World Radio Day is an opportunity to celebrate the enduring power of radio across the world, and this year will pay particular attention to the role that radio plays in promoting gender equality and empowering women.
In the run-up to World Radio Day, Gemma McNeil-Walsh of SOAS Radio spoke to Uzma Sulaiman of Lifeline Energy, an organization that works to increase radio listening access across Africa through the design and distribution of solar and wind-up media players and radios.
Uzma, do you yourself listen to radio? Are there any programmes or radio initiatives that you have found particularly interesting or inspiring?
For me the Learning at Taonga Market programme in Zambia implemented by Lifeline Energy has been the most inspiring project. Growing up, I never put much emphasis on radio and got most of my information through television. However, it wasn’t until I was introduced to the Taonga Market programme three years ago, that I realized how much radio can empower people, especially children. The programme uses audio as a way to educate as well as to invigorate the imagination.
UNESCO has described radio as having an “enduring” power that has evolved into the digital age. Why do think radio continues to be such a powerful, engaging and useful tool of communication?
Radio is inexpensive, its power is limitless, and it stimulates the mind in ways that other types of media such as television and the Internet cannot. Radio is also the most far-reaching and can speak to communities in the most remote areas of the world. People speak of the power of the Internet – but that power is limited to a very small part of the world. Through Lifeline Energy I have been to the most remote areas of sub-Saharan Africa and it is radio that people listen to. In fact, 80% of the population in sub-Saharan African use radio as their main means of communication. This is something that is completely lost to us in the western world.
You mentioned earlier the Learning at Taonga Market programme in Zambia. What were some of the challenges you faced while working on this project?
The main problem was actually the availabilities of working radios. Most radios require batteries and an electricity source to power them, however, in remote and poor areas people don’t have these availabilities. It was these problems that lead Lifeline Energy to develop solar and wind-up radios, so that people anywhere can have access.
What was the most rewarding aspect of the project?
Learning at Taonga Market is radio distance education initiative written and recorded by the Zambian Ministry of Education. It was amazing to watch Zambian government education specialists write and record the programming, and then to watch the children listen to it. It was incredibly rewarding when I asked the children to describe their “teacher” (the teacher on the radio). Each child described an incredibly different lady. One was fat with a “big smile”, while the other was tall and wearing red glasses and a white blouse.
Finally, do you have any advice for other development organizations or professionals who want to engage with local radio in developing countries?
I would have to say that you need to understand different cultural perspectives. We once worked with a British organisation that was creating radio content for Ethiopia and the audio made little sense to Ethiopians (for instance, they discussed low fair airlines).
Find out more about Lifeline Energy’s projects.
Keep up to date with the World Radio Day London event by following @SOASRadio #worldradioday
Contributed by Gemma McNeil-Walsh, SOAS Radio.