How Communication is Aid: Supporting Communities through Radio in Post-Haiyan Philippines

Source: Tue, 16 Dec 2014 02:09 PM
Staff at Radyo Abante capture stories
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Karlon Rama of The Peace and Conflict Journalism Network of Philippines, a CDAC Network Affiliate Member, looks back at their Post-Typhoon Haiyan Response and how rebuilding communication and radio networks to ensure that local media supports the rehabilitation efforts has made a difference in the local communities they serve. The learning and subsequent preparedness of local media has been put to use in the most recent response to Typhoon Hagupit this December.

A tiny independent radio station in Tacloban, a city in the Philippines that is still struggling to rebound from the devastation left by last year’s killer Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda), is showing that, indeed, communication is aid.  

Run by local journalists, the station, which identifies itself as Radyo Abante (Forward Radio) on air, links disaster affected communities to the appropriate aid agencies by broadcasting aid-related information and visiting communities to obtain direct feedback. 

“The totality of our vision, mission and goal is really to communicate to disaster affected communities,” explains Len Manriquez, national coordinator and chief of operations of PECOJON - The Peace and Conflict Journalism Network Philippines. 

This, the soft-spoken math-major-turned-journalism-advocate explains, means making sure that the “communities have knowledge of the landscape they find themselves in and that they have a voice in the overall response to the disaster affecting them.” 

PECOJON, with field office in Cebu City, almost 86 nautical miles from Tacloban City, founded Radyo Abante last January, initially as part of its media support initiative for local journalists who were uprooted from their own homes and places of work after the typhoon hit. 

The organisation landed in Tacloban less than 24 hours after the disaster struck and tracked down surviving journalists and is helping them get back on their feet and on the field, initially by linking them to news agencies, local and abroad, who were looking for stringers with Yolanda-related stories. 

At that time, the only working broadcast facility was First Response Radio, another CDAC Network Affiliate Member, a non-profit initiative that brought a portable 600-watt transmitter to Tacloban City six days after the killer typhoon hit to give humanitarian aid agencies and workers information from the ground. 

When First Response Radio packed up after the crisis phase of humanitarian work ended, PECOJON stepped in to continue the efforts by employing local journalists that the typhoon had displaced. 

And because the journalists had little to no experience in humanitarian reporting, PECOJON, with the support of Misereor and World Vision, embarked on training series utilising the paradigm of Conflict Sensitive Journalism in implementing a humanitarian broadcasting station for communicating with communities and ensuring accountability to affected population. 

The station began its initial broadcast in January 13, 2014, recalls the station manager, Fred Padernos. It was he who gave the station its name, saying it represented their own personal circumstances. 

“We have nowhere else to go but abante (Forward), after Yolanda knocked us all down,” he said. 

“As of July 31, 2014, Radyo Abante has been able to receive a total of 36,201 text messages from the communities,” says Joy Cherry Quito, PECOJON’s project assistant to Radyo Abante.

The text messages are mostly requests for assistance and reaction to livelihood, shelter, water, sanitation and health, education and protection-related information that is sourced from aid agencies and broadcast to the communities sixteen hours a day, Mondays to Sunday.

The messages, in turn, are disseminated to aid agencies for action and are often the basis for follow-up stories that target specific humanitarian response related issues.

Now powered by a 600-watt transmitter brought in by Internews, a founding Member of the CDAC Network, Radyo Abante airs from the ground floor of an apartment along Marasbaras in Tacloban City. 

Placing its transmission antenna atop a pole fixed on top the apartment’s water tank, the station is heard within a radius of 40 kilometers. Its signal reaches Carigara and Dulag in Leyte and Goporlos in Samar. 

For areas it cannot reach, PECOJON and Radyo Abante jointly produce a bi-monthly newspaper called San Juanico News. 

“Our own survey shows that Radyo Abante is the station monitored by 30 percent of the population within the broadcast area,” Quito said of the station that runs without advertising and only with the support of the international non-government groups such as CDAC Network Member, World Vision, who see the use of radio as a way to ensure feedback and accountability to aid recipients. 

Random interviews with people living in the tent city in Barangay San Jose, the bunk houses built by the National Housing Authority, and the temporary shelters built in Barangay New Kawayan for two days in September details the station’s positive impact to disaster affected communities. 

Among the findings* from the interviews, is that 85.18 percent of them say Radyo Abante is their vital link to aid institutions, be it government agencies or non-governmental organisations. 

Meanwhile, 77.7 percent of people interviewed said they are able to reach out to Radyo Abante either directly or through neighbours and friends. The same number said they have also either been interviewed, or saw or heard somebody being interviewed over a community concern. 

On the other side of the table, a survey of the 13 staff members of Radyo Abante showed the importance the station assigns to its listening public. 

When asked to rank their news sources — 1 for least important to 7 for the most important — seven of the 13 reporters gave 7 to “individuals from affected communities” and two others gave it a 6 and gave their 7s to “leaders of affected communities.”

Moreover, on the part of the people in the affected communities, responses collated from the interviewees seem to support the assertions among reporters that they do engage the community, as evidenced by the type of news sources being quoted by reports heard over Radyo Abante. 

For example, 62.96% of the interviewees said the news and commentaries they regularly hear from Radyo Abante quote leaders of their community. A total of 55.56% say they also commonly hear reports quoting residents living in disaster affected communities; people like themselves. 

Meanwhile, a total of 85.18% say Radyo Abante is their vital link to aid institutions, be it government agencies or non-governmental organisations, with 34.78% stressing that the station’s reporting actually and directly contributed to the resolution of certain community-based issues. This demonstrates the importance local media and radio play in providing vital information to aid the local community in rebuilding lives.

*The interviews, done by two faculty members of the University of San Jose-Recoletos, is now part of a paper that has been submitted to the Recoletos Multi-Disciplinary Research Journal as a refereed paper under the university’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Masters in Media Studies program.


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