02Jul2014

Airwaves of Change

By Communications Team

Alfaz-e-Mewat, a new community radio station in Mewat

Hundreds of villages within a 20 km radius of Village Ghaghas in the Nagina block within the Mewat district (one of Haryana’s most backward districts), now have the region’s very own community radio station, Alfaz-e-Mewat, tuned in at 107.8 MHz.

More than 700 million Indians reside in 636 thousand villages which, even after 60 years of independence, reel under chronic poverty and are characterized by illiteracy, substandard health services, no employment avenues and limited access to information. Further, there are no opportunities for these communities to voice their development concerns in the mainstream media. Villagers in Mewat got their first taste of accessing the media through the community radio—Alfaz-e-Mewat (rural voices of Mewat) which has become a tool for social transformation.

With the launch of Alfaz-e-Mewat FM 107.8 at Village Ghaghas, the month of February unfolded a new chapter in Mewat, unleashing the power of community media. Alfaz-e-Mewat is a community radio station, set up by the Sehgal Foundation with support from the Ministry of Agriculture, GoI to give voice to the farming communities in Mewat. It generates contents “of the community, by the community and for the community.” Razia, Program Coordinator of Alfaz-e-Mewat, the only woman in the team, was elated after seeing the joy of her daughter when she first heard her mother on radio. She says, “Radio is the best thing happened to me. Community-owned and managed media is a lot different from the mainstream media. It allows you to express and talk about issues that directly impact the community. Our station has received wide popularity in a short time, and there is a long way to go.

According to Sehgal Foundation’s Chief Executive Officer, Jane Schukoske,”Community radio promotes civic participation and a sense of worth in the local community. The broadcasts attract    listeners to learn, ask questions and give opinions in local dialect about locally relevant topics and  culture. It gives a level playing field for ongoing learning where there are varying levels of literacy.”

The story of Alfaz-e-Mewat FM 107.8

In August 2009 Sehgal Foundation applied for its community radio license. In May 2010 we received  the Letter of Intent from the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MoIB). Later, the MoIB    allocated 107.8 MHz to Alfaz-e-Mewat as its broadcast frequency. The station, located at the foothills  of Aravallis in Haryana, is housed in Sehgal Foundation’s community center in Village Ghaghas which holds village-level trainings and field demonstrations. The station covers villages within 20 km radius, originating from the broadcasting tower placed at 30 meter height from the ground. Within this footprint fall hundreds of villages, many of which have never had access to mainstream media.

Sehgal Foundation floated an Expression Of Interest for the radio staff and volunteers and received over 50 applications from a variety of community members including teachers, farmers, students and unemployed youth. Eventually 19 people completed the six month training—all were men. Like in many of Sehgal Foundation’s interventions, getting village women to participate was a challenge. But today, we have a woman who is from the Meo community and is currently being trained to lead the community radio project.

“After a fairly lengthy process of application, screening and paperwork, Alfaz-e-Mewat launched its test broadcast on January 10, 2012, setting a stage for our inroads into the formal phase of broadcasting. Throughout the test broadcast, there was a lot of participation from the community members; they came forward to contribute in giving shape to their own communication medium. Local talents approached us and expressed their interest in being associated with the station and becoming part of the day-to-day programming. Within a short span of 2 months after Alfaz-e-Mewat started on March 1st, 2012, the station is broadcasting for 8.5 hours every day,” says Pooja O. Murada, Director of Communications.

The community radio station Alfaz-e-Mewat FM 107.8 has been supported under the Agriculture Technology Management Agency (ATMA) scheme of the Ministry of Agriculture, GoI. ATMA is a decentralized, innovative autonomous institution for agricultural extension which gives a radio set-up and program funding for three years.  “From the beginning, we have worked towards creating Alfaz-e-Mewat FM 107.8 a unique radio station based on the public, private and community partnership model,” continues Pooja.

Since the community has various and diverse needs, Alfaz-e-Mewat offers a unique blend of programs on agriculture, water, soil health, local culture, school kids, governance and village-based institutions. These topics have been identified through various baseline and needs assessment surveys and community mobilization. The signature program of Alfaz-e-Mewat FM 107.8 is “Tohfa-e-Kudrat: Jal Jangal Zameen (Water, Soil, Forests)” which focuses on agriculture and allied activities since they are the main sources of income for 58% of the district’s population.

Besides these signature programs, the station creates contents voicing numerous development issues that plague rural villages in Mewat. Another mandate of the station is to bridge the disconnect between the policy makers and beneficiaries while promoting local art and culture. With a dedicated community-led team managing Alfaz-e-Mewat, this community radio station has expanded media access and provided a platform for local voices and perspectives worth being heard.

Stay Tuned!