“People are dying like flies in this valley. They are dying from AIDS. It is killing so many people here” explained one young resident of a village in Mambwe District, Eastern Province. Like most countries in sub-Saharan Africa, Zambia is struggling in the face of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Across the country, infection rates range from 8 percent to well over 20 percent. Numerous government and NGO programs are attempting to sensitize the public to risks of the disease and to prevention methods, and awareness of the causes of transmission are at about 95 percent. However, this epidemic continues to affect communities far beyond illness and death.
The impact of this disease on a community can be felt in many ways:
- Loss of labor and productivity in agriculture, creating food shortages and leading to malnutrition of community members;
- Loss of labor and productivity resulting in overall economic deterioration;
- Lowered school attendance of children and increased abusive child labor practices;
- Increase in the number of widows and orphans due to AIDS-related deaths;
- Added health risks due to increased susceptibility to other diseases, such as malaria and tuberculosis.
Communities differ in their ability to cope with various stresses brought on by the epidemic, depending on the percentage of their labor force that has been infected, as well as the material and human resources available to bolster their economic, health, and nutritional needs. As a result, development challenges differ from village to village and region to region. Therefore, the most effective strategy to mitigate the impact of HIV/AIDS begins locally.
Using Community Radio to Address Development Challenges at the Grassroots Level
The USAID Africa Bureau was intrigued by the success of Taonga Market, an Interactive Radio Instruction (IRI) series developed by EDC and Zambia’s Education Broadcasting Service. Taonga Market teaches basic education to Zambia’s out-of-school children, Grades 1-5, throughout the country. The success of the series demonstrated that radio can be an effective tool to mitigate the impact of HIV/AIDS. Thus, under the USAID-funded EQUIP1 contract, managed by American Institutes for Research (AIR), EDC launched the Zambia Community Radio (ZCR) Project in November 2003.
There are small community radio stations throughout Zambia that serve a critical role in disseminating information to the public and organizing community activities. Through the ZCR Project, EDC is partnering with such radio stations and other local non-governmental and community-based development organizations to create a series of village-based radio programs entitled Our Village. In Zambia’s Eastern Province, EDC is partnering with two stations: Radio Breeze in Chipata and Radio Chikaya in Lundazi. The selection of Our Village program topics is based on an extensive, ongoing, village-level assessment of the community development needs and priorities. In other words, community members themselves determine the topics of the radio programs. Program topics fall within five broad development themes: 1) HIV/AIDS prevention, 2) child welfare and education, 3) income generation, 4) agriculture and food security, and 5) environmental health.
Recorded in Local Communities, in Local Languages, with Local Expertise
Our Village facilitates the sharing of vast, largely untapped technical knowledge at the village level. The process is simple. Every Our Village program is recorded in a local language at a village. Each program treats a single development theme and relies largely on the villagers’ experience with the issues. Villagers describe their problems and share solutions, and if more technical depth and innovation is necessary to achieve a program’s objectives, additional experts are included.
It is anticipated that development ideas and methods can be emulated and adapted in other listening communities. The program helps spur a dynamic exchange of dialogue and ideas in the region. Such interactive, grassroots dialogue also helps target governmental and NGO resources where they are needed most.
The process is working. A representative from the provincial Ministry of Education was astonished when he accompanied a recording visit to Kang’Ombe, the site of the only village-based preschool in Eastern Province. “Kang’Ombe has organized this preschool by itself. It’s an amazing accomplishment.” The principal for the government primary school six kilometers away said, “Kang’Ombe’s preschool has contributed to our school the brightest, most prepared students in the entire area. This will put them far ahead as they face new challenges.” The Ministry of Education representative continued, “Other communities can take after their example. Your radio program will inspire and show how they did it. And we’re prepared to lend a helping hand to those communities that are interested.” Our Village is an invaluable stimulus and information sharing resource in the development of local communities.
Testing, Monitoring, Grants, and Expansion
The program format is based on rigorous in-village testing of pilot programs. Monitoring and evaluation activities, designed and carried out by partner organization Juarez and Associates, measures the impact of the programs through village radio listening groups, and will help EDC and its partner stations improve the effectiveness of the Our Village programs over time. The radio programs are backed up with resources. EDC will implement a grants program related to Our Village program themes that will assist communities in their own local development projects as part of the effort to mitigate the impact of HIV/AIDS.
During Year One, EDC has implemented the ZCR Project in Eastern Province, selected because of its proximity to Malawi and Mozambique, a trans-border area with increased risk of migration of HIV infection. Plans for Years Two and beyond focus on extending the project area to other trans-border regions, inside Zambia as well as to neighboring countries.
Pilot testing Our Village program in Nyalubanga Village, still in its early stages, the Zambia Community Radio Project has been warmly received in every community it has visited. Villages are immensely proud of their development projects and are eager to share their successes and lessons learned with their neighboring communities. It is anticipated that the Our Village radio series will be a dynamic facilitator to community interaction and capacity building and a powerful tool in mitigating the impact of HIV/AIDS.
Originally published on September 1, 2004