September 2004, Batken is famous for rocky soil, apricots...and Radio Salam
Now and then an ominous mixture of mud, rocks and water the height of a man blocks the road. Windscreen wipers can't cope with the pouring rain and hail, and vehicles grind to a halt. In some places, drivers rush from their vehicles to help clear the road. A journey from Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan, to the southern province of Batken that should take three hours takes seven in the stormy summer of 2004.
Radio Salam is a part of UNICEF HAFY Project that stands for Healthy Airwaves for Youth. It unites five regional radio stations scattered in different parts of the republic. The journalists and youth volunteers come together to learn to produce youth interactive broadcasting to answer the most burning issues on health and education in the community. They cover such issues as prevention of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, hygiene, inter-generation gaps. The project also provides a forum for the radios to exchange creative ideas and enrich their resources to better respond to needs of the community. With little economic development in Batken, Radio Salam strives to raise and help solve the problems of the community, while also seeking support from the locals. Deteriorating school infrastructure in Batken also gives Salam Radio an important role in helping to the educational gaps.
The radio staff have become social leaders and gained a reputation as social movers and shakers. After intensive work, it is most encouraging to get feedback on their efforts. In her letter to the radio station, Ainura, a 16-year-old schoolgirl wrote: "We love Salam not because it is the only radio here. We love it because it has become our teacher, advisor and dearest friend. I find all the programmes useful. I would like to especially mention programmes on the history of our region and on health issues. It is Radio Salam that warned me about HIV/AIDS and answered difficult questions on reproductive health. At school we were told about hygiene and diseases caused by non-boiled water, but my family started to boil water only after they had heard a programme about anthrax on the Radio." Aidai, an 18-year-old girl, a budding songwriter, has dedicated her lyrics to Radio Salam. She compares it to a flower in a desert and a refreshing rain on a sultry hot day.