Popular cartoon character 'Meena' will reach UP schools on AIR waves

Popular cartoon character 'Meena' will reach UP schools on AIR waves
Kulsum Mustafa

Lucknow, October 12, 2009: Widely recognized and appreciated in most South Asian countries, including India, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh UNICEF's popular cartoon character Meena - will soon be being re-introduced to children in a totally new 'avtaar'. A special 15 minute magazine format broadcast, designed for school hour, centered on Meena will be broadcast by All India Radio (AIR) stations. Preparations are on to prepare the 30 pilot episodes. The number of episodes will later be scaled upto 160.

Meena was conceptualized by UNICEF in 1990. In these 19 years, 9 years old Meena has endeared herself to both the young and the old. She comes out as a smart, fun loving, spirited and loveable girl. Asking many questions she has proved to be a successful advocacy and teaching tool promoting girls’ education and children’s rights through shot films, spots, book, videos etc. The series of Meena films are available in a number of languages throughout, including Bengali, English, French, Hindi, Nepali, Portuguese, Spanish and Urdu Meena will now be using a powerful medium like radio to communicate messages on certain important aspects of child rights, health, child-friendly schools and social behavior changes.

Research has shown that simply through narratives Meena has done a great deal of good to society. She has succeeded in increasing girls’ enrolment in schools, and helped cut down the dropout rate of school children. Meena has held the hand of young girls and taught them to shun early marriage. She has dealt with child labor, gender equality, and health issues simply and effectively. Now Meena is being trained to take on a totally different responsibility- advocating child-friendly schools.

Though radio as a medium of communication is comparatively new for Meena, her mentors are confident that she will sail through it empowered by good and powerful stories backup. Meena of radio requires a team to help her adapt to this medium and communicate effortlessly with the children. Content writers with an all powerful creative team are already preparing framework of what Meena will communicate.

UNICEF in collaboration with the state education department organized a one day workshop on content development for 30 radio Meena episodes in Lucknow on October 13, 2009.

This pilot project, wherein each episode will be in magazine format will be of 15 minutes duration each and will be aired by All India Radio stations during school hours, first in Lalitpur and later in all schools of Uttar Pradesh.

The participants at workshop comprised UNICEF, AIR and education department officers, representatives of State Institute of Educational Technology, district co-coordinators, teachers, and students.

"The basic characteristics of Meena will remain, we are just giving her familiar face a voice," said Rachana Sharma, UNICEF official she illustrated the aims and objectives of Meena communication initiative radio programme in her presentation.

"Meena has a strong presence in Uttar Pradesh. She is a popular and necessary part of not just girls’ education but is also the perfect vehicle for carrying out health and social behavior change messages" said Vinobajee Gautam, UNICEF education specialist.

He said the framework for the content has been broadly divided into three themes – Child Rights, Gender equity and child friendly schools.

Mr. Suresh K Soni who heads girls’ education in the state was of the view that Meena radio episodes must incorporate information on adolescent issues and on environmental protection. Children he stressed needs sensitization on these issues.

"We are aiming at broadcasting the first episode on 24th January 2010, to coincide with Girl child day," Mr Atul Gupta, consultant, UNICEF, said.

Ms Sarita Singh, gender co-ordinator, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan spoke on the Meena communication Activities in Uttar Pradesh. She said Meena is engraved in the hearts of every school going child and many girls look upto Meena as role model.

Ms Sharmila Dass from Purple Audacity made a presentation based on the findings from the formative research done on the content in three blocks of Lalitpur district. She said the children as well as parents are delighted that Meena will be now on radio. However she sounded a word of caution and said the community was not very keen on Meena, who is just nine years old speaking on sex issues.

The content writers team realize the great responsibility they have taken. Reading and seeing Meena is very different from portraying Meena on radio but they said they are all geared up to face the challenge.

"We will base our messages on entertainment. There will be a song, a game and a story in each of the episode," informed Saumya Sen, director, Meena radio project creative team.

Kulsum Mustafa
(The author is a senior journalist and Secretary-General of Media Nest)

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