COMMUNITY RADIO AS A POWERFUL RESOURCE FOR DISASTER MANAGEMENT

“There are too many such disasters in India and it is time we together make a case for the unparalleled value of community radio in disaster management.” –  Supriya Sahu, Former Joint Secretary, Ministry of Information & Broadcasting, Government of India as shared with the People’s P.ow.e.r Collective during the June 2013 Uttarakhand Disaster

“Timely, accurate, location specific weather information and warnings to the last mile… is the need of the hour.” –  Anand Sharma, Former Director Meteorological Department, Uttarakhand

The first Disaster Resilient Community Radio Station in India being constructed – PPC in collaboration with noted sustainable architect Didi Contractor and her team – Dec 2014

The June 2013 disaster in Uttarakhand had team PPC and our partner community team at Mandakini Ki Aawaz [MKA], working on-the-ground, interacting with local community members, district administration, emergency & relief agencies and NGOs; all of us working on rescue and relief at the time. The single most important gap we collectively felt was the lack of timely and relevant information in a local language [Garhwali or Hindi]. Circumstances were changing by the minute and without connectivity and information flow of any sort, most of us found ourselves frustrated, helpless and with many of our efforts, wasted.

PPC’s training & capacity building programme to enable MKA set up their own broadcasting community radio station was in it’s very first few weeks back them. All of it was arrested and we worked tirelessly with MKA to support our local community in all ways possible. In September 2013, our community radio work resumed, now with a renewed energy and vision, also around how community radio can and must play its role in disaster management.

The first Disaster Resilient Community Radio Station in India for MKA 90.8Fm, Village Sena Gadsari, Rudraprayag District, Uttarakhand – by PPC in collaboration with noted sustainable architect Didi Contractor and her team – May 2015; such structures are part of PPC’s holistic vision & approach to Disaster Management and the powerful role Community Radio Stations like MKA, play

Since then and through ongoing field work, study and relevant community radio programming in these remote hills of Rudraprayag with and through our partner organisation MKA, PPC continues to clearly demonstrate and seeks to share through similar, tailor made, holistic training and capacity building approaches, the potential of community radio, also as a powerful tool for disaster management in India.

‘A RADIO OF ONE’S OWN’ – A FILM ON COMMUNITY RADIO AND PEOPLE’S POWER COLLECTIVE’S WORK WITH MANDAKINI KI AAWAZ By Shweta Radhakrishnan

Watch the Trailer…

Happy Broadcasters at Community Radio Mandakini Ki Aawaz 90.8FM

Because dreams do come true and collaboration is not just a word. Here’s a story of two organisations from different worlds, who came together to build on a long term shared dream of bringing Community Radio home to the remote Mandakini River Valley region of Rudraprayag District in the hill state of Uttarakhand, India. Come and engage with us and the film ‘A Radio of One’s Own’; a film by the young, talented storyteller Shweta Radhakrishnan. She was a part of People’s Power Collective, a teammate across the 22 month embedded collaborative programme with the community based organisation Mandakini Ki Aawaz; the film is the work and the collective journey through her eyes…

COLLECTIVE EFFORTS…THE MAKINGS OF A HAPPY SUCCESS

Since 2010 and somewhere along the way, together, you along with People’s P.ow.e.r Collective [PPC] have been on an exciting journey. You, in your capacity as volunteer or donor, hands on team member or well wisher, mentor or all of the above. This makes you a champion of our cause, a player on the same team, a co conspirator and one, who helped make our flagship programme in the remotest part of rural Rudraprayag District, Uttarakhand, North India, a happy success.

Rather presumptuous of us to consider our work a ‘happy success’, one might argue. On this count, we have to rely on the eloquence of the greats, to help us make a case for us.

‘The talent of success is nothing more than doing what you can do, well’Henry W Longfellow

‘Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together, is success’-Henry Ford

‘Happiness lies in the joy of achievement and the thrill of creative effort’-Franklin D. Roosevelt

‘When love and skill work together, expect a masterpiece’-John Ruskin

Our little masterpiece is Rudraprayag District’s first ever community radio station – the little earth building up on the hill.

The Earth Community Radio Studio Comes to Life…

Mandakini Ki Aawaz [MKA] 90.8FM is today, run by 6 driven, passionate and committed community members, 3 women and 3 men with the support of 10 part time volunteers & 50 other PPC trained members of the wider community. The station broadcasts LIVE for 8 hours Mon-Sat and 11 & 1/2 hours on Sundays.

