Urunana soap opera script writer talks about the value of drama in Rwanda’s society

Urunana is a radio soap opera set in the fictional Rwandan village of Nyarurembo. The 15-minute episodes are broadcasted four times a week on BBC Great Lakes Service during BBC Gahuzamiryango programme every Tuesday and Thursday at 6:45 p.m as well as on Sunday at 7:30 a.m and 5:00 p.m.
Vincent Gakwaya
Vincent Gakwaya

Urunana is a radio soap opera set in the fictional Rwandan village of Nyarurembo. The 15-minute episodes are broadcasted four times a week on BBC Great Lakes Service during BBC Gahuzamiryango programme every Tuesday and Thursday at 6:45 p.m as well as on Sunday at 7:30 a.m and 5:00 p.m.

Urunana first went on air in 1999. The shows episodes are written and produced in Rwanda with audience-led content. Researchers visit audience groups in Rwandan villages to chat with listeners about their health concerns.

In an interview with The New Times, Vincent Gakwaya, Head Writer of Urunana Soap Opera, narrates the different stages of writing the script for the soap opera.

“We work with the local audiences to develop weekly interactive programme that promotes positive attitudes towards the social welfare of communities,” Gakwaya said.

 “I started writing the Urunana script in 1999, when an English organisation, Health Unlimited, came to work in Rwanda to sensitise women on maternal health through drama,” he said.

He first wrote a script for a stage drama in 1995 and it was titled ‘Iyo nshishoza’ literally meaning “Had i thought critically”.

Although the programme was initially launched by Health Unlimited, the organisation has since founded a local non-governmental organisation (NGO), Urunana Development Communication (Urunana DC), to develop the soap locally and sustainably.

The Urunana team regularly spends time in villages which helps them to ensure that their writing reflects real life experiences.

“It’s now close to 13 years since I started writing the script for each episode with other team members. It amazing to listen to people praising the work we do. We talk to different people and they give us testimonies on how the soap opera has changed their lives,” Gakwaya discloses.

He further said that the beauty of his work is that he usually finds people commenting about the characters of the soap operas and the concept of each episode and this has kept him going.

“It’s from our listenership that we derive ideals for the following episodes of the soap opera Urunana. As a result of culture, there were some health issues or topics which are considered a taboo to openly speak about them. It was challenging but now people’s mindsets are changing,” he explains.  

‘Urunana’ literally means ‘Hand in Hand’ and implies as a community, its important to work together and address issues collectively to develop the community. 

According to Marketing Public Health: Strategies to Promote Social Change written By Michael Siegel, in 2005 Urunana was the most popular radio programme  with up to 74 per cent of the Rwandan population listening to it.

In 2008 Urunana Radio Soap Opera was awarded the Best Mass Media Initiative by the Annual Awards for Excellence in HIV/AIDS Communication in Africa.

Gakwaya was born in Rustiro District in 1970 and he is the sixth child in a family of nine.  He attended Nyundo Seminary where he pursed a course in Latin and modern languages. He also learnt how to write drama scripts while there.

“Although as a child I wanted to become a priest–that was why I attended the seminary–later I realised that what I expected to be my calling changed. I took on script writing and my passion for creative ideas revolving around drama and plays has become my dream,” Gakwaya said. 

Besides being a script writer he is married to Christine Murigirwa since 1993 and they are blessed with two daughters and two sons.

His favourites

Dish: -chips and Beans
Music: - All genres of music
Colour: - Blue
Sport: - Jogging
Quote: - ‘If you are to achieve something,
                   your commitment matter.’

 

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