Putting Heart into Women's Issues in Mexico

Mar 25, 2011 11:56 AM ET

Dulce Caridad will fight gender inequality, unsupportive family members, corruption and love triangles to organize her peers to grow and sell organic coffee and improve the lives of people in her community. She will also become a role model for younger girls to go to school and reach for their dreams. The story of Dulce Caridad and her rural community was created after days of discussion with representatives from the State of Chiapa’s government ministries and media professionals.   “This program is very exciting, it’s encouraging to know that people in the government are really interested in improving the lives of their people”, Queta mentioned as we pulled our bags out of our hotel room. The five-day training is over and we are trying to assess everything that happened as we prepare for our meeting with the First Lady of Chiapas in an hour. “It is also great to have the support of people involved in commercial television production; it adds another dimension to our work,” I replied as we tried to fit our bags into the van, before driving down the mountain into Tuxtla Gutierrez, the Chiapas State capital. Queta (Enriqueta Valdez, Programs Officer Mexico), Marco Rodriguez (Video Production Intern) and I worked with 30 participants and partners to design what will be our first Telenovela – television drama – in more than five years.

The conversations between Media Impact and our partner, the Government of Chiapas, started in February. “Mrs. Isabel de Sabines, the First Lady of Chiapas, is very interested in producing a Telenovela with us,” Queta had mentioned at the end of 2010, “we need to meet with her to get the ball rolling; if she is excited it means that there is a high possibility that this program succeeds”. Sean and I met with Queta in Mexico after our trip to Ghana to sign an official collaborative agreement with the Government’s Broadcasting System (Sistema Chiapaneco de Radio, Television y Cinematografia) for which we partnered to support the radio drama, Corazon de Mujer, about women’s empowerment and promotion of a new law against gender-based violence; and to jointly develop a television soap opera to promote sustainable development, gender equality and the rights of Indigenous Peoples.   The telenovela, provisionally named Ponle Corazon! (Put your heart into it!), started as an exciting idea and now the project has the support from the State’s ministries of health, education, women, rural and agricultural development, infrastructure, environment, and Indigenous Peoples. The government is providing the initial funding and production capacity, Media Impact training and mentoring in the Entertainment-Education methodology, and Canal 40 (www.proyecto40.com.mx) a national television network in Mexico, will cover production costs, such as equipment and post-production.  Above all, the telenovela has the full endorsement of Mrs. Sabines, who has reached out to national stars, such as the musician Alexander Acha, who will compose the drama’s theme song.   Ponle Corazon!, as the rest of our programs, was launched during a five-day workshop with the local team in Rancho Santa Lucia, 30 minutes away from Tuxtla Gutierrez. As Alberto Aridjis, program coordinator, said “all participants received an official invitation letter signed personally by Mrs. Sabines, requesting their attendance and commitment to the project so we’ll have representation from all the government entities involved”.  And indeed, more than 30 participants actively engaged during the activities of the workshop where the program’s framework, the values grid, was produced, main characters defined and a central storyline created to encompass all the issues that were discussed during the initial days of the workshop. “You can picture the process of creation for the telenovela as an hourglass figure,” I told the participants as we celebrated the completion of the story, “you start with a divergence of themes and ideas that converge into a values grid and eventually into a storyline. It is through the characters conflicts and dialogues in the episodes that all the themes unroll into behaviors, rewards and consequences.”     The intangible outcome of the training is the ownership and commitment to the project of each of the participants and the ministries they represent; an outcome extremely important when working with government entities under public scrutiny. Just last week the Mexican Secretary of Education, Alonso Lujambio, recognized publicly that telenovelas could become an important instrument to promote literacy and improve the academic gap.  The training was just the beginning of the process.  The team will write the 20 scrpits of the telenovela beginning the in April to start pre-production and recording in May. “We need to speed up the production because the rainy season starts in June, but we are very positive we can do it,” Aridjis commented.   As we prepare for the ardous production tasks ahead of us, we stopped to celebrate the success of the radio drama Corazon de Mujer which was launched on the air on March 8, during International Women’s Day. After just two weeks of broadcast, Corazon de Mujer is now being rebroadcasted in other states across Mexico and in Chile and Costa Rica. “We are very excited as the program has raised lots of interest from other radio broadcasters and partners,” said Debora Iturbe, Director of the Sistema Chiapaneco de Radio, Television y Cinematografia. While driving from the Government House to our hotel, Debora received an email into her blackberry, “I just got a letter from an audience member of Corazon de Mujer!” she expressed excited and started reading the letter out loud:  “As I listened to the radio drama, I was transported to Chamula in the Highlands of Chiapas and the practices of arrange marriages young Zoque indigenous girls face. Families provide a dowry, which was not perceived as a commecial exchange for the bride, but as a sign of gratitude.  I don’t mean to say that women’s rights were not violated, as most of these young women were 14 to 18 years old and in most cases met their future husbands during the wedding day.”  Pedrito, our driver, smiled as all of us cheered about the letter and discussed how we can include audience participation and requests in the upcoming scripts.  The truth is, there is still a lot of work to do to reach out to indigenous and rural communities and promote existing laws, such as legistlation to promote women’s ownership of land that passed a year ago.  As Mrs. Isabel de Sabines pointed out during our meeting , “our telenovela and radio drama need to show that women have the right to own land, which for centuries has been banned in some indigenous cultures”.   “I’m dedicated to this project down to the bone!” Carlos Adalid, Scene Director for the telenovela expressed to us during day one. After a week of working all together as a team, all partners are part of the heart of a telenovela that will put the Corazon de Chiapas in the forefront of Entertainment-Education production in Mexico, and if we dream a little, the world.   Brenda Campos Prorgams Director Chiapas, Mexico, March 19, 2011  

PCI-Media Impact empowers communities worldwide to inspire enduring change through creative storytelling. 
For 25 years, we have worked with local partners to produce programs that address the most pressing social and environmental issues. Using our unique My Community methodology, we engage and empower audiences around the world to improve their own lives. Working with local partners, we change the world one story at a time. For more information, please visit: www.mediaimpact.org