A legacy of volunteers links communities to information in remote southern Lao PDR

29 Apr 2011

In Thateng town, Sekong Province, 800 km's south of Lao's capital Vientiane, 19-year old Nouan Anong is in the local radio studio fitting her headphones for the morning news. Nouan is a volunteer radio DJ with the Thatheng Ethnic Community Radio for Development (TECRD) station and presents the show in her local Ta-oi language.

The radio was launched in April 2010, with support from the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Radio programmes cover topics such as health issues, agriculture and information for youth to better understand the history of their ethnicity, in addition to other relevant topics. The community is involved in every aspect of the radio, from school children cleaning the radio grounds to youth reporters producing the content.

“This is a unique opportunity to volunteer and represent my own Ta-oi ethnic group. I can communicate in my own language so the community understands what is happening around them,” said Nouan. For Mr Leasone, the Public Information Officer for Thateng District, the radio station provides vital support to his work, “We are limited in terms of our capacity and the ethnic languages to share information to the wider Thateng district. It's a lot better now since we've had this ethnic radio station,” he said.

The radio station is one part of the Citizen Information Programme (CIP) in Sekong Province. The CIP aims to increase citizen's access to information and development communications in ethnic languages. Information is disseminated through 2 community radios (Thateng and Dakcheung districts), community speakerphones, information boards, and the quarterly Sekong magazine. The CIP also strengthens community volunteerism with a focus on young people who act as links between citizens and the administration. This includes a network of community volunteer committees who work to gather village statistics and socio-economic data.

The CIP is part of the Governance and Public Administration Reform (GPAR) programme supported by UNDP and UNV. The project focuses on improving access to public services for the multi-ethnic people of Sekong and the CIP helps to disseminate vital information to these remote communities.

A legacy of volunteers has been left across the 20 target villages in Thateng and Dakcheung districts. Forty year-old Soulivanh, from Kamkok village, is one of 7 volunteers who updates their information board and acts as head of the speakerphone booth. “It's a good responsibility and commitment towards the community that's why I like it,” he said. “In the past the village head would have to go from house to house to share information, now we can make a public announcement and get everyone's attention. The participation among the community is better because of this.”

The speakerphones act as mini-radio stations within communities and for 31-year old Thipakhone the information has helped her to realize the importance of good hygiene for the health of her young family, “Once I received the information I tried to be more hygienic and keep the house clean. This is very important for my family.”

According to the district authority the radio has helped 200 farmers to learn new agricultural techniques and increase their production, while 115 mothers have benefited from information about vaccinations and proper nutrition for their children.

Nouan Anong is realizing her dream to be a better DJ and Mr Leasone believes the UN Volunteers have played an essential role in promoting and supporting local volunteerism, “The village volunteers have brought a new dynamic, you can feel the sense of ownership and excitement from the community having their own people and youth involved with this radio programme.”