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Solar powered speech

Ethnic minority people living in four remote Cambodian villages are to benefit from solar battery-powered radio receivers.

More than 100 radio receivers, purchased by the Basic Human Needs Association, a UNESCO Japanese partner, with funding from two Japanese telecommunications agencies, were recently donated to the Kreung, Brao, Tampoun and Jarai indigenous community villages in Cambodia.

Tompoun, a woman from Ou Chum district, said: “I thank you very much for this present. In this village, we like listening to the radio and this receiver is very good because we do not need to buy batteries.

“Sometimes, we don't have 3,000 riel (US$0.75) to buy two batteries, so we cannot listen to the radio.”

In Cambodia, indigenous communities face serious challenges in diverse areas such as education, access to information, natural resources, land, and health service.

Concentrated in Mondulkiri, Ratanakiri and Preah Vihear provinces, the indigenous farming communities make up around two percent of Cambodia’s total population of 13.5 million.

In 2007, in the remote northern province of Ratanakiri, the Cambodian Ministry of Information, in association with UNESCO Phnom Penh, developed a radio system.

The station was initially launched as government radio, but gradually progressed into a community radio station. Community radio means “radio in the community, for the community, about the community and from the community”.

The community radio concept was further developed to help reduce HIV/AIDS vulnerability among ethnic minorities in Ratanakiri province, through the use of a radio drama in the Kreung language to spread awareness about the disease.

The young Kreung boys and girls who broadcast their own radio drama were reaching for the first time in their own indigenous community, in their own language.

The Cambodian government then began to acknowledge the importance of addressing a lack of information among indigenous communities and of promoting the use of Cambodian indigenous languages, some of them at risk of disappearing forever.

Only Kreung – one of 16 indigenous languages in the country – has a written script. Therefore talking, through radio in this case, is the greatest way to promote and preserve this language.

Last year, the UNESCO Office in Phnom Penh organised and provided training sessions on how to run community radio to three additional ethnic groups: the Tompoun, Jarai, and Brao.

With young indigenous people equipped to develop radio programmes, aided by UNESCO’s donation of essential equipment, community radio continues broadcasting for one hour every day in the Kreung, Tompon, Jarai and Brao indigenous languages.

A male resident of a Kreung village said: “Before we could only listen to radio programmes in the Khmer language. Yes, I can understand the Khmer language, but I feel happier if I can listen to my own language.

“Now I receive news about our communities and our culture, apart from the national news. If good or bad things happen in our villages and in other parts of the country, I like to know.”

The radio receivers, which cost nothing to run, are helping indigenous communities improve their daily lives, through providing useful information related to health, culture, weather, education, environment, agriculture and forestry.

Indigenous communities are also being provided with means of communication and information. Through the radio, the community can promote its identity, its character and local culture, and create a diversity of voices.

Soun, a Brao indigenous girl, who is very active with community radio, said: “I and my friends at the community radio go to the villages at least twice a week. There, we interview the villagers. Depending on the radio programme, we ask them their ideas related to health, education, environment and climate change.

“Also, we ask them to let us know about the traditional ways to deal with troubles as well as about traditional folk tales, way of making traditional tools, handicrafts and cooking. When we finish, we come back to the radio station and we develop the news to be broadcast.

“By doing this, we make the stories available to everyone. We like it, and people in the villages enjoy it too. That is what they told me every time I go back to my own village. My community likes listening to me. They say they learn many things,” she added.

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