The value of listening
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CTA. 2002. The value of listening. ICT Update Issue 9. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands
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The value of listening, New Scientist, vol. 174, issue 2341, 4 May 2002 , page 51 The radio soap, Tembea Na Majira (TNM, or ´Move with the Times´), which goes out on the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation´s Swahili serv
Need a simple technology to help poor or war-ravaged communities? Try radio, says Beatrice Newbery IT IS NOT everybody´s idea of a cracking yarn. Grace, a farmer´s wife, fails to boil her surplus milk and it ferments; her children drink it and develop diarrhoea and vomiting. The owners of the livestock depot misuse a veterinary drug and inadvertently kill 400 chickens. The local women´s group decides to rear a calf. The action is from a radio soap, Tembea Na Majira (TNM, or "Move with the Times"), which goes out on the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation´s Swahili service every Thursday night. In Kenya, 71 per cent of the population claim to own a cow, and TNM is the station´s second most popular programme. It is more than entertainment. The 6.6 million listeners can pick up tips on how to avoid mastitis in cattle, use slurry on the farm, or vary feeding regimes when cows are lactating. Farmers are clearly taking the advice to heart. The soap´s production office in Nairobi receives 50 letters a week, many from farmers who are trying out what they´ve learned from the show. Like many radio programmes in the developing world, TNM is changing people´s lives. To understand why, consider the dearth of other available media. About four-fifths of the world´s population do not have regular access to a telephone. In many African countries, there are still 10 radios for every television, and much of what is broadcast on TV is imported. "Television is often short of content that is locally determined, relevant, appropriate and accessible in local languages," explains Nancy Bennett, chief executive of Toronto-based Developing Countries Farm Radio Network, which provides programming services to African radio stations. Take Kenya´´s farmers. Few of them can read and virtually none have televisions. Yet 75 per cent of Kenyans have a radio and 93 per cent have access to one. Radio is the only form of mass communication for two-thirds of rural Africans. "Radio can reach communities at the very end of the development road," says Bennett. Kate Lloyd Morgan, co-director of Mediae, a British-based charity that helps put together TNM says, "People get together and listen to the radio in bars. Families gather round to tune in together in the evenings, the way we watch television. Africa has a great oral tradition, and radio fits in with that." Mixed messages TNM offers more than farming tips. In 1999 it raised the issue of domestic violence, exploring the suffering of Atieno at the hands of Juma, her violent husband. A survey conducted by Mediae and the TNM team found that the views of listeners on domestic violence changed dramatically over the following year. In 1999, 54 per cent of men and women thought it acceptable for a man to beat his wife if she returned home late. A year later, that number was down to 20 per cent. It´s not only in the poorest countries that radio can play a vital role in building communities. In the Balkans an Internet channel called OneWorld Radio, which distributes programmes around the world to combat poverty and protect human rights, has been encouraging war-ravaged communities in the Balkans to share their programmes. Branislava Milosevic, project co-ordinator of OneWorld in the area, says the aim is to get people from different communities to communicate the way they did before the war. This can be quite a challenge. Milosevic points to a law introduced when Franjo Tudjman was president which bans Croatian stations from broadcasting in any language but Croatian, even though Serbian and Bosnian are very similar to Croatian and would be understood by most listeners. The law still stands, though it is largely redundant. OneWorld´s programmes cater particularly to the area´s large refugee communities. "The idea is that a Serbian may listen in and hear an interview with a Bosnian refugee about his life," says Milosevic. "This promotes tolerance as well as providing information." Radio is also a crucial medium for helping refugees, among others, in Afghanistan, especially with education. REACH, or Radio Education for Afghan Children, started broadcasting from an office in Peshawar in Pakistan last June to fill the gap created by the Taliban´s clampdown on secular education. It targets 5 to 16-year-olds. "The potential is huge in a country where there is nothing else to educate them, no books or newspapers," says Max Grantham, an education adviser to REACH, which goes out on the BBC´s World Service. "Parents are too busy staying alive to educate their children." Yet for all its benefits, radio´s potential is still not fully realised. Aid organisations were "sidetracked by the Internet, which they thought would help developing countries leapfrog into the modern world", Bennett says. "Only now are people realising that radio is far more appropriate."
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