In Laos, community radio gives a voice to ethnic groups

Apr 20, 2010

The Khoun Community Radio in Lao PDR is entirely run by volunteers. (Photo: UNDP-Lao PDR)

In Lao PDR, a country with 49 ethnic groups and a variety of languages, it is often difficult to access information in your own language. To reach those who were previously voiceless, the Ministry of Information and Culture and UNDP have established the Khoun Community Radio. For the past three years, the Radio has been broadcasting in three languages – Lao, Khmou and Hmong – in the Khoun District, one of the poorest in the country. Lao, Khmou and Hmong, the three biggest ethnic groups, comprise a total of 73.5 percent of the population of Lao PDR. The Community Radio is improving access to information and strengthening the voice of poor rural people, especially women and the disabled.

By empowering people to have a voice, and to participate in their communities, the Khoun Radio is an innovative approach to grassroots development in Lao PDR. The Community Radio has been reaching people in mountainous and remote areas, increasing their understanding of their role in their communities’ social and economic development. For example, the Radio discusses issues such as markets and prices, job opportunities, cluster munitions and unexploded weapons, agriculture, health, education and legislation.

“The community radio has not only been giving a voice to people, but it has played a crucial role in sharing information among different communities,” said Sonam Yangchen Rana, UNDP Resident Representative in Lao PDR. ”We have already seen an impact on the rate of child vaccinations, number of deliveries assisted by medical staff and understanding of more productive farming methods.”

On average, the community radio broadcasts 7.5 hours per day, and is entirely run by volunteers, who were trained by UNDP. Training sessions include interviewing skills, news writing, documentary making, panel discussions and drama production, among other topics that will enable the volunteers to cover their community’s needs and interests. In addition to journalistic skills, volunteers are being provided with ongoing coaching and training on the use and maintenance of sound equipment and computer software.

The Radio has become popular in the district of Khoun: the station received over 7,200 phone calls and nearly 3,500 letters only in its first year of operations. Inspired by this success, two new community radios have recently begun broadcasting in other parts of the country.

Ethnicity in Laos

Overall, the 49 ethnic groups of Lao PDR are divided into four linguistic branches: the Lao-Tai language with 8 tribes, Mone-Khmer language with 32 tribes, Hmoung-Loumien language with 2 tribes and Tibeto-Chinese language with 7 tribes. The majority of the tribes are very small, with some being counted in hundreds. Ethnic groups (tribes) in Lao are considered groups of people with common language, background, and socio-cultural activities.

The Community Radio experience will be scaled-up in four other poor districts of the country. The goal is to include more voices from other communities, through coaching and training more volunteer broadcasters and increasing the number of correspondents in different villages.

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