Soot Semee (Voice of Compassion) begins ...

by Johnny Fisher

Photo Credit: John Green Photography 2019

Photo Credit: John Green Photography 2019

In the last week of September I joined a great group of people for a workshop near Arua, Uganda. Some of the group are South Sudanese refugees and others are Ugandans. They have a plan to work together on a media project to improve community health, education and social cohesion in northern Uganda.

We facilitated a community consultation and media training workshop in Rhino Camp, Omugo extension zone.

This is the pre-launch phase of a community-centred media pilot called Soot Semee (Voice of Compassion in Juba Arabic). Over the next six months HCR and our local partners are supporting new arrivals from South Sudan in Omugo zone to create audio podcasts in collaboration with service providers and host communities. Would you consider donating to support this pilot process?

Community members can listen to the podcasts using ‘Speakerboxes’ and memory cards (micro SD cards) distributed by our partner CDC (Community Development Centre).

Those who have mobile phones will also be able to transfer the programmes from phone to phone using Bluetooth. Others will hear segments of the programmes played alongside music on marketplace loudspeaker.

Media podcasts can be heard via Speakerbox or on Phones: Photo credit: John Green Photography, 2019

Media podcasts can be heard via Speakerbox or on Phones: Photo credit: John Green Photography, 2019

CDC is our newest partner. CDC’s Barnabas Samuel and Sebit Martin, invited HCR to join them in their mission to mitigate poverty, to empower vulnerable community members and to promote unity between refugee communities, service providers and host communities. In South Sudan, CDC operated a community radio station. Now registered as an NGO in Uganda, CDC engages with communities to promote sexual and reproductive health and tackle misinformation.

In partnership with the Sentinel Project, CDC uses a well researched mobile phone based platform, Hagiga Wahid and a host of ‘community ambassadors’ to track rumours and provide feedback to communities.

The Soot Semee project will complement the Hagiga Wahid tool.

Community journalism and audio production activities give new opportunities to hear about rumours and to disseminate findings about rumours that have been checked.

Photo Credit: Barnabas Samuel, 2019

Photo Credit: Barnabas Samuel, 2019

In Omugo sub-county, northern Uganda, South Sudanese refugees and Ugandans live alongside each other. The Ugandan hosts have given land and other resources to South Sudanese refugees fleeing the conflict in South Sudan. This puts pressure on infrastructure, on health and educational resources, and on natural resources such as firewood. Remoteness from urban centres creates an environment where rumours can flourish and give rise to conflict purely through misinformation or misunderstanding. Neither the refugee communities nor the host community want that. They are determined to work together to bring mutually beneficial development in Omugo.

By engaging community members from all parts of the community in making audio podcasts, Soot Semee content will be highly relevant and build confidence even among the most vulnerable. Familiar voices will be an attraction for community producers and for listeners.

Listening to community voices in Omugo zone, Uganda. HCR, 2019

Listening to community voices in Omugo zone, Uganda. HCR, 2019

Refugees and host community members will be more aware of each other’s concerns.

Service providers provide access to critical health and educational information, but the community-centred approach positions the health and educational experts as trusted guests of the community rather than imposing untrusted solutions.

We want to do more than preventing conflict. I heard harrowing stories from people who have fled South Sudan: rape, inter-tribal killing, extra-judicial executions.

The escape to Uganda is fraught with risk. Refugees didn’t know if they would get past the next roadblock, and even if they survived they might do so as witness to atrocities on other travelers.

Many people are traumatised. We hope that the project will help people to start to heal from the psychological and emotional wounds caused by previous conflict. Some of the service providers, who have agreed to partner with Soot Semee, have skills in trauma healing. Community-centred media is a powerful tool for promoting trust and social dialogue. A trust-based partnership between community and service provider is an ideal environment for trauma healing.

HCR believes the time is right for this project, that it will saves lives and transform others. Barnabas Samuel from CDC told me his expectation: those most in need of information will hold these speakerboxes, and say:

“For me, this is life!”.

