If you think young people are just interested in fashion and music, think again. As a DW Akademie project for community radio stations shows, if they're given a platform they devote themselves to social issues.
You can hear a young man's voice coming from the laptop's speakers. It's a recording. "We desperately need speed bumps here," he says. He comes from the Winneba region in southern Ghana. "The school is located right next to the road and children often have to cross it. Our livestock roams freely around here and they're also in danger."
Radio reporters are visiting the head of the local highway authority and playing him clips from interviews they had conducted with young people. The official consoles them, saying there's just no money for speed bumps, and that even if there were it would first have to come from the capital, Accra. Reporter Osumanu Kassum, known as Shaik, perseveres and asks him whether the motorway authorities could do something despite this. But the boss dismisses any personal responsibility. Car drivers should just be more careful and obey the signs, he argues, "after all, there is a speed limit." But Shaik doesn't give up. He had taken a look yesterday and hadn't seen any signs. "I'll go there and check," the official stutters, "maybe the signs were stolen."
"This interview is much better than the content we usually broadcast at Radio Breezy," says Shaik with pride. That's because the reporters had thoroughly researched the issue and visited the town in advance. The production of the interview is part of one of four workshops jointly being conducted by DW Akademie and Ghana Community Radio Network (GCRN). The network brings together eighteen non-commercial member stations that are spread across the country. The radio journalism workshops are aimed primarily at station volunteers under the age of thirty and focus on giving young listeners a voice.
In the first part of the workshop series participants interview young people about matters and needs that are important to them. The reporters then play interview clips to public officials such as mayors or traditional leaders so that they can attend to young people's concerns.
Training as equals
Topics range from education and health to unemployment and equal rights. "People in Ghana think that a young people's radio show should just be about light subjects like fashion," says Kofi Larweh, the head of training at GCRN. "But young people, just like everybody else, are concerned about problems in the community they live in, and sometimes even more so." Larweh heads the workshops together with trainers from DW Akademie and has no reservervations. "Even though the trainers are experienced journalists, they work at eye level with the young volunteers," he says.
DW Akademie trainers are pleased with the collaboration. "Kofi is a fantastic instructor," says journalist Helene Pawlitzki. "The participants get civic education, English lessons, a comedy show, speech training and rhetoric all in one." She says he always finds a good metaphor to make abstract subjects more comprehensible. "And I've managed to pick up a few trainer's tricks from him," she admits.
The workshops are also having an impact outside the community radio stations. Young people in the town of Bolgatanga in northeastern Ghana, for example, complained about garbage rotting on the streets. A few days after they'd played radio clips to a chief there, the garbage was removed.
Committed to the communities
"Ultimately, our project's target group are the people who live in areas that the community radio stations reach," says Beate Weides, DW Akademie's country manager for Ghana. "The cooperation with GCRN should be expanded." She points out that one of the challenges for non-profit stations is ensuring their economic sustainability, given that they face small advertising markets and high electricity costs. "It's important that these stations continue to connect people with those in power after the project is completed." The production of programs concerned with social issues would not be sustainable if they were completely dependent on foreign financial backers, she says. "The planning meetings need to clarify whether consultations in financial management issues would put the stations on a sounder footing."
Either way, workshop participants like Shake are aiming to share their new skills with other volunteers, and to continue interviewing young people in villages and cities about their concerns. For some participants, the workshop has also been an opportunity to use computers for the first time, others say it has helped them develop personally. "I'm a shy person and never liked talking in front of other people," says Betty Boateng from Radio Peace in Winneba. "Now I don't mind. And when I'm back at the station I want to do an interview every day."