Ten years after it came into existence Merundoi is celebrating not only its anniversary but holding the coveted position of being the longest running radio serial in Guyana and the Caribbean twined with two of its members being invited to sit in on the last television debate between the US presidential hopefuls.
During a recent sit-down with The Scene the organisation’s Executive Director Margaret Lawrence mentioned that though there is a lot to celebrate it will not be a big blast since many of the non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are facing “crunch time”. However, fans will be receiving a treat. “We would have liked to have this grand celebration but we’re very happy with this milestone. We plan on doing a few street theatres in the community,” she shared.
Merundoi was launched on October 26, 2006.
“Overtime we have expanded our services base to include training workshops and a variety of multimedia productions. These include playwriting and stage production, street/forum theatre, education and sensation infomercials for the Guyana Enhancement Project (GEP), documentaries, jingles and songs, weekly print media feature, a website and Facebook page and soon a television sitcom,” she continued.
Over the years, Lawrence noted, it has not been easy for the Merundoi team but they have come a long way. “It started as a project but the methodology was so important. The methodology is the changing of a negative behaviour to a positive behaviour….[and] can be found in every aspect in our lives.”
What started with the MARCH (Modeling & Reinforcement to Combat HIV/AIDS) Project soon emerged into dealing with a variety of health and social issues including gender-based violence, chronic diseases, stigma and discrimination, governance, access to services, suicide, parent-child communication, birth certificate registration, mental health, voter registration and elections participation and income tax compliance.
The NGOs Street Theatre Outreach Programme leans more to an interactive approach that allows its audience to discuss the characters’ behaviours, identify poor choices and model better choices which they believe will bring about a better outcome.
“The radio drama is quite popular especially in the Diaspora on www.merundoi.org.gy , attracting approximately over 20,000 hits monthly from an average of forty countries…,” Lawrence boasted. Guyana, the US and Canada tops the chart but the list also includes hits from places like the Vatican and Rwanda.
Merundoi has been making a difference in the lives of many of its listeners. According to Lawrence they were once contacted by a New Amsterdam prisoner on how Merundoi has impacted his life, as well as a teacher in Brazil, who tunes in with his students to every episode. He says that the serial aids in teaching the students the English Language. Also impacted are a number of visually impaired fans who have said they eagerly look forward to every airing and list can go on.
The organisation has gained a number of awards as well; firstly receiving the 2008 GBCHA Award for Business Excellence on HIV/AIDS in the Community/Media, in 2010 the PEPFAR HERO Certificate for recognizing those affected by HIV/AIDS, the PAHO/WHO Media Award for Excellence in Health Journalism – Certificate of Merit (2014), and the GBCHA Award for Business Excellence – Partnerships Category (Honorable Mention) in 2015.
“In 2012, eight short plays developed under the Merundoi Playwriting and Stage Production workshops won eighteen awards at the National Drama Festival. These included Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Guyanese Play,” the Executive Director revealed.
Speaking more about how the organisation functions, Lawrence said that it has fifty permanent staff members while part-time volunteers conduct interventions in all of Guyana’s regions. Its Board of Directors and Management Team have a total of over 75 years’ experience in areas such as: management, human resources, communications, the arts, information technology and financial skills.
For the ten years, the show has done over a thousand episodes. Currently, it is in Season 5 which runs until December.
The organization is known also for producing political debates and because of this two of its members have been invited to witness the final debate between US presidential candidates, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. The two persons representing the team are Lawrence herself and another member of the Board, Durwin Humphrey.
“Our board members give us voluntary service and I must say we’re thankful for them. Board members are Chairman Sven Wills, Carol James-Boston, Evelyn Hamilton, Beverly Chan, Jocelyn Josiah and Durwin Humphrey,” Lawrence said.
“I must applaud our writers: Richard Pitman, Kojo McPherson, Trevor Smith, Mosa Telford and Rochelle Christie.
“We would like to thank our fans also. Without our listeners, we won’t be where we are today,” Lawrence added.
And to make its work more effective Merundoi has collaborated with the private and public sectors, civic organisations, regional and international institutions including NCN, GT&T, ministries of Education, Public Health, Social Protection, Social Cohesion, Communities and Tourism as well as Women Across Differences among others. The National AIDS Programme Secretariat, Region 6 Health Authority, Caricom, Jamaica Debates Commission, the Guyana Prison Service, United Nations Peace Association Guyana, Help and Shelter, Associates for International Development Incorporated – Barbados, Caribbean Broadcast Media Partnership on HIV/AIDS, USAID, UNFPA, UNICEF, UNAIDS, PANCAP, PAHO/WHO, IOM and the EU have also chipped in to keep the organisation going.
“We’ve got some faithful sponsors like Republic Bank, Guyana Lottery Company, Spads Incorporated, Beharry and over the past years we also had Guyana Bible Society,” Lawrence said.
Merundoi’s mission is “…to model, foster, and reinforce healthy choices and lifestyles through innovative public education to facilitate positive behaviour change and utilize drama and other media.”
The organisation believes that its “passion and enthusiasm for positive social development, as well as the organisation’s commitment to using the CDC created MARCH principles as a reliable behaviour tool has put” it “a notch above the rest.”