Spotlight on Bahati … Hundreds of ‘thumbs up’ for new mental health radio soap opera

| April 27, 2015

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Farm Radio International is using radio to bring knowledge about mental health to students, teachers, youth workers and parents in Tanzania and Malawi.

There was a buzz of anticipation at a recent meeting in Akeri Secondary School, 30 kilometres west of Arusha. Almost a hundred students, members of the school’s mental health club, crowded into a classroom at the school. They fidgeted and chatted with their friends as they waited. The students had come to hear a world premiere of the first episodes of Bahati – a new radio drama series produced by Farm Radio International for young people like them.

Then FRI’s Pendo Benni asked students, “How many of you are regular listeners to Positive Mood?” Nearly everyone raised their hand.

Positive Mood is a weekly half-hour radio show on youth mental health that has been broadcast by Radio Five since January. Bahati, or “Lucky,” will be incorporated into Positive Mood for twenty-seven weeks starting in early May.

Tanzanian teenagers suffer mental health issues like teenagers the world over, but such problems are not well understood or recognized. Positive Mood was designed by an FRI-led team, and aims to give young people, as well as their parents and teachers, information about the mental health challenges they face.

The serial radio soap opera will be a regular feature for the next six months on Positive Mood. After each episode, a panel of students will discuss, on-air, issues raised in the drama. Mental health specialists and advisors will also offer their assessments. At the end of each show, the listening audience will be asked to offer their opinions via text and phone. Using this information, the show’s producers and content experts will be able to judge whether Positive Mood and Bahati are having the desired impact with the audience.

But before the first episode is broadcast, Bahati’s director Maria Sarungi Tsehai and the FRI Positive Mood team needed to know how an audience would respond to the drama.

So Ms. Tsehai played the first three episodes for nearly 300 students at four secondary schools around Arusha. The students commented on the characters, the story, and even the sound quality. There was a lively discussion about the believability of the plot.

The team needn’t have worried – the students loved the series. In fact, during the first five-minute episode, the main character Bahati was kissed by her boyfriend. The youngest Akeri Secondary students buried their heads under their arms and giggled in embarrassment, as thirteen-year-olds do. They were already hooked on the show.

Bahati is a Farm Radio International production, written by Tony Mushoborozi with additional material from Maria Sarungi Tsehai. Vijay Cuddeford is the series editor and the drama was recorded at Compass Communications in Dar es Salaam. It is funded by Grand Challenges Canada.

For more information about FRI’s Integrated Mental Health Program, go to: