Following the two devastating earthquakes that hit Nepal in April and May 2015, Oxfam quickly responded, ensuring safe and equal access to water and sanitation facilities, and provision of basic needs such as food, cash and hygiene materials. However, it soon became apparent that there was more we could do to help connect communities with information as Simone Carter, Oxfam Community Mobiliser and Public Health Promoter, explains.
In Spring 2015 as our community mobilisation teams in Nepal hit the ground in to ask communities what they needed and to better understand the challenges they faced, it became increasingly apparent that in addition to basic subsistence needs, they needed access to correct and sufficient information. Families had lost access to information; their radios and TVs had been destroyed or buried in the earthquake, and travelling to access this information was impossible at the time.
In addition, with many different actors and agencies with different response mechanisms, people were confused about how to access the much-needed aid. This information gap resulted in rumours and questions about everything from selection criteria for reconstruction grants, to myths regarding the next earthquake.
Finding the truth behind the rumours
An NGO focused on improving access to information in affected communities, Internews, was in Nepal running a programme called OpenMic Rumour Tracking, which they had first trialled in Liberia with Ebola. They collect rumours from communities and then work to find the truths behind the rumours and myths. OpenMic then publishes a weekly report in English and Nepali looking at common rumours and comparing them to facts, as well as providing contact details for people who could provide further information. Oxfam teams were keen to use these reports but did not have a channel to disseminate the information.
So we decided to partner with a local community radio station 'Radio Sindhu' to produce a community radio programme, including a section on myth de-bunking, called Jeevanshaili (which means lifestyle in English). Internews provided capacity building to help the station (which was operating out of a tent!) produce the show with Oxfam, and our community mobilisers worked with communities to gather the content. The show has been so successful that other local stations have been airing it as well.
A community-led information service
By working through local radio we have been able to provide communities with the information they want and need, in a way that they find accessible, and which is part of their daily life (topics have included health, gender, humanitarian assistance and government programming). Our teams go into communities and listen to their issues, questions, concerns and interests. Through focus group discussions and community dialogue, we ask people what types of radio show they prefer, for example, drama, interviews, or stories? We also record quotes and stories from individuals related to the key topics of interest. In addition to providing a space to de-bunk the rumours, we also host a drama and community session that features the communities themselves on air; this means that community members are more likely to listen to the next show because of the possibility of hearing their neighbours or family members on the radio.
The talk shows are broken down into two sections; the first part looks at different thematic topics gathered from the communities by Oxfam's community mobilisers, and the second acts out the latest OpenMic rumour tracking report. Oxfam works with other organisations and institutions to develop shows on the thematic topics identified. By inviting other organisations including the Red Cross and government agencies to be on the show, we have encouraged communities to listen to just one station, with one show that aims to address their key concerns. The show has been running since June 2015 and although there are some national radio equivalents it is the only local radio show with community dialogue, focused on serving the needs of the community post-earthquake.
Since we focus on what communities want, this may not always be within Oxfam's core competencies. For example, as rumours spread about risks to young girls being trafficked following the earthquake, mothers asked us for information about how they could prevent this. So we partnered with a national organisation called Her Turn who developed a small drama on trafficking for one episode.
We also received many requests from women wanting to hear how other mothers were coping with fewer resources, and so a show was hosted to provide tips from mothers to mothers on supporting and caring for their families in the aftermath of the quakes. We also invited the District Health office to talk about access to mobile clinics and health centres and where rehabilitations would be taking place in the future. Other topics addressed by the show have included preparing for winter, how to tell if your child has trauma, and success stories of communities recovery and rebuilding.
Bringing the show to the people
Oxfam distributed over 1000 radios to women's groups and youth groups to encourage members to listen. The show is replayed at four different times and on two different stations, allowing these groups different opportunities to sit together and listen. Our community mobilisers and the female community health volunteers also carry recorded versions of the show to play during community visits. This means that when our teams arrive in communities and they bring up key issues, they can play the episode on that topic or take note of the issue and organise an upcoming episode to address it.
We are now trying to do live segments from communities (called VoxPop) and to have story collection done by the radio station, encouraging the station to take more ownership of the programme, so that it will be sustainable in the long-term.
Bringing communities together
Not only do the radio shows provide key information to communities, they also serve as a constructive forum for the community to discuss and share information and experiences among themselves. We have hosted children's groups, promoted community events and showcased local talent. The show has done more than inform, it has helped to grow and strengthen community bonds, bringing people together in the process of recovery and reconstruction after the earthquakes.