HCR is funding most of the pilot activities from general funds but we would love to hear from supporters who can help us complete this 6 month pilot successfully, to evaluate it effectively and to work with CDC and Omugo communities to develop sustainable, transformative community engagement for the longer term. You can Donate here, or Contact Us if you prefer to receive a funding proposal.

Sustainable Development Goals

It's been over four years since the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were adopted by leaders around the world. Different to the Millennium Development Goals, the 17 SDGs reflect that EVERYONE has a role to play in the sustainable development of our future. We know community media is an essential component towards achieving the SDGs, which is why we are facilitating community-centred media around the world to support communities live life in all their fullness, free from poverty, injustice and conflict.

Some of the ways in which we support the SDG’s include:

  • Working with partners in Tana River, Kenya, to promote peace by providing verified and reliable information through community media, reducing the conflict that in the past has developed through fake news.

  • Encouraging communities in the Mid West of Western Australia to develop localised media campaigns around health and wellbeing.

  • Promoting women’s equality through community radio in Pakistan.

  • Empowering health services to provide critical information on water sanitation in India.

  • Promoting indigenous practices that support the environment and sustainability of the land and sea.

Most importantly, partnerships are vital (goal 17) to ensure we are able to support and empower communities around the world.

Photo credit: UN

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yet more evidence… radio changes lives!

How a radio project dramatically improved the lives of communities in conflict…

By Dr Ross James, Founder, Health Communication Resources 

Community Radio Volunteers visit communities in Magindnaon Province, Mindanao, Philippines

Community Radio Volunteers visit communities in Magindnaon Province, Mindanao, Philippines

An evaluation [1] of HCR’s community-centred radio model in an area of violent conflict, has shown that it led to significant improvements in the community.

Background

The communities of Magindanaon province in Mindanao, Philippines, have experienced sustained conflict, disadvantage and disempowerment. Radio Gandingan (RG) has quietly transformed minority Maguindanaon communities, severely affected by decades of armed struggle for political autonomy involving multiple state, civil, political, religious and armed actors. RG began broadcasting in 2000 as a weekly one-hour radio program with airtime purchased from a local commercial radio station but expanded in 2004 to two and a half hours of purchased airtime, spread over five evenings each week. Following the storming of Marawi City in north Mindanao by ISIS-aligned fighters who attacked key government buildings, churches and schools, RG volunteers provided evacuees with field reports, updates and information provided by government and non-government (NGO) service providers. Local communities claimed RG was more trustworthy than other sources of information, because of RG’s demonstrated compassion and credibility through community-centered activities. 

We wanted to understand the processes that led to RG being regarded in this way. We analysed reliable research data collected in the period 2005 to 2009 using realist evaluation, or RE [2].  This method analyses how people within a context respond to mechanisms, such as components or resources, that bring about change. In other words understanding the context is very important, as are the mechanisms that can influence change.

The context of the six communities associated with RG was very complex.  Communities were isolated from health and development service providers and suffered from ill health due to poor hygiene.  There was high unemployment, a poor environment and tension between neighbours and within families.  Ordinary people were further excluded from decision-making, with little access to information resulting in low self-confidence and disempowerment.

What We Found

When we looked at the data we found stories and explanations of how RG’s role had promoted dialogue, and improved livelihood and community participation. Specifically, dialogue had resolved community conflict and strengthened family bonds and relationships, and improved communication and understanding between community leaders and community members; livelihood had improved with behaviours and practices that led to better protection of the environment, livelihood, health, community cohesion and unity; and community participation was better through involvement in the RG radio program, and increased participation and communication in community meetings. 

RG trained 18 Community Radio Volunteers (CRVs), residents in the six communities, to participate in community-centered radio programming. RG programs modelled dialogue that extended into community discourse, social learning and decision-making processes of married couples. Dramas prompted family communication about values such as honesty and tolerance. One man said ‘I’ve learned from the drama that wives have a great role in the family so I should appreciate their hard work’. RG programs resolved a conflict between duck owners and rice farmers (ducks ate the farmers’ rice), and inspired leaders to reconcile two families quarrelling over land. 

