June 7, 2005

PROJECTS: Storytelling revived - A soap opera in Central Asia promotes key messages while entertaining (CENTRAL ASIA)

 Valijon and Maydagul were childhood sweethearts. They had finally overcome family pressure to become engaged, but their dreams were dashed when Valijon fell victim to drug addiction. Will love finally prevail despite this setback? The story had listeners to the Silk-Road Radio Soap gripped for weeks on end.

It was the impact of the ?Tales from the Silk Road?, a collection of books produced by UNESCO Tashkent to highlight the age-old tradition of storytelling, that sparked off the Silk-Road Radio. Rather than retell old stories, Silk-Road Radio would construct new ones to address contemporary issues.

?Soap opera has the capacity to openly use fiction and romance to deal frankly with intimate family matters,? says John Butt, head and founder of the Silk Road Radio. ?It?s a convenient forum for educating about HIV/AIDS prevention, drug abuse and other everyday matters. Silk Road Radio is modelled on the successful BBC Afghan soap ?New Home, New Life? launched in 1993 and still running.

Enter education

The Silk-Road Radio was first broadcast in Tajikistan in 1998 and in Uzbekistan in 1999. It was a question of finding the right mix between entertainment and education, explains Sherzod Khodjaev of UNESCO Tashkent. ?In Central Asia, there was more tolerance for romance and mention of family matters, than in more conservative Afghanistan,? says John Butt. ?Take the example of condom-use to prevent HIV/AIDS and sexually-transmitted diseases. In southern Africa you have to be direct and say: ?Wear a condom or you?ll get AIDS,?? But, in Central Asia, you have to be more careful. ?People might interpret such brazen promotion of condom-use as encouragement of promiscuity.? As a result, Silk-Road Radio stresses condom-use between married couples, to protect both partners in the case of infidelity.

Comedy also plays a big part. ?Condom-use will never cease to be taboo until people learn to laugh about it,? says one UN agency head in Tajikistan. The suggestion became a storyline in the Silk-Road Soap: two grandchildren found a condom belonging to their parents. They had great fun making a balloon out of it, much to the anger of their grandfather, who was horrified that his son, the children?s father, was using a condom. He thought it must be for reasons related to infidelity, while in fact his son was using a condom to protect his own wife from the HIV/AIDS that he had contracted.

Rural to urban
Silk Road Radio consists of two radio soap operas. The Silk Road Soap targets a mature, rural audience and goes out twice a week, and City Soap, which targets urban youth, goes out three times a week. Silk Road Radio Broadcasts in Uzbek and Tajik, and plans are afoot to launch it in Kyrgyz and Russian.

Fiction has been complemented by factual reporting ? known as storyline reporting. ?We are reinforcing the educational messages of the soap opera, by dealing with them from a different ? more factual ? angle,? says Aziza Ataeva, chief storyline reporter.

Apart from HIV/AIDS and drug abuse, the soap has tackled such issues as domestic violence, legal and human rights, restrictions on travel between neighbouring countries, making profit from farming and much more.

Training is a major component of the project, which brings together a team of scriptwriters, producers, reporters and actors. ?We have had to train good drama writers to become writers of educational soap opera ? a new discipline,? says Butt. Both Uzbek and Tajik writers have taken to the particular skill required in writing soap opera, he adds. But then this is only natural. Telling and listening to stories with an educational message comes naturally to those who straddle the old Silk Road in Central Asia

Contacts: Sherzod Khodjaev and John Butt, UNESCO Tashkent and Helena Drobna, UNESCO Paris
s.khodjaev@unesco.org.uz; john@unesco.org.uz; h.drobna@unesco.org
SOURCE: http://portal.unesco.org/education/en/ev.php-URL_ID=39258&URL_DO=DO_TOPIC&URL_SECTION=201.html


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