September 24, 2010
In Kathmandu, two radio presenters in their early 20s regularly record a popular radio program that answers teens' questions about life. Launched with UNICEF support nine years ago, "Chatting with My Best Friend" discusses HIV/AIDS and other life issues for a weekly audience of 6 million.
Originally 30 minutes in length, the show's timeslot was doubled within a few months after its premiere in response to the loyal following it built among young listeners. In Nepal, a conservative, Hindu-majority country, teen sex and drug use are usually off-limit subjects.
"This lack of guidance and information on issues that were important to young people left them feeling a little neglected and also increased their vulnerability to risky behavior," said Gillian Mellsop, UNICEF's Nepal representative.
"Before ["Chatting with My Best Friend"] started, there was no tradition of talking about such problems in Nepal," said Kaustuv Pokhrel, a former presenter who works behind the scenes. "The show was designed in such a way that it felt like your friends talking to you in a non-judgmental way. The hosts talk about anything under the sun: sexual and reproductive health, career or study concerns, family problems, whatever."
The show also functions as an outreach to youths who cannot read.
The two young presenters play best friends, discuss listeners' problems, and then introduce a short radio drama involving potential solutions. All correspondence is answered, typically a standard reply giving expert advice, with a few letters or text messages featured each week on the program.
Equal Access, a non-profit, produces the show and has exported the concept to other developing nations including Cambodia, Laos, and Yemen.