People said RG made them aware of harmful practices to environmental resources, such as cutting down trees, and using dynamite or poison for fishing. A project to install community toilets was organised in one community after they had used an RG program to identify cleanliness as a problem. One lady reported that her children began washing in the evening: “I didn’t ask them, it’s RG who taught them of this health practice”.   Another person spoke of better community relationships because of RG: “Our corn used to be stolen before we were able to harvest it. But now we do not fear because no one steals them anymore. The youths who used to give us problems stopped doing bad things”. 

Community members participated in radio programs on health, livelihood or community issues. Community leaders were given opportunities to discuss issues on air with community members and for the first time women, people living with disability and those with little education were included.  

Why is this A BIG DEAL?

Radio programming is a widely recognised communication strategy for health and social development internationally. Community radio provides advocacy, education and information in a diverse range of initiatives for public health and disease, democracy and politics, peacebuilding, empowerment of women, human rights and so on. 

However, and this is a big however, such approaches rely on the skills of professional media workers and service providers, as well as wide-scale, well-funded systematic community development interventions. Participatory communication along the lines of RG does not easily fit the mindset of big funders who shy away from politics or power-dynamics in communities.  And so they limit communication to the dissemination of messages and evaluate message-related factors such as audience reach, message comprehension and recall.

This study is evidence that a local level community-centred radio and their volunteers is powerful way facilitating dialogue, livelihood and participatory communication outcomes in contexts characterised by sustained conflict, disadvantage and disempowerment. 

If you would like to learn more about this project, about Realistic Evaluation (RE) practice or take part in a webinar on RE, then please contact us via our contact page.

[1] Original Article: R James, E Romo-Murphy, M Oczon-Quirante. A Realist Evaluation of a Community-Centered Radio Initiative for Health and Development in Mindanao, Philippines. Asia Pacific Journal of Public Health DOI: 10.1177/1010539519870661

[2] There is not enough space to fully explain RE in this blog. A good starting point is the classic text: Pawson R, Tilley N. Realistic Evaluation. London: SAGE Publications; 1997.

Sunda Sar (Skull of a bull)

by Hazeen Latif

Whatever we asked, the reply was:

“no, we do not have it”, “no one listens to us”, “no one comes to us” or “no one is willing to help us”.

Community meeting in Sunda Sar ,Aug 2019, HCR 2019

Community meeting in Sunda Sar ,Aug 2019, HCR 2019

A community leader told HCR’s Hazeen Latif, “we are 3000 houses and an estimated population of 15000 including children and elderly people there is not a single BHU (basic health unit) or even some private clinic. There is no public dispensary.

We only have one primary school for boys - none for girls”.

The list goes on and on.  This is “Sunda Sar” or “skull of bull” meaning a place of prosperity and power. The name was given by someone after they found a huge skull from someone’s land while digging. Nobody knows the real story of the name, but we have seen the real story of life in Sunda Sar during our visit to there in August 2019. Living is so harsh that people’s strength and power of has been drained fighting water-borne diseases, malaria, disability, lack of education and lack of guidance for youth and much more.

 “We have found hope when you said ‘I have brought a gift for you’”.  

This response to our visit tells us a new story is beginning in Sunda Sar. Everyone was stunned to see the mini collar microphone in Hazeen’s hand and to hear:

“It is a gift to the whole community. We will help you use it to raise your voice, we want you to have the power to speak and be heard”.

Hazeen with collar microphone, Sunda Sar, Aug 2019, HCR 2019

Hazeen with collar microphone, Sunda Sar, Aug 2019, HCR 2019

The community welcomed us, and beyond our expectations over two dozen men including key leaders showed up to meet with us.

There was one graduate in the group and three undergraduates, but all found hope for a way forward through community media training and empowerment. Rather than being defined by what they don’t have, they are encouraged to mobilise the resources and voices that they do have - not empty like a skull, but leaders full of strength like a bull, having courage to live full and healthy lives.   

