Riding a radio wave in Lao PDR

Local volunteers broadcasting a radio programme for Khoun Community Radio in Lao PDR.
Khoun Community Radio in Lao PDR is entirely run by volunteers. (UNDP)

At sunset in the village of Houay Jaek, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, a group of villagers are performing a dialogue about the importance of good hygiene. Recording their voices is 30 year-old Khamboun, a fellow villager and volunteer with the local Khoun Community Radio station.

Khoun Radio was founded in 2007 with support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). It is the first community-based radio station in Lao PDR.

Highlights

  • In 2007, UNDP helped to establish the multi-lingual Khoun Community Radio to increase the spread of information to citizens of Lao PDR.
  • A 60 percent spike in children’s vaccinations in 2009 was largely attributed to radio segments on the importance of pediatric vaccinations.
  • The Lao PDR Government plans to replicate community radio stations in each of its 47 poorest districts.

Before Khoun Community Radio, the main radio station in the country was Lao National Radio, which emphasizes national, rather than local, issues. As a result, village residents across Lao PDR were missing out on information relevant to their specific region.

Furthermore, because all of Lao National Radio's programmes are broadcast in the country's dominant language, Lao Loum, they fail to reach Khmou and Hmong speakers.

Khoun Radio, however, broadcasts in all three languages - Lao, Khmou and Hmong - to accomodate its diverse audience.

Residents of Houay Jaek village benefit greatly from listening to Khoun Radio. Yet, they also play a key role in helping to maintain and operate the station.

Currently, volunteers from the village are involved in every stage of production, from developing programme concepts, to writing scripts, to editing. Residents of Khoun District also constructed the station's building from scratch and helped install its antenna nearby.

“It’s radio by the people, for the people, and about the people,” says Saara Frestadius, a program analyst with UNDP’s Lao PDR office who works on issues involving people’s participation in local governance and development.

The Khoun Community Radio station has been remarkably successful so far. In its first year it received 10,000 messages and phone calls from listeners, and the number of applications sent in from people wanting to broadcast shows was so great it had to start turning down submissions.

Since then, its popularity has continued. In the station's three years of operation, community volunteers have broadcast over 9,000 hours of programming, covering topics from vital sanitation and health information to farming techniques and tips on how to cook the famous Xieng Khouang noodles.

The impact of this programming has been dramatic.

Last year UNDP reported a 60 percent rise in the number of Hmong parents who had their children vaccinated. This increase was largely attributed to Hmong-language radio segments that emphasized the importance of pediatric vaccinations.

“There might have been beliefs that vaccinations were harmful for children, but if a neighbor tells you it’s alright – that ‘it has saved my child’s life’ – that’s much more credible than if someone is telling you that from the capital. That’s the whole idea of community radio – it’s not external. It’s internal. It’s about the community,” says Vongsone Oudomsouk, Project Manager of Khoun Community Radio.

By listening to the station, Khoun District residents may also obtain valuable information about local farming initiatives or an old, unexploded ordnance that has been discovered above-ground.

This “hyper local” approach has become so successful that the Lao PDR Government is planning to create similar stations in each of its 47 poorest districts.

To date, UNDP has financed two new stations in the country’s south-east, with plans to support four other stations in the next four years.