Molecular Transformations: Change Starts from Little Things

Molecular Transformations: Change Starts from Little Things

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Bolivian journalists empowered through @PCIMediaImpact and SECRAD program:
Friday, July 15, 2011 - 10:31am


Molecular Transformation: Change Starts from Little Things
By: Brenda Campos and Sylvia Torres
Chochabamba, Bolivia
June 22-25 2011

On our way to Bolivia: “Do not let them divide us! If we stand together we can get our demand!” insistently expressed a woman trying to organize all of us to ask for a plane. Our American Airlines flight to La Paz was canceled and as the staff at the Miami airport were trying to fly us to Bolivia through different routes the women kept exclaiming, “Let’s ask for an airplane to take all of us, together!”  

From the United States there is only one flight a day to this Andean country, where PCI-Media Impact and SECRAD have been implementing the Our Voices Program since 2008.  It was unclear how we would make it to Cochabamba, where partners from 28 radio stations were meeting for the Program’s closing event, but we knew we couldn’t miss it. It took us three days to get there.  
Through the Our Voices Program Media Impact and SECRAD have trained more than 72 radio stations from across Bolivia, and produced Ciudad Espesa (Dark City), a 45-episode radio drama in Spanish and two adaptations in indigenous languages, Quechua and Aymara. For the past year, the partners have provided mentoring and assistance to a network of 33 radio stations to produce their own call-in radio shows and organize mobilization activities to promote civic participation, puralism, diversity and the right to communication.

From June 22 to 25, the Learning Workshop provided a platform for 60 participants from 28 radio stations to share their experience broadcasting the drama and implementing their own campaigns.  The event proved a great opportunity for us to see how a program that started as a Media Impact/SECRAD initiative, has taken on a life its own through the diverse adaptations and the specific campaings in the diferent contexts. “Our Voices doesn’t belong to us anymore! It’s theirs!” we proudly expressed on more than one ocassion. We couldn’t help but asking: Is this a representation of what we mean by promoting ownership? Could this be considered an example of capacity building and sustainability?

Participants represented the ethnic and geopolitical diversity of Bolivia.  From Cobija in the border with Brazil where recent clashes between government and the opposition has created an atmosphere of insecurity and uncertainty, Tarija in the border with Argentina, El Alto known as the support base for the current government, or Ixiamas, a place so isolated in the Amazonian jungle it might take several days to cross the rivers to get there.  For many of the participants, Our Voices has been the first opportunity to experience first-hand their own country’s diversity.
A year ago, 33 radio stations gathered in this same location to learn about Media Impact’s methodology and specifically how to produce their own E-E radio call-in shows around Ciudad Espesa and promote community mobilization. It was during this last meeting that they took home the drama episodes, not fully realizing the magnitude of the work and learning ahead of them. “Last year, participants were listening to new concepts such as ‘how to engage their audience’, this time they have come to share how those ideas became experience and how it has changed their work,” we said.

Each of the stations received a small seed grant to produce their shows, promotional materials for the radio drama and organize community mobilization activities. The venue for the Learning Workshop became an exhibition hall to present the posters, cups, t-shirts, caps and other Ciudad Espesa branded items; all of them in different shapes, colors and promoting different radio frequencies and broadcast times. In addition, the Bolivia team set up a radio booth (makeshift inside a huge camping tent), where participants were able to listen to examples of radio call-in shows from across the country.

“How are we going to give due justice to this event when we come back to New York,’ we asked ourselves endlessly. ‘Our Voices is not one program, it has become 28 different programs, and the depth of work and learning is even hard to quantify.”

During three days we listened to all sorts of stories on how each of the stations have used the drama to spark community dialogue and in some cases, action.  

“The name of the radio drama is no longer Ciudad Espesa, but Cobija Espesa,” Juan Carlos from Radio Fibes Cobija commented before sharing their experience promoting community mobilization, “The violent events and deaths of 2008 silenced our community.” The radio station decided to partner with a women’s grass-roots organization to address the lack of participation from audience members. The leader of this organization, Carmenza, reached out to community groups in different neighborhoods and organized listener groups. “We met once a week with the groups to listen to the radio call-in show and discuss the stories from the drama. We then used a cell phone to call into the radio program and comment on the drama.   Community members found a friendly way to share their opinion about the episodes,” Carmenza shared.  Moreover, inspired by the radio drama, one neighborhood organized themselves and asked local authorities to support the neighborhood elections.  This is the first time this neighborhood had an election process.  

“We don’t wait for people to turn on their radio, our message goes directly to them,” Diego from Radio Bocina explained. Radio Bocina is a project of Centro Cultural San Isidro, a community-based organization working in Plan 3000, immense and poor suburban slum of almost 300,000 inhabitants mostly of Aymara, Quechua, and Guarani descent; a microcosm composed of 36 Bolivian ethnic groups.  Radio Bocina, in parallel to broadcast their program through popular local radio stations, use loud speakers to broadcast the drama in the neighborhood and give  the community the opportunity to join and comment live about the story and the issues addressed through the drama.

“We are not ‘professional’ journalists, but we have been trained on how to generate opinion, and not just to provide information,” says Marta, or Martita as her team members call her.  Marta has been the leader of Radio Ixiamas for the past three years, and a radio producer and activist for the past 30.  “Our entry point to the community were the children, they were the ones that first responded to Ciudad Espesa.” Marta and her team never thought children would understand the complexity of the issues addressed in the drama, but after seeing how well they identify the characters and the stories they realized the great opportunity they had to reach the whole community by getting the children involved first; and so they did. The children became the promoters of the drama.

“We were inspired to change the way we produce radio,’ Maria Jose Andrade from Radio Kancha Parlaspa shared, ‘we created fictional characters to host the radio call-in show, and then after this radio characters were popular, we organized community activities at the market for people to meet with them and discuss the issues of the drama.”

“Everone wants to be ‘Margarita’.  Girls and boys sent their letters to the station addressed directly to the characters, and when Margarita died in the drama, some of our audience members expressed a certain mourning.” XX from Radio Fides Challapata told her peers.

“Our audiece, inspired by the episode in which Celia Lima is pressured by her community, made the Mayor of Ixiamas accountable for what she had promised during her campaign,” said Christian from Radio Ixiamas.

So, what is next? It is fair to say that most participants expressed an interest in continuing to deepening their work as part of the Our Voices network. “This is just the beginning.  Now we have a tool we can use to address our local issues,” was a common sentiment among participants.   They identified other issues that need to be addressed through Entertainment-Education strategies, such as human trafficking, violence against women, teenage pregnancy and use of water resources. For us, an important question raised was, how could we continue supporting this network? How could we transform this enthusiasm into new opportunities to promote positive social change? For now, we reinforced our commitment into supporting these radio stations and taking Ciudad Espesa to other stations in Bolivia, across the regions and outside of the radio booths.

Sylvia and Brenda
Cochabamba, June 2011

Our Voices strives to build the professionalism of Bolivian radio stations to broadcast high-quality independent programming in native languages; strengthen networking among community radio stations; increase access of indigenous Bolivian citizens to independent media; and improve understanding of media freedom and civic participation among Bolivian citizens.

 For 25 years, Media Impact has trained partners around the world to use Entertainment-Education to address critical social and environmental issues in their communities.  Entertainment-Education (E-E) incorporates vital information into entertaining media programs to simultaneously educate and amuse audiences. The non-profit organization has helped produce more than 100 such programs to address critical health and environmental issues and empower communities.



Lindsey Wahlstrom
PCI-Media Impact