Radio drama entity goes NGO route

After a year of promoting behavioural change through a radio serial drama, Merundoi is expanding to take on the status of an independent, non-governmental organization that will continue to focus on HIV/AIDS but also tackle other serious non-health issues.

The transition is expected to attract more donors to the serial and its interpersonal community-based reinforcement activities implemented countrywide, and open the doors for greater collaboration with other NGOs in a number of areas. Additionally, other opportunities to expand would be explored.

Merundoi’s Project Director Anand Harrilall told Stabroek News that the entity has recently been incorporated as a company and was currently inviting applications for persons to join its new Board of Directors, which he said, would provide technical assistance to the existing team once installed.

Merundoi started out as a joint venture production by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Global AIDS Programme Guyana in collaboration with the Ministry of Health. The serial is a PEPFAR-Government of Guyana project based on the MARCH (Modelling and Reinforcement to Combat HIV) strategy for behaviour change communication and aims to help people reduce the risk of HIV infection and transmission; encourage access to care and treatment, support individual behaviour change and reduce stigma and discrimination. When it acquires NGO status it will function independently with the US Agency for International Development (USAID) being its main donor. Since its first episode aired in October 2006, Merundoi has integrated into the health and education sectors executing its strategy for behaviour change communication and tapping into the school curriculum. The serial recorded its 100th episode in September 2007, and it is credited with local radio making a comeback in the age of Ipods, Mp3 players and internet music downloads. Harrilall said being the first of its kind in Guyana, Merundoi has had quite a few hurdles to cross but had managed to have a successful first year.

“There were times we fell down but we got right back up and were able to reflect on what went wrong and correct it. This year we are going to soar for we are in the fortunate position of being stronger and better positioned to move forward. It has been an incredible journey though,” he said.

He said the transition to take place within the coming month will gave Merundoi the scope to explore other non-health issues such as the environment. Further, he said, the move makes provision for other donors to get onboard and for Merundoi to look at other opportunities at expanding.

The feedback since October 2006 has been tremendous, he said, given that people continue to call into the office and leave emails on the website praising the quality of the serial. Positive critiques were received for the writing and acting as well. According to him, the anecdotal evidence collected across the country suggests that the serial is reaching a wide cross-section of the population. According to him, a national survey is among several proposals being discussed for the year.

The project director said that in addition to the serial, the reinforcement activity is a key component of Merundoi. He explained that the activity includes facilitators from Merundoi listening and discussing behaviour change themes emanating from the drama with various groups across the country. He noted that Merundoi had applied to the Ministry of Education for various modules developed from the drama to be taught in schools.

After the approval was granted teachers and the team at Merundoi worked on the modules which he said were mainly about teaching the children life skills such as assertiveness. Harrilall explained that one module covered 15 episodes, adding that three modules were developed for the project and were implemented in schools for students in grades 7-9.

Merundoi is aired twice weekly; two episodes are aired on Mondays and Wednesdays at 5.45 pm, on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 2.15 pm on 98.1FM and on Wednesdays and Fridays at 10.05 am on VOG. Omnibus editions can be heard on Saturdays at 6 pm and on Sundays at 2 pm on VOG. The drama is also aired on Radio Paiwomak and web-cast on http://www.merundoi.org.gy, on the health ministry’s website located at http:www.hiv.gov.gy and Radio Guyana International at http://www.radioguyana.co.uk.

The 15-minute drama is set in an imaginary village located about 15 miles from Georgetown. The Akawaio word Merundoi means hope, strength, stamina and energy and was selected following research, workshops and pre-testing of scripts. (Iana Seales)

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