A calendar image publicizes
a radio drama in Botswana.
Hope on the Air
By Jennifer Acker '00
María Ramos was young, single and poor when she moved from
her rural home in the Andes to Lima, Peru's capital and most congested city.
She found work as a maid for a wealthy family, but soon she was seduced by a slick
city man and became pregnant. When her employers found out, they fired her. Determined
to create a better life for herself and her son, María attended literacy
classes at night, bought a Singer sewing machine and launched her own dressmaking
business. Through smarts and hard work, she rose above the desperate situations
that confronted her, and for an hour every week night, from 1969 to 1971, millions
of Peruvians turned on their televisions to discover what would happen to María
Simplemente María (Simply María) is remembered as the most
popular telenovela, television soap opera, ever aired in Latin America,
a region where most television systems broadcast a dozen dramas a day. Yet more
interesting than the overwhelming volume of viewers was the effect the show had
on the audience: "dressmaker" became the most aspired-to occupation
among Peruvian maids in the 1970s, and the sales of Singer sewing machines skyrocketed
in Spanish-speaking countries where the telenovela was aired. Enrollment
in adult literacy classes rose, and the governments of both Peru and Mexico launched
Simplemente María-inspired literacy campaigns.
The significant behavioral changes caused by the soap opera, though unintended
by its producers, inspired Mexican television and theater writer-producer-director
Miguel Sabido. He wanted to put serial dramas to good, educational use. In 1974
Sabido met with prominent social learning theorist Albert Bandura at Stanford
University and worked to solidify the intellectual basis of entertainment with
the goals of social change. Following the success of Simplemente María,
Sabido produced seven different telenovelas, addressing issues like adult
literacy, family planning and child homelessness.
The chapter on Miguel Sabido is earmarked in the book on entertainment-education
lent to me by Christine Galavotti '78. The producer's work has been
an inspiration to her, and his serial drama framework is a key model for the strategy
Galavotti has developed and implemented in her own field. Simply put, her goal
is to prevent and treat HIV/AIDS. More specifically, she and her colleagues at
the Centers for Disease Control in Atlantaand their partners around the
worldaim to effect individual- and community-level behavior change through
radio soap operas. The story begins in Africa.
The method Galavotti has chosen to save the continent from the ravages of one
of the worst epidemics in human historyor at least reduce the number of
people who die of HIV/AIDS in Africa, over two million a yearhas long, historical
roots. "Entertainment" has been used for centuries to inform communities
and cultures, in the form of folk tales, fables, theater, myth and music. Radio,
cheap and portable, is the designated medium of this scientist's plan.