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DEVELOPMENT-AFRICA: Airwaves Changing Lives of the Physically Challenged

Francis Kokutse

ADA, Ghana , Aug 19 2009 (IPS) - In the past physically challenged Theophilus Ayim would have been kept behind closed doors by his family because they feared he would be scorned and ridiculed by the community.

And if it had not been for a small volunteer-run community radio station things would have stayed that way.

But now, instead of spending his days closeted away from a harsh world, 24-year-old Ayim is free to manoeuvre his wheel-chair around Ada. He conducts interviews with a community that now accepts his physical challenges, and reports on stories around the area for the station.

"That is the change that Ada Radio has brought to the community when we hit the airwaves some 10 years ago," station manager Kofi Larweh said.

In the mainly fishing and farming areas along the eastern coast of Ghana, communities are believed to be over 65 percent illiterate. The farmers, fishmongers, fishermen, drivers and traders of these areas have little education or understanding for physically challenged people.

But since Ada Radio went on air in 1999, broadcasting to an estimated audience of half a million people, it has been unique in many ways. It was manned by volunteers drawn from the community and was the first station to broadcast solely in the local language of the people, Dangme.

Larweh said that the success of the station was largely due to the programmes it broadcast. "We cover the environment, issues on women, farming and fishing issues that affect the community as well international news."

All programmes are locally sourced and produced by the volunteer members of the community it broadcasts to. The programming also includes a half-hour weekly programmes produced in towns and villages and with contributions by the local fishmongers, farmers and other main occupational groups.

Four years ago Ada Radio tackled the poor treatment of physically challenged people through the "Advocacy through Radio" project. This was an initiative financed by the Danish International Development Agency and contributed largely to the changing of attitudes towards the disabled in the community.

"The fact that parents no longer keep their physically challenged children away from the public shows that we have been able to change attitudes in the community," said Emily Amerdzoe, a social worker and one of the volunteers at the station.

The station included the Ghana Association of the Blind and the Ghana Society of the Physically Disabled Persons in the advocacy project and trained 12 people in broadcasting.

"They went back to the community to mobilise their colleagues for drama and discussion programmes involving their lives," Amerdzoe said.

Ayim was one of those 12 people. He agrees that perceptions towards physically challenged people are now changing.

"The local authority administration now sees the physically challenged people as part of the community and consults them."

He said that before the project began, no one knew what happened to a percentage of a common fund for the physically challenged. The funds are used to improve the lives of the physically challenged and are allocated to the district by central government.

"Now, the authorities consult us on what projects they want funds to be used for. That is a big change in the community."

Seth Amarnotey, a driver working in Ada, told IPS that these programmes largely changed his perception towards the physically challenged, though he admits that initially he was not so receptive to the idea.

"When the station started its programmes, l did not take them serious(ly) because the first time l listened there was a drama programme on blindness. But, there was a follow up not long after that and l have since kept listening. This has educated me to treat physically challenged people better. I stop for the blind who want to cross the road when l am driving, which is something l never used to do. l even give free rides to some."

Amerdzoe said the change in the attitude by the community towards the physically challenged has been overwhelming. But that is not the only area in which Radio Ada has made a difference.

"One of our main successes has also been with conflict resolution in the community. We bring out burning issues that create conflict and discuss them. People call in (to the station) with their views and it helps to bring about peace." Amerdzoe said the station also resolved conflicts between churches and traditional worshippers in the district over cultural issues.

The success of Ada Radio has been recognised throughout the country and Larweh, who is now chairman of the Network of Community Radio Stations, has become a sought out person to help train other communities to set up their stations.

He said: "We have 10 such stations operating in the country currently. However, all these have their peculiar strength and it is therefore a difficult thing to compare how they work."

Radio Peace in Winneba in the Central Region has been able to solve a protracted chieftaincy problem in the community.

"The station has involved the community to talk about what they want for (themselves) and settled on peace. (They) have worked on that, so we can say they have used the medium of community radio to solve a communal problem," Larweh explained.

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