The United Nations have begun to shoot the first episodes of a soap opera which will focus on AIDS and environmental issues. It will be broadcasted across the African continent in less than a month.
AIDS is a serious issue in Africa
The father has just died, the sons are already planning to throw the mother out of the house, one of the sons is getting divorced, the brother-in-law has had an affair and is on his way to an aids consultant.
This is family life in Africa captured in "heart and soul" - a new soap opera that will soon be on show soon throughout the African continent.
"Heart and Soul" is more than the usual affairs, intrigues, family squabbles and teen problems which make the average soap so addictive to its viewers. "Heart and Soul" is the first television series by the United Nations. It is a reflection of daily life in Africa and will have a strong focus on issues such as AIDS, the environment and poverty.
"Heart and Soul", Africa’s first "educational" soap will be broadcasted from July 6 in up to 22 African countries. It was designed and developed by 24 UN organisations in Kenia - from Unicef to Unep, the United Nations Environment Programme.
According to the UN, the aim of the show is to "seek to address the underlying causes of negative social patterns", and to "convey development information in subtle and persuasive ways to galvanise inter-personal communication at an individual and community level". In other words: the UN is seeking to address young people in Africa on serious issues via an entertaining tv show.
"The soaps that we see here in Africa generally come from the western world and have nothing to do with the reality here", Klaus Töpfer said. In many African countries, young people just get to see stale shows from other continents, or home-made low-budget soaps, whose quality is so bad, that viewers hardly get to see anything at all.
With the start of "Heart and Soul", this should change. The new soap has led to a new quality in African television series, with actors, film directors and technicians from all over the world taking part in the production.
After five years development, the shooting of "Heart and Soul" can eventually begin. The first six episodes are expected to cost $1 million. In return, the UN hopes to attract attention to a subject which is still taboo in many African states.
Thousands of orphans
Rachel Wambui has one of the hardest roles. The 31-year-old tailor plays an aids counsellor. As sex and AIDS are still forbidden topics in Kenya, the series’ script is always closely read and revised by UN officials. But the script is also inspected for possible criticism of the government, and Kenya’s president Daniel Arap Moi.
However, this does not mean life in Kenya is seen through rose-tinted spectacles. Of Kenya’s approx. 30 million population, 13,94 per cent – some 2,100 000 - are infected with the HIV virus. According to Unaids, 180000 died of AIDS in 1999, of which 78000 were children. And 18 0000 children have have lost either one, or both parents to the disease.
With the daily soap, the UN hopes to reach up to 75 million people, through an extensive media network, combining both television and radio.
The introductory pilot TV and radio mini-series, which mark the end of the project's development phase, will be broadcasted in Kiswahili and English and will focus on East Africa for its principal roll, including the African states of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.
Mobile video cinema and Regional Reach, a network of community television sets in East Africa, will also combine with television broadcast to twenty other African countries using the TV Africa network.
So if the series proves popular in Africa, could it have the same effect in Europe? According to the series’ director, Kenny Olembo, there is more to African culture than girls with woven baskets.
"Our topics are universal. How different can problems with love be ?".