PPC has been working with MKA for over 5 year now, the last 2, involving our dedicated field team of 3 (Shweta Radhakrishnan, Vincent Pavamani & Saritha Thomas), living in the village, working every day alongside our partners at MKA. These past 2 years in the field, working so closely with MKA and their extended community, building trust, relationships and a deeper understanding of this community and life in these isolated hills, has made us at PPC better capacity builders, and has enabled team MKA become the competent and confident CR broadcasters that they are today. This unique collaboration between PPC and MKA has been a true labour of love. MKA is India’s first Community Radio (CR) Station to launch as a LIVE broadcasting station. Today, she reaches over 328 villages, giving more than 300,000 potential listeners not only their voice, but also a platform to inform and be informed, a participatory space to entertain and be entertained, a living breathing radio station to call their own and most of all, a source of hope for a better tomorrow just by being connected.

All of us, representing PPC in whatever capacity, we have enabled all this happen…a happy success, indeed, wouldn’t you agree? 

PLANTING SEEDS, SEEING THEM SLOWLY BLOOM

The sun behind the clouds

 What a year it’s been – this year that has just gone by! Arriving in 2013 on a wave of euphoria created by our successful online crowd funding campaign, we launched our community radio training and capacity building programme in the villages of Sena Gadsari and Bhanaj, Uttarakhand with our partner organization, Mandakini ki Awaaz (MKA). On the heels of our arrival, devastating floods crippled our community, and relief and rehabilitation became the immediate need of the hour. Many of you stepped forward and stood by our community and our work, enabling MKA to reach families in our catchment area with life-saving food, blankets, medicines, tarpaulin and solar lanterns. Your generosity gladdened and inspired us during this challenging time and for this you have our most heartfelt gratitude.

When PPC returned to the Mandakini River Valley region in September, to re-launch our 18-month programme, we found life slowly limping back to normal. We relaunched our training and capacity building programme. Trainees are from different castes, economic backgrounds and educational qualifications, including some who have never been to school. This hardly matters in a spoken medium like community radio. What does though is an eagerness to learn, discover this fun and interactive medium and how it can work for the wider community.

Core team members share a joke with Saritha during training

Central to our model is a ‘Learning by Doing’ methodology to training that emphasises the value of a hands-on and practical approach. International collaborations, student internships, exchange programmes and a set of comprehensive ‘train the trainer’ modules, complete our programme. Sessions have helped reinforce our conviction that community radio can be an empowering tool for the local community. Shy housewives who had never really stepped out of the house are now addressing gatherings of over a hundred people. Struggling musicians and poets who had no platform for their talent now have a medium that helps them reach out to their audience for free. Women who have opted out of abusive relationships now have a medium to share their stories. It is truly heartening and fulfilling to see such changes – all being slowly brought about by a simple, local medium called community radio. Nine women and ten men have completed their five-week training modules and are now taking our medium into the arms of a curious and welcoming community.

Uma Negi, our shy housewife from Prithvirajnagar addresses a gathering for the first time during the Basti field visit

 As we work on gaining approvals of MKA’s broadcasting license with the Ministry in New Delhi, narrowcasting has begun with great gusto sharing a bouquet of Garhwali programmes all made by the core team and new trainees, with a little guidance from their friends – team PPC. Hit programmes with audiences across 21 villages so far have been on education, the upcoming panchayat elections and livelihoods. The time that PPC spent on mapping the community and continuing work on its baseline research, has helped both the MKA and PPC teams better understand the nuances of the community, and develop content that truly reflect its issues and interests.

Our first disaster management field visit to Chandrapuri Shishu Mandi – a school that was washed away during the floods, and is currently working out of a tin shed built by Mandakini ki Awaaz

Since the floods, we have also highlighted the role of community radio as a grassroots local language tool to aid disaster management and this has brought renewed support from central, state and district level governments. On a thrilling note, the community came to a greater understanding of the medium as a source of timely life-saving information, as well as for voice, empowerment and community-driven change. (For more on this, please watch CNN-IBN’s coverage of P.P.C’s work -                     http://ibnlive.in.com/shows/Citizen%20Journalist%20Show/429492.html)

Other highlights include the District Collector of Rudraprayag attending one of our field visits; equal participation from both women and men in our programmes; our first Diwali celebrations in the village; volunteers and visitors dropping in from near and far, and care packages from a dear supporter comprising sweets, ready to eat meals and dry fruits arriving unannounced via speed post! Fantastic, isn’t it?

