From radio-addict to digital storyteller — a young Somali already making a difference

Growing up with his grandmother in Somalia, Abdulpataah Shirwa’s favourite part of the day was listening to the radio each evening before bedtime.

“I’ve been a media-addict all my life,” he says. “Not just news but all kinds of stories from all over the world.”

He remembers the time his radio broke down and how he spent the whole night and the next day trying to fix it before finally getting a neighbor’s help.

“My grandma told me I was like someone obsessed’! She was only half-joking. Later she told me I should seriously think about becoming a journalist. That’s what gave me the inspiration to get into media.”

When the time came to study at university, Abdulpataah enrolled in a degree course in communications studies in Hargeisa. After graduating he worked for Somali Faces, sharing positive everyday stories of Somali people from around the world.

After that, he enrolled in UNDP’s new Digital Storytelling programme, which also seeks to counter simplified images of Somalia as a conflict-ridden and drought-stricken country by highlighting the culture, the beautiful landscape and ways in which Somalis overcome challenges in their daily lives.

“I didn’t think twice when I saw UNDP’s call for applications,” he says. “Apart from the tech skills I needed, I really wanted to meet other people with the same interests as me.”

Abdulpataah was one of 400 applicants and one of 20 that were finally selected for the six-week immersive course.

The selection was based on gathering a creative group with diverse talents and experience in social media, development, arts, video production and other relevant skills for effective digital communication.

What did I learn most from the course? On a technical level I think it was how to engage better with audiences when telling a story to make sure the message has optimum impact,” says Abdulpataah. “But on a personal level I got even more — a new group of friends and a professional network.”

On completing the course, Abdulpataah and his fellow Somali Storytellers immediately got to work setting up YouTube channel and Instagram and Twitter accounts to showcase their work as widely as possible. They are now in the process of setting up their own company to pass on their skills to others.

When the Covid-19 pandemic broke out, the storytellers were quick to find ways to help their communities cope, producing videos to inform the public about how to protect themselves and others from infection.

“I’m quite sure we contributed to raising awareness and encouraging people to stay safe. And what that shows is how just a small group of young people can help make a big difference by working together.”

UNDP’s work on training and mentoring a new generation of filmmakers and other artists in Somalia is being carried out by the UNDP Accelerator Lab in partnership with experts from Australia’s Queensland University and Digital Storytellers.

Stay tuned for the next call for a course in storytelling coming soon.