Stronger united

30.09.2020 - 14:31 | Christian Possa

Children need a voice, especially in unprecedented times. The Pestalozzi Children’s Foundation responded to the coronavirus with its children’s and youth radio and developed a crisisresistant programme that connected people in isolation.

Neo was looking forward enormously to the upcoming radio project week in the Pestalozzi Children’s Village. Then lockdown was announced and like all other organisers, the Children’s Village had to cancel its programme. Neo’s disappointment was so great that his mother asked the radio team about other alternatives. They came up with this: under the hashtag #powerupconnects, the children’s and youth radio run by the Pestalozzi Children’s Foundation launched a programme that aimed to give children like Neo a voice. «We used the digital opportunities for interaction that radio offers to connect both children and adults during the coronavirus crisis,» explains project officer Cinzia Hänsenberger. A sense of solidarity was created as people shared their experiences of dealing with the crisis, she adds.

Social distancing in the studio and broadcasting to their listeners’ living rooms: the duo of live hosts Selina and Samuel in the radio studio in the Children’s Village.

From youth to senior

 On 23 March at 11am, the radio team went live on air. To begin with, the onehour format was still very structured: the programme had a requests segment, featured happy news and a self-explanatory «Gamecorner». The listening community for the new format first had to be established.

It did not take long, however, for the first children to pipe up. Project Officer – Radio Projects Samantha Kuster recalls the son of her parents’ neighbours, who she encouraged to take part. The 13-year-old handled interviews confidently despite his very quiet nature. During the second week, he then called into the programme of his own will to talk about his favourite book and to say hello to family and friends. «I was aware at the time that this experience would be very important for his self-confidence.»

There were moments that brought people together, for example when a girl shared a book tip during a programme and said hello to a friend who no longer lived in the village – and that friend then got in touch. Older people also spoke about their everyday life in quarantine. Cinzia Hänsenberger had the almost 80-year-old parents of a friend on the line, for example, who really appreciated being able to bring some calm to their surroundings and say hello to their grandchildren.

Digital school meet-ups

#powerupconnects emerged from adversity. Following the rapid spread of the coronavirus, numerous projects had to be cancelled at the Children’s Village. Wherever possible, it was deemed desirable to continue connecting people through radio and exchange programmes and to create a sense of community. «We wanted to show the children and their families that we are there for them and that they can use us as a platform for interaction,» explained Project Officer – Radio Projects Adrian Strazza.

Strazza had wanted to carry out a project week with a primary school in Gais at the end of March. When the project fell through, it was important not to let the children’s and teachers’ preparations go to waste. What emerged from pre-production was an all-day programme with ample room for interaction. «We switched from the same principle with as much physical interaction as possible to a social distancing compliant version where everyone met digitally.» From Adrian Strazza’s viewpoint, the programme was a complete success. Among the things that moved him the most was the collective greeting from all the kindergarten teachers. «It is beautiful when teachers are able to say they are fond of the children and are looking forward to seeing them again.»

Mobile reporters

However, the organisers did not want to leave it there – they wanted to turn #powerupconnects into an even stronger mouthpiece for school pupils. As a result, so-called mobile reporters were deployed – these were former project participants with a passion for radio presenting. Equipped with a laptop and a recording device, they produced their own reports. Five children were involved from the third week of broadcasting. They were assigned interview partners, including the media spokesperson from the Swiss Farmers’ Union, a master baker and the manager of a children’s zoo, who they interviewed live on the programme by telephone.

Even Neo who we mentioned earlier was a potential mobile reporter in Samantha Kuster’s eyes. The same evening he phoned into the programme for the first time, he wrote an email asking for an opportunity to report himself in the weeks ahead. The Project Officer – Radio Projects sees this as an excellent example of how radio can empower children to become more active and to get their opinions across. #powerupconnects gave Neo the opportunity, she believes, to test himself in a challenging situation and to strengthen his self-confidence. What’s more, he found something that he enjoyed doing. Samantha Kuster: «He completed the task with bravery and independently delivered a very high quality report about his hobby, basketball.»

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