On International Day of Education, we mark the first anniversary of our Yegna Rural Schools Programme in Ethiopia – bringing crucial knowledge to young people living in remote areas.

Education does not always come from a curriculum. For young people, media can be an invaluable, familiar and entertaining source of life’s lessons.

Take the Yegna TV show. Since its first national broadcast in 2019, the drama has become a household name in Ethiopia, captivating an audience of 9.8 million.

A large part of its popularity is down to its ability to connect with young people. Storylines respond to the challenges they face and equip them with knowledge to take action.

But millions of adolescents living in Ethiopia’s remote areas do not have access to the drama, even if they have heard of it. Reliable infrastructure is not guaranteed and television ownership, often a luxury.

“The vast majority of Ethiopia’s adolescents live in rural areas, where life can look very different compared to the city.” said Liya Haile, Country Lead in Ethiopia. “We don’t want these differences to become barriers that prevent these young people from accessing information that could transform their lives. It’s important that we meet them where they are, with the knowledge they need.”

Last year, we set out to tackle this with UNICEF through the Yegna Rural Schools Programme, an educational initiative bringing the TV show to adolescents aged 13-15 studying in Ethiopia’s rural regions and providing them with knowledge that could be crucial to decisions at this pivotal time in their development.

Learning lessons and breaking down barriers

The programme creates safe spaces where students can discuss topics featured in the series – from nutrition, to menstrual hygiene management, to toxic masculinity.

One girl from Hidilola School said that the drama taught her about gender equality: “It showed me that girls can do anything boys can, inside or outside of the house…boys can also wash clothes and prepare food instead of leaving them for girls.”

Over 1,300 adolescents in Oromia and Amhara have now taken part in the programme, learning important lessons that are also helping to change their perceptions.

For instance, an 18-year-old male student from Eguu School said that the programme is showing him how to challenge long-standing gender stereotypes in society: “We learned to break traditional views held by society towards women. We also learned a lot about overcoming family pressure that holds women back from reaching their goals.”

Creating a ripple effect

Friends, families and wider communities are also an integral part of this work, as it is often not just information young people need to make choices and changes, but a supportive network too.

52% of participants in Oromia have talked to at least one family member using the programme’s factsheets and manuals on the topics covered in the drama.

For example, one 13-year-old female student from Kara Amola school explains, “Every week following the drama we get a flyer, and I always take that – and at night when I make coffee for the family, I read it to them, especially to my mother and all of them encourage me…to proceed with the good practice and learnings”.

And one father in Amhara told us about the value he sees in his daughter taking part in the sessions: “I was happy when she told me she has learned all these things in the club and that she is now more aware of the situation. She has now an in-depth understanding of spending her time doing valuable things.”

Inspiring students to take action

The Rural Schools Programme is providing young rural audiences the opportunity to benefit from the information that the Yegna TV show can offer, giving young people confidence to seek advice and support when they need it.

“Before we started to put this program into action, there were no female students who came to ask for help regarding early child marriage issues or who were willing to open up about their personal marital experiences, or openly share with us about the things their parents are about to do,” explains one teacher in Amhara.

“Now, so many students come to the office and ask for help or suggestions on how to deal with such kinds of harmful practices.”

With over 15,000 rural schools in Ethiopia, which is also home to the second largest adolescent population in Africa, we are only just getting started with this work. The second phase of the programme will launch later this year, building on the impact from the first year.