As the year drew on amidst 2, five week training modules, 14 field visits, new friendships, steaming tea and plunging temperatures, we celebrated the enthusiasm of our team and volunteers who all pulled together so that on October 8 — the lights at our studio came on for the first time, a thrilling moment of celebration for us all! Often when I see the lights glowing among these beautiful hills, it gives me pause to reflect on the journey we are on together as staff, team members, volunteers, donors and well-wishers of PPC, and give thanks for each and everyone one of you, and express joy at the road that is unfolding before us. We hope that you will remain our fellow travellers in 2014!

Our fledgeling radio station begins to grow


A first-hand account of the Uttarakhand flood crisis

As you – our readers and supporters know – we have been on the field, in Uttarakhand for the last couple of months, and have been witness to the sheer fury of nature that came in the form of torrential rain in the state!

The district of Rudraprayag and our community radio catchment area

Unprecedented rains, around 322 mm (847% more than usual) triggered flash floods and severe landslides. The District of Rudraprayag is one of the worst affected. In the Mandakini river valley region of Rudraprayag, where our team of 3 and our Community Radio training and capacity building programme is based, homes, farms, shops, roads and schools have been washed away and people are still missing. Team People’s Power Collective and our partner grassroots organisation Mandakini Ki Awaz are supporting our community in all ways possible. Here’s a photo diary to give you an idea of the situation on the ground as it unfolded and our work thus far.

 

JOTTINGS FROM THE FIELD BY SARITHA THOMAS (DIRECTOR, PPC)

June 1st – I arrive in Prithviraj Nagar to kick off our 18 month, residential community radio programme. I don’t believe I’ve seen our village and the hills above look any greener in the summer, than I do this time; its smiles all round.

The People’s Power Collective Team’s home for the next eighteen months

Just another morning in our community

June 10th Shweta Radhakrishnan and Amol Ranjan our newest team members together with Neil Curry, our director/advisor join me. Our home in Prithviraj Nagar is abuzz; team trainings and workshops begin.

June 3rd – launch a leadership development programme with Manvendra ji, the head of Mandakini Ki Awaz.

A folk song sing along session at the Mandakini Ki Awaz office

June 14th onwards it rains…

And this is how the disaster began…

Over the 16th and 17th three simultaneous cloud bursts cause floods across Uttarakhand claiming several lives & leaving many homeless

A house that helplessly crumbles into the powerful river

And within no time at all, this is what we are left with…

The road left behind… perhaps the road ahead!

 

Shock, devastation, totally cut off

June 18th Manvendra ji and I walk the 36 Km to Chandrapuri and back as landslides along our hill roads have cut off local jeep travel. Conversations en-route and on seeing the damage first-hand in Chandrapuri market, the extent of the tragedy hits home. There’s a sense of shock and disbelief all round. People sitting in the middle of the road face in hand, staring at a vacant plot where less than 12 hours ago stood their homes. Parts of the Kedarnath road that we drove in on less than a couple of weeks ago is washed away; there’s no news yet from Sonia, a Mandakini Ki Awaz volunteer – only a skeleton of her village remains.
The next few weeks are a blur. With no internet connectivity the sketchy mobile signal is our only connection to the outside world. Electricity is at best erratic; there’s currently nothing more precious than saving battery and available talk-time on our phones. What next? There’s no information to work with – if only our community radio station was up and running. The need for a medium in the local language as a tool for disaster management was sorely missed. Our 18 month commitment to bringing community radio home to the Mandakini river valley has only been made that much stronger.

Our strategy

Our two teams crack into action. With approval from both boards we resolve that our immediate responsibility is to help with relief and awareness building in 4 key ways -

a) Identify those in need within our community

b) connect with media to tell the local story

c) reach out to our combined networks and to aid agencies on the ground to ensure their relief also reaches our villages and

d) audio document as much as we can to make a case with government for radio as a critical tool for disaster management.

Dealing with today’s reality and our way forward

Field trips by foot to Chandrapuri, Gavnigaon, Agastyamuni, Ganga Nagar, Jawahar Nagar, Bhiri and Banswada were conducted. As it stands today, within our catchment area, 250 families have lost their homes from the flash floods and 285 could soon be forced to vacate their homes due to leaks and flooding caused by the torrential rains that are on-going. To the best of our knowledge, 148 people are still missing from our villages – all chief bread winners of families, who haven’t yet returned from the Kedarnath area. According to local school teachers, around 7 schools have been washed away between Tilwara, Agastyamuni and Chandrapuri, leaving approximately 3000 children with nowhere to go. The nearest fully functional hospital is now over 3 hours by road weather permitting; landslides remain a constant threat. Some relief material consisting rations, drinking water, tents, solar lanterns, vessels and items of clothing have reached and team Mandakini Ki Awaz continues to take on the onus of information sharing and distribution of this relief within our villages. They are the local experts and know this harsh terrain better than any. Documentation of people’s stories remains an on-going exercise. Team People’s Power Collective continues to assist Mandakini in relief. We are also working closely with the I&B Ministry of India, the Community Radio Forum of India, journalists and other organization’s and individuals who support the cause of community radio so as to make a strong case for Mandakini Ki Awaz’s broadcast license and for radio as a powerful tool for disaster management. In the past, in other countries during disasters, community radio has enabled communities be better prepared and actively participate in disaster management themselves.

