By Maria Fotopoulos
April 13, 2012
International Women’s Day, Earth Day and Mother’s Day celebrate women and honor mothers—those we birth, those who birth us, and the one that provides for us every day of our lives: Mother Earth. So how fares the female half of the world’s Alexandra Paulpopulation? One country in West Africa recovering from decades of civil war is making noteworthy progress, while here in “first world” United States, women suddenly face threats to long-secure reproductive rights.
In Sierra Leone, Pacific Palisades resident Alexandra Paul, former cast member of the hit ’90s TV show Baywatch, has been working with the Population Media Center (PMC) to take advantage of the popularity of radio soap operas to create positive outcomes in women’s lives.
Always a concerned environmentalist and “populationist,” the actor made a personal choice early on not to have children, and had worked previously with PMC’s Global Population Speak Out program to raise awareness. When PMC again sought her help, this time in casting and teaching actors for their new series in Sierra Leone, she was excited, if not as prepared as she might have anticipated. “I’ve been acting for 30 years but I’d never taught acting, so I had to do my homework,” said Paul of her contribution to what ultimately will result in a 208-episode series of 15-minute radio shows.
The soaps use the “edutainment” methods of Miguel Sabido, who filmed telenovelas in 1970s Mexico to promote family planning and other social development goals. Results there were gratifying: During one nine-month series, contraceptive sales increased 23 percent and 560,000 women enrolled in family planning clinics. Equally important, 2,000 women signed up to volunteer in Mexico’s national family planning program—an idea suggested in the telenovela. Finally, after 40 years of rapid population growth, the fertility rate in Mexico began to slow, thanks to the power of media.
Despite being rich in diamonds, gold and other deposits, Sierra Leone, a mostly Muslim country, has a 70 percent poverty rate and a 6 million population expected to double in 30 years. Forty percent confirm radio is their most important source for all health matters, so for this new project, PMC worked with locals for two weeks prior to Paul’s arrival, writing radio episodes about contraceptive use, gender violence, general reproductive health and family planning, HIV/AIDS, and a serious condition known as obstetric fistula that can occur in difficult childbirth when there is inadequate medical care. The celebrity guest spent her first day on site casting 15 roles from among 70 auditioning actors, many “very talented,” said Paul. Five shows were produced during her stay, and now “PMC will do a lot of testing to see how well their shows play,” she explained.
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