12 Aug 2010 - 31 Jan 2011
At the Crossroad in Mile 91
"Okada" rides and blackouts: Adolphus Williams, journalism mentor in Mile 91, Sierra Leone, describes his work at Radio Gbafth.
Adolphus Williams is one of two trained BBC WST mentors in Sierra Leone, currently working with journalists at community radio stations to produce a new governance programme "Fo Rod" (Crossroad).
In this report, he describes the challenges of working at Radio Gbafth in the village of Mile 91 in the Northern Province of Sierra Leone. Adolphus previously worked for the BBC WST reporting on the Charles Taylor trial from The Hague.
Mile 91 is a small village in Tonkolili district, with little infrastructure, dusty and bumpy roads, and no running water.
I grew up in Freetown and to temporarily reside in Mile 91 on this assignment is very challenging. Safe drinking water is a distant dream for the locals; it's very dry and desert-like, and since being here I have not seen a blink of electricity. Without access to electricity or an internet connection, my laptop computer is now more or less furniture!
At dawn, I fetch water from the community well, about a mile from my house. I leave for the radio station around 8.30am and walk 15 minutes to the main junction to flag down an “Okada” (commercial motorbike) to take me to the station.
Due to the poor road network in Mile 91, there are no taxicabs running within the village except those linking main towns and districts on the highway. If you want to travel locally, you have no alternative but to flag down an Okada.
Okada riders are mostly former RUF (Revolutionary United Front) or AFRC (Armed Forces Revolutionary Council) rebels who have returned to their homes after the civil war of 1991-2002. They are scattered all over Mile 91 crisscrossing every corner and offering rides on their motorbikes for a few leones (SLL).
Every morning while going to work, I hang on tightly as they snake through footpaths, compounds, across streets, fields, over bridges like a madman on the run.
The community have embraced the “Fo Rod” show with their two hands.
At the community radio station, Radio Gbafth, most of my trainees are volunteers with little support from the station management and getting them motivated in my sessions can be challenging.
Only a fifth of my trainees are female and their attendance in my weekly sessions is extremely poor. It is commonly thought among the Mile 91 population that the women should remain in the home, and this has had an effect on the number of female trainees in my sessions and editorial meetings.
However one of my female trainees, Isha Dankey Kamara, told me the training from BBC WST has had a big impact on her. She said the sole reason she frequently comes to the station lately is due to the BBC WST training sessions.
Most of the volunteer trainees say the BBC WST training sessions on “Fo Rod” are helping them to recognise their true role as journalists, their responsibilities to the community, and the need to create objective programmes for community development.
The "Fo Rod" show has different segments that encourage audience participation and stimulate community debate. We also broadcast a three-minute radio drama on the topic being discussed in the main programme.
This drama teases out resolutions and solutions from the community on how the issue or problem under discussion can be solved cooperatively. At this stage the phone line is always hot with suggestions, ideas, arguments and counter-arguments.
The phone line is always hot with suggestions, ideas, arguments and counter-arguments.
Studio guests range from experts, academics and politicians to community representatives who discuss the issues that are affecting them and their community.
Our intention is not to take sides but to provide a level stage and equal opportunity for all to discuss happenings and aid development.
The community have embraced the "Fo Rod" show with their two hands.
Women and children, the marginalised and vulnerable group in Mile 91, now have a voice in our show. They debate with community elders arguing for their rights, protection and recognition.
Even with big challenges and obstacles, we are making progress, and most importantly the community too is making headway.