Jeanne D’Arc Sees Herself Reflected and Reaches Out to Young Girls

When Jeanne d’Arc Butoyi’s phone rang unexpectedly one summer day, she was suddenly – and surprisingly — talking with someone who had already profoundly shaped her life. On the other end of the line was a representative of 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.

Jean Sacha Barikumutima, who worked on promotions in PMC’s Burundi office, had dialed Jeanne’s number as part of PMC’s random sample telephone survey. Every month, Jean conducted this important field survey, assessing listenership and community reaction to PMC’s radio drama.

“When I heard her story,” said 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.”

As soon as possible, 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, had 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.

She explained further: “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 the grown women that Jeanne had talked to that were impacted by the drama. She also used 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 start 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 explained that many youth started coming to these discussion groups. One was an orphan from Kayanza who lived 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 her visits. Eventually, the girl realized Jeanne was a friend.

“She’s opened to me now. I advised her to go get tested. She went to do it and, thank God, she was 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 sharing, where more and more people are informed and educated about health issues, is exactly what PMC strives for: entertaining dramas designed to role model behavior, but not tell people what to do. Audiences inevitably discuss the different characters and plots, and then make decisions that are right for them.

“Jeanne’s story was so powerful,” said Jean Sacha. “She was already doing incredible work, and it’s wonderful to hear that Agashi gave her another tool to be even more effective.”

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