THERE is a revolution taking place in Guyana’s hinterland. It is a quiet revolution, almost unnoticed on the coastland. It could be reasonably argued that it is a belated revolution.
Radio, as popular media began captivating the world over a hundred years ago. It was not until just over five years ago, in 2011, on the eve of an election that private radio licences were selectively handed out. Previously choice had been denied with only state owned radio available. The new cadre of stations however remains limited to the coastland, leaving the tens of thousands who live in Guyana’s vast hinterland regions out of the loop.
Launched in September, 2000, Radio Paiwomak, located at Bina Hill in Annai, is Guyana’s first community radio station. Through the efforts of its long serving administrator Virgil Harding and his small team of dedicated broadcasters under the guidance of the North Rupununi District Development Board (NRDDB), it continues to serve the people of the North Rupununi.
Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo was integral in the process of realising Radio Paiwomak, while serving in the PPP administration and considered it unfinished business that the effort to have community radio stations all across Guyana remained stalled for 15 years, since the launch of Radio Paiwomak. A little over a year in government, he, along with legendary broadcaster Dr. Rovin Deodat (who serves as coordinator for the Community Broadcasting Project) piloted the implementation of two community radio projects in Lethem in Region Nine and Mabaruma in Region One.
RADIO LETHEM AND RADIO MABARUMA
Commissioned in May and June 2016 respectively, Radio Lethem and Radio Mabaruma now serve their respective communities, complete with multiple hours of local programming produced and presented by broadcasters from the two communities.
It is the vision of the Prime Minister and the government that there will be increased hours of local programming, complete with programmes presented in indigenous languages and that these stations will only connect with NCN’s Voice of Guyana for the national newscast and other flagship programmes. These stations are for the communities, they are non-political and non-partisan. Training is provided free of cost to all those who are interested in becoming broadcasters and once they demonstrate the competence, interest and enthusiasm they make the cut.
There are two cadres of broadcasters, which are managing and operating Radio Lethem and Radio Mabaruma, with guidance and supervision from Dr. Deodat and his professional team.
Both stations have enhanced life immensely in these two townships. Persons within a 25 mile radius are now able to listen to radio 24hrs a day and are now able to receive newscasts and other updates in real time and no longer have to wait on days old newspapers to reach their communities or on unstable internet connections to access news websites online. In 2017 there are four more community radio stations, which will be set up and work has already commenced apace. In the coming months Radio Bartica, Radio Mahdia, Radio Aishalton and Radio Orealla will all be commissioned and will be on air 24 hours a day.
By the end of 2017 there will be a historic seven community radio stations operational in Guyana. This will add to the groundbreaking three, which are currently on the air and will represent an investment of over $200MILLION by the government in bringing radio to previously unserved communities. Radio Lethem and Radio Mabaruma have energised the people of these and surrounding communities. There is excitement, pride and delight in the radio revolution, which is happening in their homes, offices, businesses, vehicles, farmlands, villages and shops.
It is the plan to ensure that all the community radio stations are available online so that persons on the coastland and indeed anywhere in the world can access these stations via the internet and apps such as TuneIn. There are many persons from these regions who now live on the coastland and overseas, who feel cut off from family, relatives and friends and their communities. Live radio, broadcasting from Annai, Lethem, Mabaruma, Bartica, Mahdia, Aishalton and Orealla will soon be a reality.
An initial visit to Aishalton recently already has the community abuzz and talk has intensified that a community radio station will take the village one step closer to being a township.
It is rather easy for it to be lost on us, hyper-connected coastlanders, how important a facet of life this is for persons who have been shut out and neglected for decades from simple, basic information and communication services. For our brothers and sisters who can now hear radio all day and all night and who can hear their own community broadcasters presenting programmes, from music, to talk shows to news updates and more, it is transformational and it is empowering. And this is not the end. There are plans for even more community radio stations and, community television stations as well. Quietly, without fanfare, pomp and ceremony, life is already better for thousands.