Image: Safe Love Campaign
By Zoe Fox
If this plot line sounds a bit risqué to you, it’s all the more taboo in devoutly Christian Zambia, where divorce is frowned upon and married women are encouraged to stay loyal to unfaithful and abusive husbands. But Chileshe, a 15-year veteran of the Zambian entertainment scene, chose this role for reasons running deeper than the character’s emotional complexities.
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“I’ve been branded with positive messages as an actor [because I’m] a pastor,” Chileshe says. “Love Games depicts a society of strong women who can make choices such as whether to use a condom. I think this rattles the nest.”
Love Games is an “edutainment” TV drama, a genre gaining steam in Africa, which weaves complex discussions about sexual health into each episode. The show follows five women and their respective husbands and boyfriends living in the Zambian capital of Lusaka, where more than 20% of the population tests positive for HIV, well above the national rate is 14.3%. Delving further into sexual health issues, the second season of Love Games premieres on ZNBC, the Zambian national TV station, on Wednesday. You can also watch the complete first season on YouTube.
This form of educational TV drama — a far cry from the familiar children’s programming or non-fiction documentary — is gaining steam around Africa. Predating Love Games was Kenya’s Shuga: Love, Sex, Money and South Africa’s 4Play: Sex Tips for Girls. Zambia’s first edutainment drama, and the only similar program produced in the country, was a 2009 mini-series called Club Risky Business.
Love Games is financed by an unexpected source: the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), which funds a variety of HIV/AIDS, malaria, family planning, and maternal and child health programs through contractor Chemonics. The show is the capstone of an HIV prevention campaign called Safe Love.
In addition to USAID, Zambia’s National HIV/AIDS/STI/TB Council supports the Safe Love campaign, which tackles four key drivers of HIV/AIDS through Love Games plot lines: multiple and concurrent sexual partnerships, low and inconsistent condom use, and mother-to-child transmission of HIV.
Can Edutainment Change Behavior?
Love Games and the Safe Love curriculum were designed with the competency for behavior change in mind. That’s why the USAID-sponsored program doesn’t simply air its episodes on TV. Following each episode, two hosts offer some discussion questions regarding the sexual health topics brought up during the episode.
In addition, five civil society organizations run programs called “Safe Love Clubs” in six of Zambia’s 10 provinces. These clubs of young people — the show’s intended audience is between 15 and 49 years old — meet at schools and community centers to discuss the issues raised in each episode.
According to Rosanna Price Nyendwa, managing director of CHAMP Zambia, an organization that runs a free sexual health hotline, there is a spike in calls following episodes of Love Games and even during the show’s commercial breaks.
“Love Games stimulates conversation and people are wanting to learn more.”
“Love Gamesstimulates conversation and people are wanting to learn more.”Overall, Price Nyendwa says there’s between a 300% and 400% increase in calls during high periods of the Safe Love campaign.
Another feedback channel for the Safe Love Campaign is through the Safe Love Zambia Facebook page, which brings many of the difficult questions raised during the show to the social networking community.
‘The Timing Is Perfect’
At a meeting of one of the newer Safe Love Clubs, which started at the Munali Secondary School in Lusaka in May, Humphrey Chileshe (not related to the aforementioned pastor and actor) facilitates a discussion for deaf students after the end of the school day. About 20 young men and six young women, a handful of whom are wearing Safe Love branded clothing, listen as Humphrey asks them questions, both in spoken words and sign language.
“If boys and girls know prostitution is wrong, why do they do it?” he asks.
Three different participants sign three different variations in the same answer: Because people lack awareness of the risks. A 28-year-old named Amos shared his own story, admitting to promiscuous sex with many partners before he joined the Safe Love Club.
Because of Love Games‘ ability to drive behavior change among men like Amos, Pastor Chileshe feels the show is airing at the right place and the right time.
“The timing is perfect,” he says. “But I think this should have come even earlier.”