Riding the airwaves to reach the unreached

April 25, 2018

Vientiane, 2/May/2018
– What do a 50-year-old Village Chief, a 33-year-old teacher, and a 40-year-old farmer from different ethnic communities with varying backgrounds and functions have in common?

The dream to make important information accessible to their fellow villagers.

These three enthusiastic community radio volunteers from Laos are using the airwaves as a tool to transform the countryside. Radio is a powerful medium to connect with people in the hinterland. The volunteers ride the airwaves to remote villages and have a finger on the pulse of their local community. This is their story.

From hobby to career

The chance to become a radio host brought new enthusiasm into the life of 40-year-old Bounthanh Phannola of Lakhongsy village. Driven by a passion for music and entertaining people, Bounthanh has always volunteered as the master of ceremony in his village during concerts, weddings or other ceremonies. Three years ago, Bounthanh was able to delegate his farming and cattle breeding work to some of his relatives in order to become a full-time community radio volunteer.

 “Money is not everything,” he says, “I do not get paid for my work as a radio host, but I gain more through inspiration and appreciation from my listeners. I am lucky to own some cattle. I can support my family financially and I can dedicate most of my time to what I like. Isn’t that happiness?!”

Bounthanh notices significant development in his community since the radio station started operating in Lakhonepeng. People have started to become more aware of what is happening in their province and the whole country, neighbors share news and discuss the diverse information heard on the radio, pregnant women have started consulting doctors, and both men and women have learnt a lot about women’s rights.

Because of Community Radio, Mr. Bounthanh Phannola was able to fulfill his dream of becoming a radio host

Dayjob - Village Chief, Radio Host at night

Mr. Thongmy Keothongdam, age 50, is the Village Chief of Vangkhaed Village. Recently, however, he has doubled up as a volunteer broadcaster at Lakhonepheng Community Radio Station, coming to the radio station to extend access to news, information and education to his fellow Katang people. Thoungmy broadcasts local news and public service announcements in his indigenous Katang language, one of 49 officially recognized ethnic groups in Lao PDR.

 “I am delighted that I can be this link, helping my community to access important information, as well as to be heard by people who do not speak Lao language, who too often stay invisible and unheard. Katang people tend to trust the information coming from their Katang representative, otherwise it is difficult to persuade them to do anything. I want my people to attend schools and visit doctors regularly. That’s why I come here every day from a village that is 60 km away from the station. If I don’t do it, who will?” Thoungmy asks.

A teacher teaching others, by learning herself

Ms. Mouddalay Keounheuane, age 33, is one of the first Lakhonepheng Community Radio volunteers. She is also a teacher at the local school. Having finished teaching elementary classes in the morning, she rushes to the radio station to deliver programmes on education in the afternoon.

It is crucial that the community radio provides additional knowledge to students, because they do not receive enough information at school. Not only my students benefit, I am also learning a lot by working at the radio station. I learn from various programmes that we produce every day, but I have also gained new skills through trainings in broadcasting, programme production, garnering community support and equipment maintenance and so on. All these skills are needed to help my community obtain information and voice their opinions,” Mouddalay states.

Transparency and accountability

Each Community Radio station has a board of seven people, which consists of local government officials, representatives from various sectors of the district, such as education, healthcare, agriculture etc. The board helps the radio station by running it openly and transparently, giving advice, setting the main directions of work, approving the timetable of the radio programmes, and monitoring the quality of programmes. Mr. Bounchanh Bangsengthong, is Lakhonepeng Community Radio Station’s Deputy Chair of the Board and Head of Information Office of Lakhonepheng District.

Lakhonepheng radio station is on air from 5 am to 11 pm daily and covers issues like social development, culture, environment, education, farming and agriculture, youth development, women’s empowerment, law and health. All this is mixed with music and other entertainment programmes. Lakhonepheng radio station covers 75 villages, reaching approximately 50,000 people.  Community members have the opportunity to call the station and ask questions, participate in live programmes, and voice their opinions. On average, the station receives 200 calls per month.

We enable our villagers to share their concerns. Villagers also call us very often to propose topics that they want to hear from us, or if they have problems that they cannot solve. The most popular questions are about legal issues, citizen rights on land, government subsidies, family code, and others. The community feels closer to the local administration now that their opinions are counted and that they can ask any question they want,” says Bounchanh.

For Mr. Bounchanh Bangsengthong, Community Radio is about increasing government transparency and accountability

Professional leadership

Mr. Bounhap Souligno studied Radio Engineering in Odessa, Ukraine, in 1986. Ever since then, he is passionate about radio and the power of information. Today, he is the Deputy Director of the Mass Media Department of the Lao Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism and acts as the leader of the Community Radio Project on behalf of the Lao government.

Mr. Bounhap reflects: “Community radio is all about voicing local concerns and hearing local voices. As such, it can play a crucial role in setting the agenda for participatory local governance. We are proud of our local volunteers, and results that we are jointly bringing, by empowering local participation and giving them this sense of ownership”.

He believes that community radio is a powerful agent of change as well as a partner in development. He says, “Be it nutrition, women’s empowerment, agriculture, education or health, community radio stations have been able to spread awareness on a range of key issues with great success.

What worries Mr. Bounhap is sustainability. His biggest challenge is how to decrease the rapid turnover of volunteers. Volunteers receive a small contribution to cover their gasoline, but no other payment. Despite their enthusiasm for the project, some volunteers have had to return to work in order to provide for their families.

Impressive results

Lao PDP has just recently fulfilled the eligibility criteria to graduate from Least Developed Country (LDC) status for the first time. Pride for the country’s achievements is in the air, and hopes for a better future - but some serious hard work lies ahead. One of the criteria for graduation is passing a threshold under the Human Assets Index, which looks at issues such as child mortality, secondary school enrollment, adult literacy and nutrition. All the above are also challenges for villages covered by Lakhonepeng Radio Station.

Community radio – a joint project of the Government of Lao PDR and UNDP in Lao PDR - makes a significant contribution to Lao PDR’s path leading out of the group of least developed countries: increased vaccination rates, more women using health facilities, and improved natural disaster preparedness and recovery are all directly linked to information shared on their broadcasts. Radio programmes on gender equality have changed people’s views on the role of women in society:  decision making is now not solely a male task anymore. In community events organized by the radio stations, women participate actively and express their opinions freely.

There are eight community radio stations all over Laos, reaching over 300,000 people and broadcasting in eleven different languages/dialects. The stations are entirely run by volunteers from the communities, a diverse group of inspired, mostly young people, eager to learn and contribute their time and energy. These are specialists for their own communities.

Ms. Thipasouk, a young mother of Lakhonepheng beams: “Our radio is on all the time. I started listening to the radio when I was pregnant and that is how I learnt how important it is to see the doctor regularly and how to eat to deliver a healthy child. My husband started helping me at home so that I can rest more. Thanks to community radio, I am able to raise a happy and healthy child, to contribute to a bright future!"

Ms. Thipasouk received vital information on child rearing from Community Radio programs

Please read this article in Lao.

For further information, please contact:

Mr. Jerome Dubois Mercent, Senior Advisor / Head of Governance, Poverty Reduction and Livelihoods Unit
E-mail: jerome.dubois.mercent@undp.org; Tel: (856 21) 267 720

Ms. Jinha Kim, Governance Programme Officer
E-mail: jinha.kim@undp.org; Tel: (856 21) 267 722

Ms. Sirixai Phanthavong, Programme Analyst
E-mail: sirixai.phanthavongs@undp.org; Tel: (856 21) 267 732