Imagine Burundi is one of Burundi’s first locally produced radio programs conducted entirely in English. The show first launched on November 24, 2010, and airs each week on 99.4FM CCIB in Bujumbura, Burundi. New episodes are aired on Saturdays and replayed on Wednesdays, both at 3pm. Each episode is comprised of three main segments. Each segment reaches a different target audience and presents a different level of English ability to accommodate all levels of English speakers.
The first segment of Imagine Burundi employs a mix of discussions, storytelling, interviews and investigation to present different perspectives on a weekly social topic. We usually focus on a guest or two or three to really highlight individuals who can serve as positive role models for their achievements in moving Burundi forward. You can call the first segment “This Burundian Life” if you want – everyone does, but Ira Glass might feel threatened. In fact, we play with the storytelling format as one component of this segment. We also try to incorporate debates, roundtables, and individual interviews. In addition to This American Life, we count other Chicago Public Radio programs such as Worldview and Odyssey, and NPR’s Fresh Air as strong influences. Past themes for this segment have included a series on the coffee industry, a roundtable on Burundi’s future, a segment where a Welshman plays on Burundi’s National Rugby Team, a series on goods and services produced in Burundi called “Made in Burundi,” and interviews with members of local ‘English Clubs’ that promote language-learning as a means to achieve reconciliation and social cohesion.
In the second segment entitled ‘Job Advice’, we pool our collective experience working in Burundi to give advice to students and professionals. Together, we aim to build the confidence of those seeking employment for the first time: recent graduates, interns and trainees. We also hope to boost the careers of professionals and lay the groundwork for merit-based achievement by insisting on higher standards. We touch on basic themes like accurately representing one’s foreign language ability, preparing a compelling CV, phone etiquette and conflict resolution. In one series spanning several episodes, we conducted mock job interviews with listeners and discussed how the interviewee performed while offering tips for improvement. We invited local human resources professionals to critique the interviews and discuss what employers seek in candidates. Hosts for this segment pay particular attention to the English spoken, taking care to use simple concise diction and to enunciate clearly. The main audience for this segment will be Burundian students and young professionals as most expatriates in Burundi are based here through their employment.
In the third segment, my co-hosts and I visit a restaurant each week and critique our overall experiences. We alternate between a restaurant that serves Burundian cuisine and a non-Burundian cuisine restaurant. Restaurants represent one of the few viable industries in Bujumbura, and the additions of an Indian restaurant and an Ethiopian restaurant in the last two years provide a gauge of foreign direct investment trickling into the economy. Restaurants are an ideal proving ground to explore interpersonal exchanges and to speak analytically about a common subject: food. In a country where issues of race and ethnicity are still difficult to discuss openly, the restaurant experience and food in general can serve as proxies for discussions about cultural barriers and social awareness. With this segment, we can also increase exposure to fluent English speakers, as Seth and Jeff are both American, and once we get going, it’s hard to hold us back. We often invite “guest diners” to participate in the restaurant visits to offer their commentary and to add a different, more balanced perspective. Each week, we give out scores on a scale of 1-10 Bananas in the criteria of Quality, Ambience, Service and Value. With each review, we try to offer constructive criticism to restaurant owners to improve their operations and, hopefully, our dining experiences.
To hear more about the Imagine Burundi project and how it evolved from Jeff’s humanitarian aid work, have a listen to Jeff’s interview on WBEZ’s Worldview with Jerome McDonnell or read his blog post on the topic.
Imagine Burundi airs each week on 99.4 FM CCIB in Bujumbura and many parts of Burundi. New episodes are played on Saturdays and replayed on Wednesdays, both at 3 p.m.
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