In traditional Ethiopian culture, children are not put to sleep hearing bedtime stories. Instead, they are told scary stories to frighten and quickly get them to sleep. Horrifying phrases like, ‘a hyena is coming to eat you,’ ‘the monster will cut off your ears if he finds you awake,’ ‘there is a knock on the door, the night monster is here,’ are some of the common phrases.
Growing up, I remember how I always used to go to bed in fear of the ‘Jorokorachuseweye,’ the man that cuts of children’s ear that didn't go to sleep. I visualized him in my little mind and had often been terrified that he would get into my bedroom through the window and cut off my ears.
Even though Ethiopia has a long history of folk tales, many parents prefer to get their children to sleep quickly through this technique. Not just stories, Ethiopian children don’t also have proper songs. There are few famous children’s songs that have been passed from generation to generation. However, these songs have themes of betrayal, divorce, and mockery. Some of the lyrics of these songs have deep poetic meaning that is not just unclear but unfit for children. However, since they have the playful tone, everyone loves them without realising the effects it has on children.
Recently, individuals and charity organisations realised the need for media content for children. However for a country with a population of 90 million, that constitutes 44% of children below 14, one can say almost nothing has been done so far. There are only 1 animated children’s educational TV program and about five children’s albums so far.
The need for Christian children’s media content is, however, more critical. More than 60% of the Ethiopian population are Christians and 19% evangelical Christians. The majority of this percentage constitutes children. There are even churches that have more children in their Sunday school than adults in their congregation. However, there is only a handful of songs, specially made for children. It is sad to see Sunday schools as a direct replica of adults’ church, with similar songs, no creative activities and an adult preaching to the children as s/he would to adults.
In response to this need, Beza ministry worship team currently produced children's album titled, ‘Guadegnaye’. Though the worship team wanted it to make it more appealing and creative to children, there were no means to do that in Ethiopia. There are only handful of animators, and their price is very expensive. That is why I proposed to connect the music producers in Ethiopia with MediaLight team in the Philippines that does animation. Sharing the same vision to produce Christian media for children, the animators offered us a special discount. Though we were continents away, we had weekly Skype meeting to develop the storyboard for two animation videos for the album. During the production of this videos we were dispersed in Ethiopia, Philippines, China, US, and Thailand, but we kept connecting online and finalized the animation videos.
One of the songs has a theme of creation. It tells how God created the heavens, the earth and everything in it. The character in the animation celebrates how the magnificent God loves her even if she is just a little girl.
The other song is titled ‘father to the fatherless’ and depicts how God adopts us into his kingdom and how we should do the same in adopting orphan children. The song aims to aware children and parents towards adoption. Ethiopia has 4.5 million orphans, and there is a great need for the church to contribute towards taking care of orphans.
The album includes other 11 songs, which were shot live in children service with creative visuals.
I believe these animations are just the first start in the production of gospel media for children. There is a saying that, ‘the need is the call.’ There is a need for children gospel media in Ethiopia, and I hope we should partner in projects as such to reach children with the gospel.