Riding a radio wave
At sunset in the village of Houay Jaek, Xieng Khouang province, a group of villagers are performing a dialogue about the importance of good hygiene. Recording their voices is 30 year-old Khamboun, a fellow villager and volunteer with the local Khoun Community Radio station.
Khoun Radio was founded in 2007 with support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). It is the first community-based radio station in Lao PDR.
Village volunteers are involved in every aspect of production, from programme concept to scripts and editing, in addition to the station’s maintenance and operations. Another unique feature of the radio station is that it broadcasts in 3 ethnic languages, Lao, Khmu and Hmong.
Vongsone Oudomsouk, the Khoun Radio Project Manager, proudly states that, “The radio comes from the community, by the community and for the community. The idea of bringing volunteers to work in community radio is very important because all the information will come to the radio automatically.”
In its three year existence the community volunteers have broadcast over 9,000 hours of programming, covering topics from vital sanitation and health information to farming techniques and tips on how to cook the famous Xieng Khouang noodles.
- Khoun Community Radio was the first multilingual community-run radio station in Lao PDR
- Khoun radio programming contributed to a 60% increase in children's vaccinations in 2009
- The Government plans community radio stations in each of its 47 poorest districts
In a 2009 report the Khoun district health services highlighted the important changes that had occurred since the station went on air. They noted a decrease in the numbers of diarrhea-related illnesses, 60-70 percent more ethnic women were using health facilities when pregnant and 50 percent more women were bringing their children for vaccinations. This increase was particularly high amongst the Hmong community who traditionally would not vaccinate their children.
“There might have been beliefs that vaccinations were harmful for children, but if a neighbor tells you it’s alright – that it has saved my child’s life’ – that’s much more credible than if someone is telling you that from the capital. That’s the whole idea of community radio – it’s not external. It’s internal. It’s about the community,” says Vongsone Oudomsouk.
By listening to the station, Khoun District residents also obtain valuable information about local farming initiatives or unexploded ordnance that has been discovered above-ground.
On the back of the success of Khoun Radio, the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism, with support from UNDP, initiated the Community Participation and Communication Support Programme. This includes two radio stations in the southern province of Sekong and an additional one in Xieng Kouang. Volunteers from Khoun are now playing a leading role in the development of the new radio stations.