SHELBURNE, VT–“I can’t believe we’ll be in Bujumbura on Friday,” says Alex Bozzette, a 2014-2015 Global Health Corps fellow being placed with Population Media Center. It was a Tuesday, and Bozzette was sitting with his co-fellow, Jean Sacha Barikumutima, in the modest offices of Population Media Center (PMC) in Shelburne, Vermont. On Thursday, July 17, the two would make the 27-hour trip to Bujumbura, Burundi for their year-long placement in PMC’s Burundi office.
“For me, this is the perfect opportunity at the perfect time,” says Bozzette. “It combines my experience in international public health project management with my interests in design and communications. Family planning is a huge priority for public heath, but family planning is also a huge priority for gender equality, environmental sustainability, and economic development.”
This is the first time US-based Population Media Center has teamed up with Global Health Corps to offer year-long paid fellowships in Burundi, one available to a US citizen, Bozzette, and one available to a Burundi citizen, Barikumutima. This opportunity coincides with the launch of a new radio soap opera produced by Population Media Center’s Burundi office to address women and children’s health.
“This year, I’m really excited by PMC’s approach and to see its impact,” says Barikumutima, who had been interning in PMC’s Burundi office when he was awarded the fellowship. “I believe this approach has the ability to address cultural mindsets. It draws people in and as they listen to the drama, they understand the message themselves. I’m excited to see how people change.”
The radio drama, Agashi (“Hey! Look Again!”), addresses issues such as child nutrition and family planning through intriguing storylines and plot twists. Over the course of the episodes, characters demonstrate choices and consequences, learning from their actions and teaching listeners as well. Agashi will run for approximately two years, airing two episodes per week.
Barikumutima, who now lives in Bujumbura, the capital, but grew up in the Kayanza province, explains that many of the issues addressed in Agashi will help individuals and communities that he cares about.
Prior to traveling to Burundi, Bozzette and Barikumutima spent two weeks at Yale University’s campus in New Haven, Connecticut for Global Health Corps training.
“I couldn’t sleep,” says Barikumutima. “I was thinking about things. This is a great opportunity to work on specific issues, and also to work with partners in Burundi to understand what is being done while being part of change. I want to give back to my community. After all this, my family and friends will be proud of me.”
Bozzette will be further from home for the year, but that won’t be a new experience since the California native spent last year coordinating a public health initiative in the Ecuadorian Amazon.
“We come from very different backgrounds, Sacha is from Burundi and I’m from San Diego, but we’re both dissatisfied with the world as-is. The simple truth is that everyone, everywhere, deserves to be healthy, and they aren’t,” says Bozzette. “Global health inequity is wrong, and something needs to change. This year, we are pushing that change in our own small way by promoting women and children’s health with Population Media Center.”
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
ABOUT GLOBAL HEALTH CORPS (GHC):
Global Health Corps mobilizes a global community of emerging leaders to build the movement for health equity. GHC believes young people are the future to solving global health challenges. We place recent college graduates and young professionals from diverse professional backgrounds in health non-profits and government offices in the US, East Africa and Southern Africa for a year of service in order to strengthen and learn from the organizations. Fellows focus on creating solutions for a variety of current health issues like HIV, maternal child health, nutrition, and healthcare access. Through additional training, community building, leadership development and mentorship these young people complete their fellowship with skills to be change-makers and paradigm-shifters in the global health field throughout their careers. Since its founding in 2009, GHC has deployed 322 fellows to work in 7 countries.