London — Refugee camp radio stations set up by a development charity are loved by their audiences, but face major funding challenges
"When I heard about giving birth in a hospital on Radio Sila, it was the first time anyone suggested that to me," says 37-year-old Achta Abakar Ibrahim, a Darfur refugee and mother of 10. She sits in the shade of her compound in Djabal camp, near Goz Beïda, eastern Chad, plaiting the hair of her four-year-old daughter, Malia.
"My first six children I had at home, and although - thanks to God - I didn't have any serious problems, it was just so much easier in the hospital," she says. "There, they know what can go wrong, and that made me so much more confident."
Radio Sila is one of three radio stations - the other two are Absoun in Iriba and Voix de Ouaddai in Abeche - which were set up in 2005 and 2006 by the international media development charity Internews. Now, similar stories to Ibrahim's can be heard in many of the 12 camps dotted along Chad's border with Sudan, home to 265,000 people displaced by conflict in Darfur, or in the host villages that welcomed them.The stations use a mix of targeted social action programmes and innovations on a range of subjects, often those considered taboo in local communities. These have included interactive phone-ins and discussions to provide information, and a communications channel between refugees and aid agencies.
"People talk much more openly on the radio. They listen to each other and learn from each other's experience," says Nalga Katir, who organised a debate on female genital mutilation, sponsored by the UN Population Fund, in the refugee camps. "They're just a voice on the radio, so it allows them to debate in a way they would be afraid to face-to-face, and then you see after the programme people are sitting in the shade of a tree still discussing it."
However, despite the fact that almost none of the Darfuris are returning home, funding for refugee projects in the region is getting harder to come by - and the radio stations are no exception. Internews pulled out at the end of July. Formal training on management matters and revenue generation was given to local journalists, who had been trained by the organisation, before it left, and the stations are now in the process of transforming into independent community radio associations.