Along with the stress and strain of re-building lives, the community’s desire to build their internal capacity and run their own community radio station, to serve their community has only gotten stronger. None could have anticipated such a turn of events. We now find ourselves facing a twofold mission; one that involves continuing on our innovative and creative community radio path and two – helping our community rebuild their lives. Challenges and opportunities lie ahead and we look forward to your continued patronage and support.

Little known heroes of Uttarakhand

20-Jun-13. 4:00 am. Prithviraj Nagar, Uttarakhand

Photo credit: Neil Curry/Saritha Thomas

Isolated from the outside world due to disappearing roads and dangerous landslides – Prithviraj Nagar, People’s P.ow.e.r Collective’s home base in Uttarakhand, tries to come to terms with the magnitude of the devastation caused by the monsoon – said to be the most severe in the last 88 years!! There are no working means of transport, food and water supplies are running low and phone signals are weak. Yet, the spirit is very much one of “Keep Calm and Carry On”.

Here is a detailed update from People’s Power Collective’s team who are currently based in Prithviraj Nagar.

Merely 20 kms from Chandrapuri, Rudraprayag (where 400 homes have been swept away!), the mood is very low in the village. Though we are located at the top of the hill, and have escaped flooding, the local community has lost more than what one can imagine. Most of the families here have members working as labourers/vendors in the holy city of Kedarnath during the season of religious pilgrimage. The havoc wrecked by the floods has left them with no news about their loved ones!

Our immediate neighbours – a simple Nepali immigrant family – have no news of their three adult sons. Their parents have set out on foot this morning, with nothing but a packet of rotis, to hunt for their missing sons, leaving their 9 year old daugher in the care of their pregnant daughter-in-law whose husband is one of those missing.

The phone lines are very weak, and it is hard to reach anyone. There is absolutely no internet access. Relief efforts are slowly getting under way. About 15 minutes from Chandrapuri, in Agastya Muni, the Indian Government has organized air-lifts for the ‘yatris’ or pilgrims back to the safety of the nearest city.

The roads have all been washed away. We ourselves had a minor scare this week, with the rain water threatening to enter our homes (technically, the home of our host, Manvendra-ji). Along with the locals, we managed to dig out a little make-shift canal from the kachha road, and divert the water into the forest. We have, fortunately, had a brief respite from the rains for the last couple of days. There is just about enough water and food for everyone here. No vegetables/fruits are coming up from the village, but we are managing with whatever can be sourced from the local farms. Our hosts Manvendraji, Uma didi and even little Rishabh, are doing the best they can to keep us safe and secure.

Amidst this calamity however, we are incredibly fortunate to come across real life heroes… it is as if the whole village is very slowly coming together to help one another. They have indeed lost lives and property, but the human spirit still battles on.

Jagmohan Jinkwan .. a resident of Chandrapuri and owner of a grocery store, has lost almost everything he possessed, in the floods. However, instead of grieving, he has set up a little relief area along with his brother, and is using his very last reserves to cook and feed the neediest. This has inspired other villagers also, to contribute with whatever little they can spare.

‘This is my role’, he says, ‘to do whatever help I can do’.

Many travellers from Rajasthan have come up the village road, in an attempt to escape the floods. The village has come together to kindly offer them shelter and food, of whatever they can spare.

Some of the villagers are volunteering enthusiastically to share real-life-stories of both destruction and hope, in the programs that we are recording together with our local partner NGO (Mandakini Ki Awaaz). As we do not yet have a broadcasting license, we are narrow-casting these programs by taking the content from house to house.

Manvendraji, Amol, Saritha, Shweta

Obviously, our training programmes have been temporarily postponed as people are unable to travel, the weather is still harsh and the mood is very low. However, we are still making the best of this time and connecting with our community and getting to know them better. We are also working towards connecting the villagers with the relevant local authorities for information and help.

Pic courtesy: Neil Curry/Saritha Thomas

As for us … this was always going to be a life-changing experience, but these are aspects of rural life that we never thought we’d see so soon into our project. Yes, it is tough, but we are also grateful to be a part of this community, at a time like this.