Men from Sunda Sar, Aug 2019, HCR 2019

Men from Sunda Sar, Aug 2019, HCR 2019

Adivasi Lives Matter

In today's tech savvy world, information is just a click away with our mobile phones and computers, or if those aren't in reach, our televisions and even radios all help keep us informed. But what if we didn't have any of these available to us? How would we find out important health and community information?

HCR have been working in partnership with Seva Social Welfare Foundation in remote parts of India’s Maharashtra state, home to many indigenous groups known as Adivasis. The Adivasi community face prejudice from mainstream India and suffer poorer health. This is all changing with the innovative 'speaker box' project which is bringing important health information and education to households.

Two years of promoting peace

Two years ago a small team from HCR set up a community-centred radio station in the remote town of Garsen in eastern Kenya’s Tana River County, training a team of volunteers from different tribal groups. Ahead of the August 2017 elections, the station was designed to promote peace and social development in an area that had all-too-often experienced violent conflict along ethnic lines.

Today, two years on, Amani FM has become a vibrant part of the community and a powerful voice for peace, as was seen this week as young people came out to celebrate in a number of “Peace Caravan” road shows around the county, culminating in a football tournament.

Crowds gather to watch the Amani FM Road Show,  Amani Ni Mimi , or Peace Starts with Me

Crowds gather to watch the Amani FM Road Show, Amani Ni Mimi, or Peace Starts with Me

Hundreds of people turned up during the week to watch short peace plays and hear local leaders calling the community to reject violence and work together. Under the theme Amani Ni Mimi, or ‘peace starts with me’, community members shared their stories of the pain they experienced during communal conflict, saying that it must not happen again.

“Amani FM has shown us a good example of how to make Tana River a peaceful county,” said one community leader, “

The Amani FM birthday celebrations culminated in a football match between the community and the Rapid Deployment Unit of the police force in a demonstration that together the people of Tana River can live in harmony, stand against ethnic violence and eliminate extremism to make the County a great place to live.

Well done team Amani FM - we’re proud to be associated with you. HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

Members of the Rapid Deployment Unit lift the trophy for the  Amani Ni Mimi  community football match

Members of the Rapid Deployment Unit lift the trophy for the Amani Ni Mimi community football match

Then: August 2017 and the Amani FM tower nears completion under sunny east African skies

Then: August 2017 and the Amani FM tower nears completion under sunny east African skies

Then: July 2017 at the end of the first Amani FM workshop ahead of the elections

Then: July 2017 at the end of the first Amani FM workshop ahead of the elections

Creative radio programmes like this one tackle the challenge of extremism and radicalisation of youth

Creative radio programmes like this one tackle the challenge of extremism and radicalisation of youth

Community cleans up

“The garbage situation was getting so bad in our town, that something had to be done about it,” says Harriet Atyang, the station manager of HCR partner station, Amani FM, in eastern Kenya’s Tana River county.

Approached by the Kenya Red Cross in an effort to help the problem, Amani FM was able to go on air and get a conversation going about the importance of keeping the environment clean. This conversation led to the youth in Garsen to participate in a town-wide cleanup.

Although the county department’s garbage collection unit was doing its best, it was getting overwhelmed. “During the rainy season we see a dramatic increase in cases of Cholera,” says Harriet, “Much of which is due to poor sanitation and hygiene and the garbage situation contributes to that.”

Several young people were joined by Kenya Red Cross workers and Amani FM presenters during the cleanup operation, which put into practice all the talk of keeping the environment clean.

Amani FM presenters, Red Cross workers and youth join together to clean up their town in Tana River County

Amani FM presenters, Red Cross workers and youth join together to clean up their town in Tana River County

"You kept your promise!"

By Jon Hargreaves

 What a joy to be back in the remote Maharashtran village of Kahandol in time to celebrate the inauguration of their two new wells.  Just four months earlier I had been standing on a dried up riverbed with my Indian colleagues, Shilpa, Sam and Akshay and the head of the village, Patil Ramdas Warde.  Ramdas told us how the drought had brought great hardship to his village, with only 28 days of water, and he asked us if there was anything we could do to help.

