Digital Satellite Radio Helps Overcome Rural Isolation

Group listening to radio How do we provide health and human rights information to the poorest and most isolated areas? How do we overcome illiteracy, poor infrastructure, and poverty in order to give people the information they need to make life choices? Information and communications technology (ICT) offers a solution - digital satellite radio.

HIV/AIDS and Human Rights Mobilization in Rural Nepal
Every day, tens of thousands of Nepalese tune into the radio drama, Khura Khasra Mitha, (Let's Talk Straight) to be entertained by the stories of life in the village of Sundapur centered on the elder woman, Thuldidi. This program, part of Equal Access' Digital Broadcast Initiative, delivers more than entertainment - the characters discuss critical issues such as HIV/AIDS and women's empowerment. These discussions continue after the broadcast in hundreds of village community groups organized under this Initiative.

Rural Nepal is especially difficult to reach with information, due to its isolation, low literacy rates, and poor infrastructure. Radio programming, using digital satellite technology and solar power, can be the most effective way to get messages out to these communities.

Digital Broadcast Initiative
The Digital Broadcast Initiative (DBI) of Equal Access and the UN Development Program (UNDP) combines a cost-effective digital satellite technology solution, innovative local content creation, and culturally appropriate community outreach as synergistic vehicles for intervention and education.

USAID/ANE is supporting this cutting edge program through a 2002 dot-GOV grant to the UN Foundation. Since the April 2003 launch of the pilot project, the following institutions have joined as partners: USAID, Ford Foundation, the William & Flora Hewlett Foundation, World Bank Early Childhood Division, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA). The Nepal Ministry of Health and the National HIV/AIDS Coordinator has endorsed the DBI in Nepal.

WorldSpace Satellite System Delivers Radio Programming in Isolated Communities
The WorldSpace satellite system leapfrogs current technologies with a digital direct signal received by a handheld, portable radio receiver. The receiver delivers crystal clear audio (uninterrupted by weather), including multi-media graphics and text if linked to a computer. Robust and inexpensive, this receiver system has enormous implications for the delivery of readily usable development information of critical importance. First Voice International, formerly known as WorldSpace Foundation, is a Resource Partner of the DOT-COM Alliance.

Mass Distribution throughout Nepal
The current audience includes more than 400 community-based discussion groups in 52 districts of Nepal. It is estimated that the direct audience is as high as 110,000 people. The current radio programming explores HIV/AIDS, Women's Empowerment, Human Rights and Early Childhood Development. Additionally, ten community radio stations rebroadcast the shows to an estimated audience of nine million.

Engaging Nepalese Communities to Make Informed Choices
These activities engage Nepalese communities in their health, livelihoods and human rights challenges, allowing community members to make informed choices. Discussion groups and formal feedback processes allow these communities input into the programs Listeners also send in thousands of letters.

In the short time that the project has been operating, there is already documentation and anecdotal evidence of increased knowledge, attitude and behavior change in some communities. Changes such as:
  • A whole village of house servants learned about trafficking from the program and decided they would no longer be lured to Kathmandu or to India, by the men that come to make them offers of a new "jobs" in the city.
  • A young Dalite girl in one village says that after learning about trafficking from the show, she saved her friend's life by outsmarting the man who was trying to bribe this friend to come with him to the city.
  • Several villages have sent their teenage girls for empowerment training after learning that this was available from the program. The characters in the show are proving to be great models for emulation.
  • Communities have indicated an increased knowledge about modes of HIV transmission and no longer fear tactile contact with HIV infected individuals.
Beyond the impact on the listeners, participating community radio stations have designed a new program for transmission over the system called Our Efforts, Our Voices-for the first time regional voices and views will be heard across the entire country.

UNICEF and the Nepal Ministry of Education are also negotiating with Equal Access to place a radio receiver in every school. Family Health International has also requested Equal Access participation in a cross-border initiative, reaching at risk Nepalese migrant and sex workers in Mumbai via satellite.

Internews was awarded the dot-GOV Leader Award No. GDG-A-00-01-00009-00 on 21 September, 2001.

For More Information, Contact:
Sarah Tisch, Ph.D.
Chief-of-Party, dot-GOV
Internews Network
Tel: 202 833-5740 x 203

Aaron Sundsmo
Assistant Director, International Programs, WorldSpace Foundation
Tel: 202-861-2272

Partner: Ronni Goldfarb
Executive Director, Equal Access
Equal Access

Related Resource Partners
Related DOT-COM Activity
Nepal - Digital Satellite Broadcast Pilot
Related Links
Click on USAID's logo to visit USAID
Click on Internews Network logo, to visit Internews
Click on Academy for Educational Development (AED) logo to visit AED
Click on Educational Development Center (EDC) logo to visit EDC
Core funding for the DOT-COM Alliance is provided by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Bureau for Economic Growth, Agriculture & Trade, Office of Infrastructure and Engineering (EGAT/OI&E), Office of Education (EGAT/ED), and Office of Women in Development (EGAT/WID), under the terms of Award numbers: GDG-A-00-01-00009-00, dot-GOV; GDG-A-00-01-00014-00, dot-ORG; GDG-A-00-01-00011-00, dot-EDU.
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