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Sudan: Community radios reach the unreachable

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©UNICEF/Sudan/2004
ComRadio listening groups have helped change attitudes in favour of girls’ education.

KHARTOUM, Sudan, June 2005 – In a country where rural areas remain hard to reach, adult populations are often illiterate and the number of local dialects is said to exceed 500, communication can be a real challenge. How can you tell people about vital health, hygiene, survival and education issues if they can’t read, have no electricity – therefore no TV – and speak different languages? Well, through community radios of course!

The idea is simple. Bring together a group of community representatives, men, women and young people, give them a cell radio and let them debate, in their local language, topics related to their every day life in the community. UNICEF teamed up with the Sudan Radio and Television Corporation and did just that!

Or almost!

The Community Radio Listening Group project – or ComRadio as it came to be known – was kick started in 2002 to give a voice to marginalized communities not usually represented in the media. It also seeks to support public education on basic facts for life that will enhance childcare and development as well as general well-being. Put simply, ComRadio is a vehicle for people in isolated communities to voice their concerns while at the same time spreading messages about education, HIV/AIDS, female genital mutilation, immunization, mine-risk awareness, etc. For UNICEF, ComRadio is proving an effective strategy for community members to engage in dialogue among themselves and with partners around key development issues.

Members of the listening group meet in a set place during set times every week. Coordinators are chosen from the radio station and from the community, are taught how to use the relevant radio equipment and are trained on how to stimulate discussions.

When the broadcast is over, a group facilitator stimulates discussion among the group about the programme and solicits suggestions on what themes they would like to cover in future programmes. Responses are then recorded on a form which is then sent to the ComRadio coordinator at the radio station. These feedback reports and the field visits that the coordinator conducts help him / her assess the level of understanding, get a feel for emerging attitudes or general reactions to the messages being promoted, and thus make needed changes and improvements.

Not just simple, but also effective. RadioCom’s impact on some communities is now undeniable. In Kassala, for example, a locality reputed for being very conservative, listening groups have helped change attitudes in favour of girls’ education and have stimulated their communities to build new classrooms. The all-women groups now debate very openly of what are usually seen as taboo topics including HIV/AIDS and female genital mutilation.

In Damazeen, in Blue Nile State, student enrolment has increased since listening groups were established. Following programmes on education – particularly girls’ education – a new classroom was built in one of the communities, and members of a listening group in another community approached the government to provide them with teachers. In addition, textbooks were also distributed after listening groups voiced their concerns about the lack of school supplies.

To date, nearly 400 ComRadio listening groups have been established in eight states, broadcasting in 40 languages or dialects. More than 100 radio staff members have been trained and over 384 radio features have been produced and aired. SudMedia, a media production and training company, has been providing the training and technical input for the project.

A drop in the ocean, some might argue, but the impact is palpable and UNICEF and the Sudanese broadcasting authority are eager to expand the project over the years.


 

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