Radio empowers rural communities

Last year, a group of women in Mazabuka, a sugar-rich farming area below the Kafue River, recorded a radio programme on their difficulties accessing water. In almost every village, women have to walk a mile to fetch water.

Through the Panos radio listening clubs project, the programme was played on a national radio (the Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation – ZNBC) and on Mazabuka Community radio station.

It soon yielded results. The town clerk of Mazabuka Municipal Council promised that new bore holes would be sunk to ease the water problem that women faced. Months later, distance was not a problem any more for the women to have water. Within a walking distance of their homes, they had easy access to clean water.

This result has been particularly important for women in Mazabuka. “They are able to speak out. They don’t have to depend on their husbands to look after their families and find solutions to their problems, they’re able to help themselves,” said Victoria Beenzu, a producer at Mazabuka Community Radio Station in Zambia.

The Mazabuka case is one of many daily life realities that PSAf’s trademark programme, “Development Through Radio”, which uses radio listening clubs to provide a platform for marginalized rural communities ‘- and particularly women ‘- to voice their concerns, hold policymakers accountable and exchange ideas at the local level has brought about in a number of countries in the region.

Launched as a pilot program in 1998, the programme has been implemented throughout Zambia, Malawi, Zimbabwe and South Africa, and has evolved into two separate initiatives – the Development

Through Radio (DTR) project, which involves only women and addresses a range of development issues, and an initiative exclusively focused on HIV/AIDS, including men and young people.

The Panos methodology centres on the idea that local communities should help set the development agenda. As the most accessible and effective form of media for rural communities on the far side of the digital and educational divide, radio is key to this concept.

Panos Southern Africa identifies existing community organizations and provides them with radio recording and listening equipment and basic training.

Every week, the clubs choose their own issues for discussion and recording in their own language.

The discussion, recorded on a cassette, is sent to a local coordinator who ensures the discussion is run on a local community radio and acts as a liaison with an urban-based national radio producer.

The producer solicits responses from experts and officials from government and NGOs , which are then integrated into a programme and sent out over the airwaves on a partnering national radio station, like ZNBC.

The idea is to enable rural women in southern Africa voice their concerns to decision-makers who usually remain inaccessible. Evidence in the form of bore holes drilled, roads and markets constructed, schools and clinics constructed, renovated and electrified shows that national and local decision makers are listening.

In 2003, after women in Chipata district in the Eastern Province of Zambia used their HIV/AIDS radio listening club to appeal for greater access to anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs, the Zambia’s then Minister of Health made their local hospital a regional ARV distributor.

The radio programes link also rural communities to other NGOs and private organizations, like in the Thyolo district of Malawi, where a radio group’s broadcast led them to secure financial capital from Pride Malawi, a lending institution.

Now, as the women seek to hold the government to its promise, they feel a new sense of empowerment. As a “radio listening club,” they are engaging government decision-makers and learning about new ideas from neighboring communities on issues ranging from maize production to marital strife. And they have earned themselves respect as educators in the traditional culture of their own villages.

“Before the programme we didn’t know how to go about radio production. ‘ Things have changed. People are happy,” Dory Ng’andu, chairwoman of a radio listening group in Mazabuka, says in her native language of Tonga. People in other villages tell them “we’re happy with the ork you are doing,” she says.

Looking to the future, Panos Southern Africa is focused on making clubs sustainable amid the financial and logistical difficulties faced by rural villages, and the challenge of getting communities to hold government accountable across the southern African region.

Enthusiasm is high, now that the process of radio broadcasting has been demystified, as another Mazabuka participant noted.

“Today we know that talking on the radio is not difficult, and through these talks were able to get these things which we desperately needed.” ‘ Panos Southern Africa.

July 2006
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