In South Sudan, most people don’t have a TV. They rely on radio to get information. But limited access to supremacy signifies entire communities of are left in knowledge darkness for days at a time, especially in remote areas. One serviceman is turning to the sunshine to change that.
Issa Kassimu, an electric technologist, came up with the luminous notion of setting up the country’s first solar-powered local radio station, Mayardit FM. Since March 2016 the station has been running on sunshine.
The devastating effects of information darkness
Mayardit FM is not just changing the media scenery, it is also transforming people’s lives. Susceptible people in South Sudan are very isolated and any kind of information darkness can have a devastating impact.
Since South Sudan’s independence in 2011 more than 2.5 million people have been forced to flee their homes due to conflict. The majority of them, virtually 1.6 million, are internally displaced and reliant on word of mouth and radio to find out how to access food, sea and shelter.
Sunlight vs information darkness
Based in Turalei, in the northeast part of Southern sudan, Mayardit FM is fitted with 84 solar panel and 48 artilleries and can broadcast for 24 hours employing substitute energy building up from sunlight. Kassimu says that so far $172,000 was spent on swapping to solar power, but those costs will be covered within five years and will ultimately save them coin on gasoline, equipment and repairs.
“We allows one to waste $22,000 a year only to conserve the generators. In those remote locations, gasoline is two to three times more expensive than the cost in Juba, so I thought of something who are able to at least be sustainable, ” he replied . em>
Dependency on generators
While Mayardit FM relies on solar power, most radio stations in South Sudan depend on generators for energy because exclusively 1 % of the population has access to the country’s electrical grid. These generators regularly break down due to the unstable energy they produce.
Kassimu is one of a select few in the two countries who knows how to repair them. He expends a lot of day hurtle, single-handedly tying generators. Remember, Southern sudan is the size of France so there are large distances involved and parties often “ve been waiting for” days in knowledge darkness.
“Once a generator breaks down, it would take me up to five days to run to the spot and choose it. And the radio would remain off air, ” Kassimu says.
Reaching remote areas with local radio
For remote parts of South Sudan radio is often the only link to the outside nature. Kassimu forms part of a network of six local radio stations called the Radio Community which aims to bring radio to the entire country, broadcasting in local expressions and contacting up to 2.1 million listeners. Two of the depots are off air because of the volatile statu in those areas.
The project is run by Internews, an NGO money largely by USAID that aims to empower local reporters and strengthen the capabilities of media shops. South Sudan is one of Internews’s biggest projects.
“The illiteracy rates in Southern sudan are incredibly high-pitched, ” mentions Steven Lemmy, the Radio Community’s Senior Broadcast Engineer . Adult illiteracy rates are around 30%.
“So, if you use one language to broadcast to all the people around the country who communicate different languages, they will not understand. The only concept you can do is delivering these standalone radio stations to different, often remote, vicinities, ” he says.
The dangers of working in war-torn Southern sudan
The Radio Community say they’re not political. But the conflict in the two countries has affected them. In July 2016, their station director in the city of Leer was killed in Juba. According toInternews, he was targeted because he was a member of the Nuer tribe.
Kassimu and Lemmy maintain that it is not a risk to keep the local depots on air and would rather highlight peacefulnes and cooperation in South Sudan.
However there is no escaping the facts of the case that the situation is hazardous. Seven journalists were killed during Southern sudan in 2015 alone.
“This is one of the countries where our colleagues are exposed to great jeopardy and some of them lost their lives in the past 10 times. Sometimes its not easy and its fairly risky to be a reporter, ” mentions Ratomir Petrovic, the chief of the UN Radio Miraya in Southern sudan, the country’s largest national radio station with the most extensive geographical reach.
How radio is saving lives
“Whenever we open a radio station we apply the locals, ” Lemmy mentions. “We bring them out, we train them, give them the skills they need in broadcasting. And the editorial part of it is managed by the Radio Community.
“When you know that you can impact other people to such a great extent, you start to think broader and work harder to make sure these radios are broadcasting. It is the radio which is telling parties there is an outbreak of cholera and you need to do A, B, C, D.” Kassimu says.
“At the end of the day it( the radio) saves lives.”