Vol. 76, No. 2Emerging trends

Man speaks into microphone.

The power of words

Bolivian radio drama spotlights human trafficking

Famous actors from Bolivia voiced the characters of La Caldera. Credit: La Caldera


Bolivia is a known source country of human trafficking and forced labour. So when the United Nations Office on Drugs and Organized Crime (UNODC) and the United States (U.S.) Embassy in La Paz wanted to communicate with the Bolivian public about it, they decided to use the country's most powerful medium – the radio.

Together with PCI Media Impact, UNODC and the U.S. Embassy created La Caldera, a 21-episode radio drama that aims to teach listeners about the most common ways people are trafficked in Bolivia by using real-life examples. It's designed for low-income youth, since they are considered to be most at risk.

"We went into the field and we actually met with people who are dealing with these cases and with NGOs that have been working to assist and protect the victims, so it's something really tailor-made to the Bolivian reality," says Antonino de Leo, from the Bolivia office of the UNODC.

Real stories

The drama is set in La Caldera, a small border town in Bolivia, and each episode focuses on several adolescents who are experiencing different types of human trafficking. Canela is an intelligent girl who, after being abandoned by her parents, becomes trapped in sexual slavery. Simon, a 10-year-old boy, moves to the city to live with his godmother and is forced into domestic labour.

Radio hosts at approximately 155 community stations across the country play the episodes on air. Afterwards, they follow a prepared discussion guide and ask listeners questions, have conversations with experts, and list actions that victims can personally take to protect themselves and their families.

"The second chapter, for example, is about labour exploitation and there is a proposal from us for radio hosts to talk about migration, its effects and also its negative consequences and risks," de Leo says.

The program launched last year, and de Leo says even two weeks after the launch, he was getting feedback from radio hosts.

"There were people calling in and identifying cases of labour exploitation or forced servitude, and even saying, 'How can I know that my mother is not being exploited in Argentina or Spain?' " de Leo says.

Relating to the characters

PCI Media Impact, the not-for-profit organization that designed the program and its materials, was asked to get involved because of its track record of producing serial dramas that actually change behaviour.

"If you fall in love with a character on Modern Family or Downton Abbey, through parasocial modelling, you will viscerally connect to that character's behaviour as an action," says Sean Southey, the executive director of PCI Media Impact. "That's an incredibly effective way to shift knowledge, to change attitudes and to shift practices on the ground."

There are many core messages in each episode, but one Southey is really trying to promote is to get communities engaged to report strange behaviours that could be human trafficking.

Patricia Viscarra, a legal advisor with the U.S. Embassy in La Paz, says her department got involved because her former director saw first-hand just how bad human trafficking was in Bolivia. Her department also publishes the U.S. Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report each year, and the 2013 report stressed the need for prevention.

Since La Caldera has been airing on radio stations across the country, Viscarra has heard incredible stories about the change it has created.

"In one community, a little girl wanted to run away from home because she had really bad grades," says Viscarra. "She started talking with her classmates and they said, 'Didn't you hear on La Caldera what happens to the young lady who wanted to run away and she became a victim of trafficking?' That was something that helped us realize how important radios are in little towns and how much impact and prevention you can do in these kinds of areas."

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