13.02.2007 -

Inhabitants of the Caribbean on the same wavelength

From Haiti to Jamaica, an active network of local radio stations are able to share their experiences and pool resources across marine and linguistic divides on an internet portal.

It's a good idea whose time has been a long time a-coming...the idea that if Caribbean people could share the challenges and problems and solutions of their communities, 'live and direct' through a radio link, community empowerment and Caribbean identity uld spread like a bushfire.

 

UNESCO's effort to support community broadcasting in developing countries started decades ago, but it is in the last ten years that the rapid development and penetration of the internet and associated technology has made collaboration and exchange not only possible but evident. In the last three years in the Caribbean the spread of internet usage, like cell phones, has not been just a phenomenon, it has also been a demonstration that poor and rich alike, the now generations, want access to technology that will allow them to play and to communicate.

 

The technology has raced ahead but the hard challenge to organizations, governmental and non-governmental, and to funding agencies, remains the same: how to make communication projects sustainable. In all instances, the challenge is about the sustainability of human as well as technological and economic resources.

 

Increasing Collaboration accross the Caribbean

 

UNESCO/International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC) has led the effort and sustained support for intensified collaboration and exchange between some pretty far-flung and remote communities across the Caribbean region. Training has been delivered to radio stations in Guyana, Suriname, Jamaica, Dominica, Belize, Cuba, and Haiti in various aspects of Multi Media Centre operation and management. Given the community volunteer character of many of these organizations, some of the community multimedia centres (CMCs) cum radio stations have had mixed fortunes and will predictably continue to have their ups and downs.

 

Delivering training at the actual locations of community radio stations on a rotating basis has encouraged the sharing of ideas and networking among different radio stations and helped to grow the feeling of community and comradeship.

 

In October 2005, at a meeting in Suriname, the decision was taken to develop a regional network of CMCs. This decision set the stage for the final step towards the creation of the long-dreamed-of network. To help the process along, UNESCO has provided funding for the creation of an internet radio portal which will allow all interested CMCs to webcast through the Multimedia for Caribbean Communities (MCCLinks) website.

 

According to Alton Grizzle, the UNESCO Officer currently responsible for this development: "The creation of the Caribbean Internet Radio Portal will facilitate increased local content development and sharing, expand the reach of community media and provide a common space for self-expression and creativity."

 

In the first stage the three or four stations with greatest capacity will stream their broadcasts live. Until the other stations can do the same, they will provide content by e-mail or by regular mail to ROOTS FM, which is responsible for receiving and scheduling content. The Regional Radio Project (RRP) is working with several Caribbean community stations to strengthen their capacity to produce and deliver radio programmes. The technical management of the portal is provided by the Container Project, a quasi-CMC located in rural Jamaica which has also benefited from UNESCO/IPDC support.

 

Results that make a difference

 

Mervin Jarman, the founding manager of the Container Project gives an example of the sort of material that community radios can share: "We've got alot of taped programmes from Dominica - cameos about the effect of Hurricane Ivan particularly on the lives of young people - I found them totally riveting. There could be devastated young people right here in my community. Listening to them, I FELT them"

 

"I am very grateful to be a part of bringing this idea to fruition," says Rosamond Brown of ROOTS FM. "Yes, it's been a long time coming, and the one disappointing fact is that so many communities are still so remote that accessibility will remain a challenge." A challenge that he hopes to overcome with time.

 

The Caribbean Internet Radio Portal is a long-awaited opportunity for people across the Caribbean to hear the voices of their brothers and sisters telling their own stories and concerns and searching for answers together.

 

Sonia Mills in Kingston, Jamaica




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