HCR began working with Seva Social Welfare Foundation (Seva) in January 2018, with a vision to use a community-centred media approach to transform indigenous tribal communities, known as Adivasis, who are some of the most disadvantaged people in the country.  “In the last 10 months since the first audio programmes were distributed we have seen a dramatic decline in many illnesses as people have changed their habits around water, sanitation and hygiene,” Shilpa Shinde Seva’s chief executive told me.  Besides monthly health camps, the community have been receiving creative audio programmes on “speakerboxes” (Mp3 players) which have already brought about significant change on a range of issues ranging from health and hygiene to livelihoods and the importance of educating female children. 

But it was the water crisis that has focused the attention of the Seva team for the last four months.  With support from HCR and the very generous gift of British family with a passion for India, the Seva team facilitated the sinking of two wells and tanks that will mean the village will never lack for water again. 

New wells and water tanks mean the people of Kahandol will never run out of water again.

New wells and water tanks mean the people of Kahandol will never run out of water again.

After colourful tribal dances and music played on traditional instruments followed by a community meal, Ramdas turned to me and said, “This water has given the gift of life to this community for generations to come.  You came back.  You kept your promise.  Thank you!”

 

In September we will be facilitating a major evaluation to assess how the project has impacted the community with a view to scaling the project up to reach many more tribal villages across the state and then across the country.

If you would like to support this project or would like further information please contact hcruk@h-c-r.org.

"Electric fan was no better than a handheld fan!"

by Hazeen Latif

Picture this: a village with around 120 households; men, women, children and elderly all living together in conditions very few would dare to live. As the night falls the world beyond the village illuminates with lights glowing from house windows and on the streets. Cool air wafts from air conditioners and fans are blowing. But this village in KPK looks like a campsite with candle lights getting dimmer and dimmer as night get deeper.

 “We can’t sleep at night as the children cry of mosquito bites and heat,” says a local resident. Because of low electricity voltage and power cuts, electric fan speed is no better than a handheld fan. The problem was caused by a 25 kVA transformer with weak and rusted links, which connected the village to the national electricity supply grid. The transformer has been repaired over two dozen times and cannot be repaired anymore.

But thanks to our partner’s community radio program “Naway Saher”, which highlighted this issue before summer reached peak temperatures, a brand new 50kVA transformer has been installed replacing the older one. The voltage is very stable and community houses are much happier places to be. Residents say “this good fan speed is much better than hand fan!”

New transformer in Majukay village, May 2019. HCR Pakistan

New transformer in Majukay village, May 2019. HCR Pakistan

Stations collaborate to end violent extremism

By Jon Hargreaves

HCR partner station Amani FM in eastern Kenya’s Tana River County, has joined forces with another community station to promote peace in this conflict-affected region.  The project “Amani Mashinani,” which in Swahili means peace at the grassroots, involves young people in the design and creation of feature stories and talk-shows that promote peace, using the airwaves of Amani FM in Garsen and TBS (Tana Broadcasting Service), in Hola.   Besides creative radio content, many on-the-ground activities involving youth are being planned around the district to encourage awareness of how conflict happens and how it can be resolved.

The initiative follows concerns that terrorist groups such as Al-Shabab have been trying to recruit vulnerable, unemployed young people in the eastern areas of the country, near the border with Somalia.

HCR Associate Kelvin Nyangweso, one of the architects of the project, says the radio stations are operated by young volunteers who come from different communities in Tana River and who have a good understanding of the dynamics and needs of their own people. 

“The radio stations will provide the youth with a platform to engage in planning and producing media content through a collective, participatory approach,” says Kelvin. 

Besides training the young citizen journalists in the techniques of “peace journalism” and communication that counters violence,  youth leaders in the county will also undergo training to help them prevent and respond to issues that threaten to destabilise their communities. 

Amani FM was established by HCR in July 2017 ahead of Kenya’s controversial elections, in an effort to promote peace and complement the work of Una Hakika which was set up to combat rumours, misinformation and fake news, the key drivers of conflict in Tana River County.

Volunteer journalists at Amani FM receiving training in peacebuilding and conflict transformation

Volunteer journalists at Amani FM receiving training in peacebuilding and conflict transformation