in Burundi, people are still dying there. I normally follow where the mobile radio is happening and come to listen to it.

When we listen to them carefully and answer some questions, we sometimes get some prizes like soap or Vaseline. I find that the messages they are giving on family planning are very good, especially for the youth.”

Maria Goretti Mukahigiro, community member

“I have seen this mobile radio unit many times, and I often come to listen to them. Even yesterday they came to another area of the camp and I was there. The show usually talks about family planning, gender-based violence, hygiene and sanitation. I think these messages are very important to us. After the lessons I learned here, I actually got involved with family planning so that I don’t have another child very soon.”

Clarisse Muhawenimana, community member

The Rwanda Red Cross, with the support of the IFRC have jointly been working to enhance community engagement and accountability since 2013. This has included capacity strengthening, using mobile cinemas and radio shows as communication tools for community engagement and social and behaviour change communication. A special thank you to Japanese Red Cross Society and Danish Red Cross Society for supporting these activities in Rwanda.