“Meme e Boda Boda Ruai Ruai, lat in niam ka Bentiu P.O.C.!” – blasted from the motorbike’s speakers, as it was driven around South Sudan’s largest Protection of Civilian (POC) site. “This is Boda Boda Talk Talk! Program One for Bentiu POC!”
News of the long-awaited launch of Boda Boda Talk Talk (BBTT) in Bentiu rang out in the Nuer language, spoken by the majority of Bentiu’s 120,000 POC residents. The hyper-local humanitarian information service launched in October, bringing two-way news and information to the community.
“Ooh we are so happy about this program!” said Simon Gatjang, a member of the High Committee of Elders in the Bentiu POC. “The first music, reminds us of our culture, how our land used to be peaceful.” He said the cultural parts of the program are particularly exciting for his highly disrupted community. The segment on jokes and tongues twisters, he said, “will help the young children to learn the traditions and culture of the Nuer People.”
The BBTT program began its life in Juba’s Tongping POC in January 2014, in the early months of the current conflict, as a way to provide IDPs with vital, accurate and timely information about humanitarian services. The program quickly developed a reputation as a strong community voice, providing not just information, but an opportunity for two-way dialogue with aid providers. BBTT’s success saw the program expand to operate in POC sites in UN House, Malakal and Bor. And now BBTT has come to Bentiu.
As in other sites, the staff of BBTT Bentiu are drawn from the local IDP population and recruited based upon their ability to effectively communicate and advocate for their community. Most had little or no journalism experience before the project begun, so Internews has provided intensive technical training to build upon the most important skills of communication and empathy.
“These guys have made me happy,” says Internews journalism trainer Angelina Gatdet, who herself faced a harrowing journey of displacement from Leer where she was a journalist for Internews’ Naath FM. She is now working to bring those skills to other aspiring young correspondents facing similar life circumstances. “I remember in the recruitment interviews, some of them were very nervous during the part of the interview that was testing them on computer skills. But now I am a proud trainer when I see them with their headphones on editing audio.”
With help from their trainers, a Humanitarian Liaison Officer and Project Manager, the BBTT team produces two new audio programs a week, each about 25 minutes in length. The programs combine humanitarian information with community input, commentary and human interest pieces. Humanitarian agencies provide updates and community members are able to ask questions directly to aid providers through interview segments and round-table discussions. An interview with a health provider might be followed by a short drama or song about the subject, which may in turn be followed by a “community greetings” segment.
“We want to know more about how we can get help from the organizations here in the camp. Every time we see them they are in meetings with the leaders, not with us,” said community member James Khan Bol of Sector 5. “We want BBTT to bring the NGOs to us so that we can talk to them and share our problems. The leaders are good, but we are the people who have problems directly. They should talk to us!”
For humanitarian organizations, the BBTT program offers this critical avenue for communicating with IDPs. “The problem with Bentiu, there is no single phone network at all, therefore communicating to the mass population is a huge challenge for agencies,” explains Nobert Niyodusenga, the UNMISS RRP Program Officer for Bentiu. “We are very happy that Internews is here to help us reach the people and serve them the best way we can.”
This sentiment is echoed by Hannah Jordan, a Protection Officer for Non-violent Peace Force (NP). “We believe that the protection cluster has struggled with messaging,” says Jordan. “We are excited that BBTT has arrived in Bentiu, ensuring that residents have up-to-date information on gender-based-violence (GBV) prevention activities.”
The impact of BBTT’s Bentiu programming in this vital sector has been almost immediate. An early episode featured a story about the protection issues facing women when they collect firewood outside the POC settlement. One young lady, 20 years of age, shared with the BBTT team the story of how she was sexually assaulted twice while fetching firewood. Immediately, BBTT connected the woman to NP for appropriate services. For Jordan this type of collaboration and referral is a vital partnership. “After working together with Internews on identifying hot spots of GBV during firewood collection, NP has been able to tailor our prevention program to reach the most vulnerable women and children.”
Once the BBTT program is produced and edited by the community correspondents, the audio is transferred to memory cards and USB sticks for distribution around the vast POC site. Established listening groups play the program through specially distributed solar-powered wind-up radio sets, and static speakers reach audiences in locations such as health facilities or community centers. For the rest, the program is played on speakers mounted on motorbikes – or “boda bodas.” Six of these mobile narrowcasters roam the POC grid, playing the program at a network of listening stops such as water points or major intersections, designed to reach the maximum audience for the greatest impact.
“The first music we heard (on BBTT) reminded us of our forefathers who lived in harmony and peace with each other,” said community member and BBTT listener Gatjuat Emmanuel, from Old POC6. “I am happy we will hear our own stories and voices, share and send greetings too. If we can get news from outside, it will be good.”
Internews’ work in South Sudan is funded by the US Agency for International Development.