Haiti Radio Soap Opera Raising Awareness About Child Slaves
SHELBURNE, VT – When Christina Guérin was a child, she decided she didn’t want a career in radio soap operas. As a young girl, she spent many days and nights in a Haiti radio studio watching her mother work long hours. In September of 2013, Population Media Center launched a new radio soap opera in Haiti addressing child slavery, reproductive health, and family planning. Now, Guérin once again finds herself in the throes of a radio serial drama, but this time she’s the producer.
“It’s something that I enjoy,” Guérin says laughingly. “I had to admit that. Plus, I realized that my mother was doing everything. We have six people doing what she did.”
It was Guérin’s work in a radio station that brought about the existence of Zoukoutap (“To Limp”), PMC’s serial drama in Haitian Creole. In her late 20s, Guérin unexpectedly found herself face-to-face with an important issue: child slavery. In Haiti, young children are sent to work in another household when their family is unable to provide for them. This places young children in the role of servant, with no regard for their education, well-being, or happiness. Guérin says that everyone knows restevek children are part of their society, but not enough people are talking about it.
“I was working at a radio station,” she says, “when a young girl was brought in. We were going to announce her name over the radio to find her family, but she didn’t want to. She was a restavek and didn’t want to return to her life. It was a real surprise to me. I knew this existed, but I didn’t know it was so close to my everyday life.”
Guérin helped get that young girl to a shelter, just one of roughly 300,000 children caught up in the restavek system. Guérin realized that she wanted to help address this issue – the question was how.
“I realized that if I want to help, it doesn’t have to be opening a home or protesting – everyone can help in their own way. Zoukoutap was the best way I could help.”
But it would be another six years before Zoukoutap would come to fruition. Guérin had the idea of creating a radio soap opera that addressed child slavery, and when she reached out to the Restavek Freedom Foundation she received a warm welcome from Executive Director Joan Conn. They even wrote a few episodes, but Guérin says that then they got stuck.
“At a certain point, we didn’t know what to do or what to say,” says Guérin. “This is an important, complicated issue and you have to think about how to present it.”
In 2011, Guérin and Conn met with Bill Ryerson, President of Population Media Center, to discuss the idea. Population Media Center creates radio soap operas for social change all over the world.
“This was an opportunity to address crucial topics in a country where we had never broadcast,” says Ryerson. The project began the following year and Zoukoutap hit the airwaves in September of 2013.
“The training and structure provided was so important, as well as all of the research,” says Guérin about working within Population Media Center’s methodology. “In addition to restaveks, we also address reproductive health and family planning, which is part of solving the problem. [Having] too many children is often why people must send some of their children away.”
Guérin has also been blown away by the public support, including the media. Zoukoutap is broadcast over two main radio stations in the north and south provinces, plus three radio stations in Port-au-Prince. Zoukoutap is also broadcast on Radio Mega in Miami, Florida and is available to listen to online at: www.soundcloud.com/zoukoutapofficiel.
Most importantly, Guérin sees positive responses to the program. She explains that the entire production, writing, and acting team feel invested in the message, with some people agreeing to do interviews and other publicity events about the issues themselves on their own time – evidence of the staff’s commitment and of the impact of the program in starting conversations.
“Some of the scenes can be very difficult to listen to. You can imagine what sounds we have to include when our child actress is in violent situations in order to have that be understood. And we have an incredible child actress, which makes it much more real and much harder to hear. And these things are happening in real life, which is why we need to address these issues.”
So Guérin finds herself back in the world of radio soap operas, but with a different role and a different perspective than from when she was a child. This time, she’s hoping to spend more, not less, time in the studio.
“We need more permanent messages and programs about restavek children and family planning,” she says. “We need more people to discuss these issues and we need society to stop closing their eyes to it. I hope to continue to help.”
Tune-in to Zoukoutap online: www.soundcloud.com/zoukoutapofficiel
Follow Zoukoutap on Facebook: www.facebook.com/pages/Zoukoutap-Paj-Ofisyel/1422754664618219