“Young people’s critical perspective”
[ Interview with Roland Hohberg ]
Using entertainment for purposes of education and promotion of behavioural change is nothing new. What is special about the television series Academia de Sonhos (Academy of Dreams)?
I have been working as a film and music producer in Mozambique, my home of choice, for almost 20 years. I work with the most popular artists in the country, and I have been a member of the jury on a TV casting show for many years. The new idea was to use the casting-show format in a way to make the popularity of talented singers contribute to learning, education and solidarity with socially weaker groups. That is an innovation in Mozambique. The young adults assume responsibility for topics and presentation, and that helps raise greater awareness among their peers. It also promotes dialogue between family members of different generations. The series is quite varied, thanks to the use of music, animation and graphic elements, along with cooperation with comedians and experienced authors like Paulina Chiziane, who is a very successful writer.
Who exactly is involved?
In this collaborative project, TVM, the public television network, gave a slot with high viewing rates to a local non-governmental organisation, which is also called Academia de Sonhos, and the production firm Inside Mozambique Lda. A one-hour show is broadcast every Saturday at 5.00 pm. TVM is also watched in other African countries.
Why did you pick young people as your target group?
Because they strongly influence one another. For many years, I have been aware of a great need for participation of the youth in the search for creative responses to the country’s pressing problems, just consider issues such as rising HIV/AIDS infection rates, the sexual exploitation of minors or child labour. In Mozambique, the options young persons have to make themselves heard are traditionally quite limited, so the chances of producing a television programme created by children and young adults were actually rather slim.
What set the project in motion nevertheless?
The decisive stimulus for the series Academia de Sonhos came from Graça Machel and her husband Nelson Mandela, on the occasion of a performance for Mandela’s 90th birthday. Impressed by the vocal talent of 13-year-old child star Cuca, they helped us by providing contacts to youth programmes in neighbouring South Africa. We managed to engage the wife of the current president of Mozambique, Armando Emilio Guebuza, as the official patron; and a few weeks after the programme was first broadcast, the first agreements with the Ministry of Women’s and Social Affairs and the Environment Ministry were signed. Most important, however, the talented youngsters succeeded in drawing the attention of celebrities and political leaders to their issues. Singer Cuca, in the meantime, has become one of the series’ regular hosts.
What do you do beyond the TV programme?
The concept is not limited to the production of the weekly TV series. Public appearances in the “bairros”, the urban slums, as well as in rural areas help to reach out to the young generation. A great variety of different organisations, ranging from environmental pressure groups to Clubes da Rapariga – girls clubs which are a place of refuge for the victims of violence or sexual extortion – are involved. We aim to teach young persons to make feature films at a training workshop called Centro Creativo, starting with writing screenplays, moving on to sound and camera technology and concluding with the production of a feature.
What have your experiences with these people been like?
I am pleasantly surprised by the way the young adults who take part in our programmes and events contribute ideas and develop self-confidence. After just a few weeks, that even was appreciated by seasoned TV presenters. There has already been a fantastic response to critical reporting from the perspective of young people, supported by songs they wrote themselves, which encourage young girls to report sexual harassment by teachers, for example.
How did Mais Vale Prevenir come about?
In making this film, it was important to show that children and young adults play an active role in imparting knowledge in their communities and families. They spread the knowledge about the early-warning system for floods or preparatory evacuation measures, for example. The soundtrack for the film was composed for a child’s voice, and I am lucky to have a singer with the artistic expressiveness required to capture the attention of a wide audience in 13-year-old Cuca. This approach is important to make sure the film does not founder amidst the overabundance of Brazilian soap operas and family shows. The film was commissioned by InWEnt, while the filming was coordinated with the national disaster management authority, Instituto Nacional de Gestão de Calamidades (INGC).
When was the film aired?
At the beginning of July, in two parts, in the Academia de Sonhos series. Other features were also broadcast, such as an explanation of the early-warning system and a debate on the role of youth in disaster prevention. We also broadcast a report about our participation in the global Disaster Risk Reduction platform in Geneva, and the exchange of experiences with young adults in other countries. Since the film was not produced exclusively for us, there is nothing to stop it from being shown in other TV programmes.
What is the way forward for Academia de Sonhos?
Correspondence from all provinces of the country is a huge motivation for our young team. The letters, e-mails and short messages we get on a daily basis exceed our editorial capacities. All work is done on a voluntary basis, after all. Obviously, school commitments limit the amount of editorial work pupils can do. Brazil’s President Lula da Silva spontaneously invited the group on a trip to his country. School workshops and an exchange of experiences are planned in Denmark and Germany in the run-up to the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. Moreover, Graça Machel has pronounced herself in favour of stronger cooperation with the Mandela Foundation at the regional level.