“We Have Come to the Radio for Everyone to Hear”

MALUALKON, SOUTH SUDAN — Despite the 40 kilometer (24 mile) distance and a raging dust storm that elicited safety warnings from authorities, a group of 64 resolute women marched towards Nhomlaau FM, their community radio station.

Through the dust and under the stifling heat, they marched to a drumbeat and sang songs of tribulation. They pressed on until they reached Nhomlaau FM to relay a simple, but critical message: their families were hungry and they needed water. The journey had taken them eight hours. “We are from Marial Jok Ngeth village, and have come to Nhomlaau FM to speak to our government,” said Rebecca Aker, the group’s spokesperson.

“No one listens to our problems, so we have come to the radio for everyone to hear. We have serious problems. Look at my hair,” Aker implored, “it is dry and broken. Where is the time to look beautiful when we have to walk for six hours looking for water? It takes another six hours to get back home, and you realize that you only have fetched one jerry can, just enough for drinking.”

A group of South Sudanese women sit in a structure
The Governor heard about the protest via the radio and his comments were relayed back to the women. Credit: Joseph Ngor, Editor, Nhomlaau FM.

The women even conveyed the message that they would delay having more children until there was sufficient food and water. The women came from Baac County, South Sudan. They were motivated by an earlier story broadcast on Nhomlaau FM about school closures due to lack of water. The story elicited a swift response from government authorities to restore the water supply, which led to a re-opening of the facilities.

When news of the response broke, the women became convinced that the best way to reach concerned authorities, in the absence of a face-to-face interaction, was through the radio.

Nhomlaau FM has been extensively reporting on the water and hunger crisis in the current dry season. The recent economic crisis in South Sudan has further complicated matters, as food prices are at their highest in the country’s recent history.

A recent story on Nhomlaau FM focused on the movement of South Sudanese into its northern neighbor Sudan in search of food. According to a recent communiqué from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), more than 38,000 former returnees, vulnerable people and residents from the Aweil East area in South Sudan are crossing the border due to hunger.

The education department in Aweil East has reported that 93 schools have been threatened with closure due to lack of water. The lack of water is causing people to desert entire villages.

Recently, Nhomlaau FM reported on an increase in cases of people falling off trees as they searched for edible leaves to ease their hunger. Nhomlaau FM Station Editor Joseph Ngor Deng met with the women from Baac County and recorded their voices.

Rebecca Aker told him, “We have no food to eat and no water. No one from the government or NGOs is helping us.”

Nhomlaau FM’s flagship news program broadcast the women’s story the same evening.

When the presenter opened the phone lines, the reactions from listeners echoed the women’s plight. More people spoke about facing the same predicament in different areas, seeking help. Notably, the discussion soon turned to solutions, with callers sharing their ideas on how to avert a repeat of the current situation. Most listeners asked for better planning on the part of government.

On the same day that the women’s story was broadcast, Nhomlaau FM reached the Governor. He said, “I have heard their needs and I cannot promise that I will give them water overnight. But, I will put this as a first priority.” He promised to visit the affected Baac area within a month.

The Governor’s comments were then relayed to the women.

“We trust what Nhomlaau FM has told us. We will wait for the Governor. If he doesn’t keep his word, we will return to the radio and talk about our problems until something is done.”

The women left the station, singing as they embarked on their eight-hour trek back home.

And as promised, Nhomlaau FM reporters followed up with the Governor and residents — in May, two water pumps were installed in Baac County. The women were heard.

Isaac Sagala is the Internews Journalism Trainer for Nhomlaau FM. Nhomlaau FM is part of The Radio Community, a network of community radio stations supported by the USAID-funded i-STREAM project (Strengthening a Free and Independent Media in South Sudan) and implemented by Internews.

(This story was originally posted on Medium.)