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Soap opera to tackle climate change

Grenada | A man in the ruins of his house after it was destroyed by Hurricane Ivan, a new climate change drama will soon be airing in the Caribbean exploring these kind of experiences / Alex Smailes - Panos pictures

The producers of the Caribbean’s first radio soap opera to address climate change know a thing or two about extreme weather. Recording for the pilot series of My Island, My Community had to be put on hold after Hurricane Tomas destroyed their offices in St Lucia in November. Winds of up to 100mph ripped through the island, leaving 14 people dead and causing landslides and heavy flooding. But it’s now back in production, and looking towards its launch.

“At this moment the story line has been developed, the actors identified and we have started taping, We wanted to have at least two months’ worth of programmes recorded before we go on air.” said Alleyne Regis, programme officer for PCI Media Impact, a US non-profit organisation that designed the project in partnership with regional NGOs.

“The use of drama is part of our strong oral traditions in the Caribbean,” he added.

“In our islands, story-telling is big. In our way of life, instead of someone standing there and saying you should not do that, it is much more effective to tell them in ways that are very real to them.

“People learn from the experiences of others. With our radio drama series, we will be presenting situations and letting people make decisions based on the reward and punishment given out to characters.

“My Island, My Community’, will be the first radio drama of its kind to directly address environmental sustainability in the region. At the same time a huge part of our success will depend on our ability to be flexible enough to incorporate new developments and environmental concerns into the programmes. For example, if the lion fish becomes a threat in the region, we should be able to incorporate that into some programmes as well as other issues that are more local to single islands.”

Regis says it is not always easy to get people who live in the Caribbean to understand and react positively to environmental messages, hence turning to a soap opera to get the point across.

He hopes awareness of the issues will lead to action. As well as explaining the dangers of climate change and the impact it can have on local communities, it is hoped the project will generate locally-designed solutions.

The episodes will reveal how people can get involved and help and how they can support efforts to combat natural disasters.

More than 200 episodes are due to be broadcast on all radio stations in the nine Eastern Caribbean islands as well as Trinidad and Tobago. The twice-weekly installments will be supported by radio call-in shows, music festivals, and community campaigns devised by coalitions made up of national partners, including local environmental groups, radio stations and scientists.

“The programmes will highlight environmental issues, but we will also identify where agencies, such as the ministry of environment, need help in capacity building,” Mr Regis said. “We have done a lot of research to try to gauge whether the radio dramas will be well received and we have been receiving very positive feedback. People are excited as the series will reflect local situations compared to all the other productions they have been receiving.”

“Small islands are especially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change on ecosystems, economies, tourism and the communities that live there,” says Sean Southey, programmes director at Media Impact. “While global attention has shed light on this issue, there remains a critical communications challenge: how to effectively engage the public, ensuring they have access to sound and timely information to adapt to the challenges posed by climate change.”

Mr Regis says the programmes are being recorded in English in order to resonate with a wide Caribbean audience.

“If we were to do some in Creole, which is only spoken in Dominica and St. Lucia, the messages in those programmes would be lost on the people in the Caribbean who do not speak Creole,” he explains. “We are working to get a range of accents in there and I have identified some characters from Trinidad and Tobago, and Antigua. We will have a group of actors in each of the participating islands. Once they have recorded they will send the recordings to us and at the end of the day you will hear a radio series that truly reflect the Caribbean.”

Mr Regis has used drama as a medium to tackle serious social and development messages before. While working for Rare, a US-based conservation NGO, Mr Regis helped produce “Apwe Plezi”, which means “after the pleasure” in Creole. The soap opera ran on local radio in St Lucia for more than three years, addressing issues such as HIV and AIDS, domestic violence, teenage pregnancy and drug abuse.

He went on to develop a similar series called Coconut Bay focusing on family planning issues in Dominica, St. Lucia and Grenada.

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Andrea Downer

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04/06/2011

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