“Come closer, the circus – and your favourite radio show – is about to start,” the crisp voice of a French-Canadian presenter booms before his co-host reads the exact same introduction in Arabic.
This is Radio-Dodo, a station based in Montreal, Canada. Bernard Derome and Marya Zarif, the two hosts for the grassroots outfit, record the weekly show that aims to help Syrian refugees get a good night of sleep. And improve their general wellbeing in the process.
Also known as Sleepytime-Radio, the station was launched last year with the financial backing of the Canadian Commission for Unesco. It’s aired 37 episodes since its inception; they were all published online and through a Syrian radio station based in Paris – Radio Rozana.
From tales about shedding your first milk tooth to songs about tying your shoelaces, the show features some marvelous storytelling that would capture the imagination of most children. The creators want to help child Syrian refugees – wherever they have ended up in the world – forget about the harsh social issues that led to their displacement. Plus, they want to try and replace some of the childhood which has been stolen from them. But, above all, they just want to help them sleep well.
Brigitte Alepin, the woman who came up with the concept for Radio-Dodo, is a French-Canadian financial advisor. Her grandad immigrated from Syria to Canada in the early 20th century. Seeing harrowing pictures of the Syrian conflict in 2011 made her feel helpless, she reflected upon the time she spent visiting her grandfather’s hometown of Aleppo a few years earlier. She thought about the children she’d met there: What has become of their homes? Are they even still alive?
“I asked myself, how is it that life makes it possible for my boy – who had been in Aleppo – now to be safe at home in Quebec?” she told the Guardian. “I told myself I would never be able to feel good about myself again if I didn’t find a way to help.” She decided that maybe she could use radio content to somehow improve their situation. “We were talking and a little while later, I had an intuition: I would try to make a radio show for children,” Alepin recalls. So, she recruited a team of Canadian, Algerian and Syrian volunteer content creators. Radio-Dodo was born.
The social implications for children who have been affected by the war in Syria have been drastic; most have missed out on essential education, playtime with peers (which research suggests is essential for their emotional and social development) and – perhaps the most important – their sleeping patterns have been badly disrupted (research has demonstrated that sleep is essential for their physical growth and cognitive development). Which goes a little way to explaining why this type of work is so essential.
Alepin plans to continue her humanitarian work and to help child refugees who have been seriously affected by the war in many different ways. She’s recently partnered up with another radio station, in Mali, who have agreed to publish her show too.
Click here to learn more about the Radio-Dodo project or to listen to some of their shows.