MUREMERA, BURUNDI–Jeanne d’Arc Butoyi’s phone rang on June 24, 2014. When she answered, she didn’t know she’d be talking about something that had so profoundly helped her in her life. That was the first time she talked with someone from Population Media Center.
Jean Sacha Barikumutima, who works on promotions in Population Media Center’s Burundi office, dialed her number that day as part of a random sample telephone survey he conducts each month to assess listenership and reaction to a radio drama produced by Population Media Center (PMC), a US nonprofit dedicated to improving the health and well-being of people around the world through the use of entertainment-education.
“When I heard her story,” says Jean Sacha,” I was so moved. Here was a woman trying to bring information and change to her community, working so hard, and our drama was helping her to make progress.”
Just a short time later, on August 28, 2014, members of the PMC-Burundi team traveled to Jeanne’s village to hear more of her story and how the PMC drama, Agashi (“Hey! Look Again!”), was impacting her.
Jeanne is Burundian and, yes, her name translates to Joan of Arc. She lives in Muremera, in the Ndava region of Cibitoke Province. She’s in her mid-30s and works as a community organizer addressing many sexual and reproductive health issues, including condom usage, family planning, and visiting health clinics.
During the interview, Jeanne described how one character in the drama, Muhorakeye, has taught men and women to go to a clinic for prenatal care instead of relying on folklore or witchcraft and how this same character’s adamant attitude that pregnant women in Burundi should eat liver, because it’s a food that’s available and packed with nutrients, has many women rethinking their refusal to eat it.
“I invite women to listen to Agashi with me, and we all listen to the show very closely. I have seven children. I invite women who don’t yet have seven children and tell them, ‘Come, listen to these messages on Agashi. Listen to the misfortune Tengenge has to go through – giving birth to so many children and not being able to feed them.’ When I used her case as an example, people really began to understand the problem.”
But it’s not just women that Jeanne finds have been impacted by the drama. She’s also using the drama to reach out to adolescents, explaining the importance of condoms, the prevalence of HIV/AIDS, and the risks of teenage pregnancy.
“What I like about the series is that Agashi has plenty of advice. There are plenty of lessons. There’s a community organizer on Agashi, and she teaches us a lot. She helps us with our community education and advocacy work. She teaches people even more about what I already teach, and people that didn’t used to listen to me are now convinced that they should.”
“I am one of those girls that had their first pregnancy too young,” says Jeanne. “I had her at 16 or probably younger. I was still living at my parents’ house.” Jeanne explains that she was lucky, the father stayed and helped her raise their daughter and they’re now married. But Jeanne works hard to help other girls stay in school and avoid pregnancy or disease.
Jeanne held discussion groups about Agashi with youth, and things weren’t easy or smooth. She explains that the youth began with comments like “You mothers and your questions mess with us! Things are different now than they were when you grew up!” But this didn’t dissuade Jeanne from using Agashi characters and actions to open up conversations about sex and condoms. Little by little, she says, some of them opened up.
“Later on, some of them came by to ask me for condoms because I have them. And some of them even told me what they did. Most of them have become friends of mine, and I give them advice.”
Jeanne explains that many youth now come to these discussion groups to share, one of whom is an orphan from Kayanza who lives with a foster mother in the village. When she arrived, many people talked about her, saying that “she had been with lots of boys.” Jeanne went to see her, and although the relationship began one-sided, Jeanne continued to visit her and Jeanne says that she realized she was a friend.
“She’s open to me now. I advised her to go get tested. She went to do it and, thank God, she is HIV negative. She came back to tell me that ‘It’s hard to abstain.’ I then advised her to use a condom. Today, she sensitizes the other girls, who still make fun of her condom use. I don’t understand anyone who doesn’t realize the importance of condoms. More and more girls, age 14 and older, are following my advice. And often they come back to tell me thank you.”
This cascading system of information, where more and more people are informed and educated about health issues is exactly PMC’s hope. The dramas are designed to model behavior, not tell people what to do, so that the audience can discuss the different characters and actions and make decisions that are right for them.
“Jeanne’s story was so powerful,” says Jean Sacha. “She was already doing incredible work, and it’s wonderful to hear that Agashi has given her another tool to be even more effective. We need people in the communities to carry these messages if we’re going to see real change.”
“What’s at stake in the series reflects the reality of the country. It really exists,” says Jeanne. “There’s a community organizer on Agashi, and she teaches us a lot. She helps us with our community education and advocacy work. She teaches people even more about what I already teach, and people that didn’t used to listen to me are now convinced that they should.”
ABOUT POPULATION MEDIA CENTER (PMC):
Population Media Center is a nonprofit, international nongovernmental organization, which strives to improve the health and well-being of people around the world through the use of entertainment-education strategies, like serialized dramas on radio and television, in which characters evolve into role models for the audience for positive behavior change. Founded in 1998, PMC has over 15 years of field experience using the Sabido methodology of behavior change communications, impacting more than 50 countries around the world. www.populationmedia.org