As the (Globalized) World Turns

When I was growing up I watched soap operas with my mother, grandmother, and aunt. This was especially true during the summer months when my sister and I were out of school. Sometimes my grandmother and aunt would come to visit for the afternoon and we would watch “the stories” (as my grandmother referred to them) together. But even if we couldn’t watch them together, we would always discuss them when we saw each other. This gave us a way to talk about a variety of social issues as they were portrayed on the shows.

My favorite program was As the World Turns. At the time, there were not many strong female characters on prime-time TV. But soap operas were ahead of the times. They had more female characters and were able to depict more of a variety of personalities. I admired one character in particular on As the World Turns. Even then, I thought she had very good communications skills. She was a strong woman and I liked how she handled various situations. I decided that was how I wanted to be. Even today, I think back on that character has being a big help to me in defining what kind of woman I wanted to become.

Later, in high school, I did a report on the history of the radio. It was then that I learned that most American soap operas had come into being during the heyday of radio. Years later, when television came on the scene, they transitioned to that medium. I was reminded of all these memories when I read the above article.

In class, we have talked about global public relations and the challenges of getting a message across in an area that does not have the media capabilities that we are used to here in the United States. The article illustrates exactly what we discussed, that sometimes, plays or stories are the best way to reach an audience.

According to the World Health Organization, depression is a big problem among adolescents around the world. They estimate that half of mental disorders begin by age 14, but usually go undiagnosed. In order to address this global problem, several non-profit organizations have put together a program that broadcasts 5-7 minute dramas on the radio. These soap operas are aimed at teens. In the one mentioned in the article, the main character is 16 and dealing with issues like teen pregnancy and depression.

In areas of East Africa, like Malawi and Tanzania, radio is the only means by which they can connect to the outside world. Little is known about depression in these small villages and this is a way to educate young people. The teens who listen to the dramas are then encouraged to ask questions after the broadcast. Sometimes they can text the radio station. Other times, these programs will be listened to as a group in a community center and a facilitator from the program will lead the discussion.

A project manager in Tanzania said, “Many of them [the teens] have said they didn’t realize that it was okay to talk about the thoughts in their heads, and they hadn’t realized that anything could be done about the pain.”

Soap operas as a genre often get little respect, but I have always felt that they really do serve an important purpose. This article confirms that. It is good to know that this art form can help young people around the world.


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