There is currently not much information on TV about this particular village/community. Please feel free to share our story in your own channels, networks and immediate groups. We will keep you posted whenever possible.

 

Signing off for now,

Saritha, Shwetha & Amol

People’s P.ow.e.r Collective

In conversation with WISE

A couple of months ago, WISE had published an excellent article on empowering isolated communities through participatory Community Radio and the piece featured our work as well.

WISE recently came up with the idea of an interactive live chat with People’s Power Collective’s director Saritha Thomas, to help share how community radio enables communities create their own media landscape and through it bring about change.

It was a two hour chat and very engaging thanks to the volley of interesting questions from the wider WISE community of readers and subscribers from across the world.

Here’s a snippet:

Guest: ’How do your teams handle sensitive topics that are taboo?’

Saritha:  ’…we empower the community themselves to manage, run and guide their own station into the future. We work closely with community
representatives and mutual respect is the key….’

You could read the full answer to that question and skim through the rest of the chat via this link.

We once again thank WISE for the platform and the wonderful opportunity!

The buzz from Bhanaj!

The village of Bhanaj has been buzzing with excitement; we’ve started vital field work in February and ever since, the word we hear a lot from Manvendraji’s these days is ‘badiya’, which in Hindi means ‘very good / excellent’!

Over the next 18 months, we will be working on the ground enabling our rural partner organisation Mandakini Ki Awaz set up and run its own community radio station from scratch. Our local community experts have begun field work, meeting with other community members, talking to them about Community Radio and documenting their needs, expectations and hopes of their soon to be station.

Another vital outcome of this field work would be identifying potential radio enthusiasts and volunteers within the village and recruiting participants for our upcoming comprehensive training programmes.

 

Here’s Arthi interviewing a little girl who is clearly very excited about participating at the new radio station; and here she is talking to a senior woman who told us she is hopeful for the positive change this could bring to her family and her village. Indeed, there’s a lot of work ahead of us if this dream for change is to be a reality…

 

 

We will continue to bring you more stories and live updates from the field as we go along, so please, stay tuned.

Community Radio and Valentine’s Day?!!

14th Februaryred roses, heart-shaped alloons, teddy bears and cakes; Valentine’s Day brings all of this and more! But, did you know that 13th February is a very special day too? Particularly for us at People’s Power Collective

So, what is the connection between Community Radio and Valentine’s Day? Read on to find out.

We live in ‘digitally advanced’ times where information is readily available and ‘social networking’ is a lifeline to most urbanites. Facebook, news channel Apps, Twitter… all these new age mediums provide us with a steady stream of information. Sadly, this vital information does not always percolate to the grassroots, particularly to isolated communities. Does this mean that such disadvantaged communities continue to live in a ‘media dark world’? Well, not as long as the humble radio exists! Community Radio in particular keeps such groups of people bound together, as it informs and educates and empowers them.

So, while we celebrate Valentine’s day with gusto, let’s also remember that the previous day – 13th February, is a very significant one too as it is ‘World Radio Day’; a day that proudly celebrates the good old ‘radio’, a medium not just for communication but also, a powerful vehicle for change.

This interesting video.talks briefly of World Radio Day.

To celebrate the 2nd World Radio Day, the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London, hosted an event last week addressing the ‘New Perspectives on Radio’ while sharing the insights and experiences of people on the frontlines who use radio as a vital tool for international development. SOAS’ Rahul Verma also spoke to our Director, Saritha Thomas. Snippets of this conversation can be listened to here – http://soasradio.org/content/world-radio-day-2013-peoples-power-collective-english. Saritha talks about the capacity of Community Radio to really influence and ‘empower’ isolated communities by being so easily accessible, sensitive and relevant to the needs of the local community.

‘Metro’, a widely read UK daily, also covered the World Radio Day celebrations, and described the importance of this medium…

‘Community radio projects are on the rise throughout the developing and developed world because of radio’s ubiquity, accessibility and ability to share vital knowledge and practical information with hyper local communities and provide a voice for marginalised groups’

We are delighted to share that the article also made a mention of People’s Power Collective’s efforts in partnering with the community in the village of Bhanaj, Uttarakhand and enabling them to bring their own community radio station home, against all odds.

In today’s world where the gap between the ‘information haves’ and ‘have-nots’ is on the incline, World Radio Day rightly celebrates the rather understated power of the radio; a medium that still has maximum reach.  As Saritha says, ‘As long as you can speak and listen you can participate; illiteracy is no bar which is huge in places such as India and Africa’.