Travelling to the Voice of Khotgoid community radio
The way to reach the Tsagaan Uul district (soum) is off road. The land above the permafrost is tough, the gradients of the ancient mountains are never too steep, and the stones never too big, so a motorbike or a four-wheel drive vehicle can find its way, following a direction dictated by the experience of the guide. It took us four hours to cover the 150 kilometres from the provincial capital to the Tsagaan Uul soum (six hundred kilometres north-west of the Mongolian capital Ulaanbaatar).
On the way we met two small settlements, two motorbikes, four old soviet-made 4WD vehicles (still working!), half a dozen trucks loaded with the mineral wealth which is now fuelling one of the fastest economic growth in Asia, one horse rider alone at a distance, a dozen traditional nomadic gears, hundreds of wild horses and uncountable cattle.
At the soum’s border, as per an ancestral hospitality tradition, a delegation is waiting for the guests, outdoor, despite springtime it is still freezing cold. A cup of horse milk, some sweets, a yellow scarf and the exchange of snuff-bottles are the rituals for welcoming strangers. When we reach the governor’s office, in the presence of about twenty villagers, the vice-governor D. Dorjdagva starts to solemnly and precisely inform us about the Tsagaan Uul’s resources, reading from a register kept with good calligraphy: “Our soum has a population of 5,730 inhabitants, about 2,000 are in the main village and the rest scattered around the territory. It has one thousand children and young students, a hospital for up to 16 patients, and 256,400 cattle (among which 110,772 female and 1,670 newborns).” And since December 2012, the soum has a community radio, Voice of Khotgoid, named after the Khotgoid people, one of the many Mongolian ethnic minorities which in Tsagaan Uul is a majority. The vice-governor says that he is happy with the new radio as a “tool for education” and as a way to exchange information.
During the meeting, the volunteer community radio reporter C. Otgontugs, a young woman in her early twenties, walks around in the room recording with her digital device and mike. After the welcoming ceremony, we follow her to the radio studio: a room of about 15 square meters, with basic sound-proofing, the UNESCO-provided radio-in-a-box kit, and the graphic waves of the programme on-air moving on the computer monitor. The Mongolian version of UNESCO’s handbook How to Do Community Radio is on the table. The station manager K. Jargaltuya introduces the programme grid of the radio: about three hours a day of news, live programmes and talk shows. Furthermore, she explains that the radio is also organizing social events, such as poetry contests and income generation activities.
In the meantime, the station’s Board members arrive in the room. The Board was elected by the community according to a Statute that guarantees the representation of its diverse civil society. Most members of the Voice of Khotgoid’s Board are women, and it is chaired by U. Oyunchimeg, a teacher by profession. Asked for a concrete example of how the radio made a difference to their community, the oldest Board member takes the floor and starts telling the story of when recently, after several requests by the elders, the central government eventually provided the community with some funding to purchase a much-needed wool processing machine to treat raw fibers. But then the tax officer wanted to tax this, claiming that it was an income subject to taxation. The elders opposed this decision, saying that it was a public subsidy not due to be taxed. When the tension in the community was increasing, the radio producers interviewed the protagonists including the tax officer, the governor and the elders. As a result of this radio coverage, the tension eased out, and in a happy end the tax officer agreed to grant a waiver. The wool processing machine is now purchased and working at full speed.