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Day Four: On the Set of Bigg Chatz
Lights! Camera! Action!
I sat quietly in the studio at Love FM, one of Belize’s most popular radio and television stations, as the Bigg Chatz television show was airing live. Bigg Chatz is a youth-focused program in Belize, hosted by past and present members of the Youth Advocacy Movement (YAM) at Belize Family Life Association (BFLA). The focus of the show is to convey information about topics related to sexual and reproductive health to Belizean youth and the wider society. Even though health is the anchoring theme, the show incorporates a number of segments on current fashion trends, relationship issues, and avoiding illegal drugs. There are also comedic segments and clever skits that are meant to entertain while highlighting the week's theme.
I watched the behind-the-scenes activity with curiosity, and what stood out to me was the heavy involvement of the YAM members. They quite literally ran the show. Not only do they host the live portion of the show and star in the pre-recorded segments, they also hold up cue cards to guide the hosts, operate the camera, and interact with the viewing audience by answering texts in real-time. The team operated with an efficiency clearly borne of practice.
“Why do you do it?” I had asked the Bigg Chatz team earlier in the day. “What makes you give your time so freely to creating this show?”
As we had a conversation in the then-empty studio, the answer became clear: they believed in the vision of the product they were creating. They understood the positive impact that BFLA has in Belize and how the Bigg Chatz show facilitates the spread of crucial health care messages. It was this faith in BLFA’s work that motivated the youth to attend media trainings, spend hours each week recording footage, create original content for their segments, devise strategies to keep the audience engaged, and work tirelessly to make the show a success.
"If I could give all my time, my whole lifetime, to volunteering at the BFLA center, assisting the YAM, and the Bigg Chatz show, I would do it," said YAM president Mykal Welch.
The Bigg Chatz cast, widely viewed as role models in their communities, spoke about the importance of continuity. Being a part of Bigg Chatz was not about individual stardom or ego, they explained. It was about consistent communication of the message and providing mentorship for younger YAM members to ensure the show’s longevity.
"We believe in the 'each one, teach one' philosophy," explained Olynn Kingston, Bigg Chatz producer. "One of the things we instilled in the Bigg Chatz program in the early days is that no host of any segment will be permanent. Eventually, you have to pass the baton. This means that each host has to mentor someone to take their place when they leave."
As is typical of BFLA’s youth ventures, the show also helped to expand the YAM members’ skill set. Throughout their involvement, they receive enviable media training and experience. In their late teens and early twenties, these young people were already recognizable media figures in Belize. This was an incredible gift, particularly for those interested in pursuing related careers.
"Tyronne didn’t know anything about media; he came in with zero experience," said Kingston. "Fast-forward six years: Tyronne now has nine shows, numerous commercials, and many PSAs under his belt. Now, he helps the younger YAM members to get to where he is at this point."
Watching the live airing of Bigg Chatz was a fitting end to my time in Belize. I could actually see the team of young people in action disseminating vital information to other youth. I waved cheerily to the show’s presenters as they gave a live shout-out to the visiting IPPF/WHR team. I fancied myself an off-camera star.
As I packed my suitcase back at the hotel, I reflected on everything I was taking home to Barbados from this trip to Belize. The last four days had surpassed my expectations. We’d had informative discussions with BLFA staff, partners, and youth members. We’d visited schools that were being positively affected by BFLA’s work and seen young people conduct outreach and community education firsthand.
Most importantly, I’d witnessed the power of solid, genuine relationships in sustaining youth work. Young people are an organization’s most valuable resource. They bring a passion and vibrancy that cannot be matched. When young people's needs are supported and prioritised, they will be outstanding partners, innovative, steadfast, and hardworking. This is a truth that organizations would do well to take note of.
“You have a good thing here,” I’d told the YAM members as we said our final goodbyes. And you know what? They really do.