Radio project gives a voice to indigenous children in Mexico
Tenango, Mexico, 21 January 2008 – When a 2006 teachers' strike in the State of Oaxaca caused students to miss school for several months, UNICEF and its education partner, Ciesas, saw an opportunity to help children in the poorest and most vulnerable communities. The resulting project gave these children their own radio programme and, more important, a voice.
In four cities and towns, including the remote village of Tenango, UNICEF and Ciesas gave children access to all the training and equipment necessary to record their own programmes. Because of Oaxaca's high concentration of indigenous people, children were encouraged to use their native languages, something that would have been unimaginable just a few years before.
"For more than 50 years, it was a political statement," Ciesas staff member Arturo Guerrero says, describing the prevailing attitude of the past: "If you want to be a Mexican citizen, forget about your native language. You must use Spanish in the schools."
The radio project holds one principle above all else: respect for the voice of the child.
One of the first students to embrace the project was Alondra Carrera, 13, who quickly found her voice as a storyteller, sharing tales of her large extended family and her experiences growing up in one of the indigenous communities of Oaxaca.
"This radio workshop is very important to me," she says. "They teach us how to respect our culture, our values, our traditions – and how to be friends with everybody else so that we can be better people, and have better relationships with our community and with the rest of the children who live here."
Alondra lives in a modest house with eight other family members. She's a top student and hopes to be a biologist one day. "I like to be responsible in life," she says.
A new path to education
Along with 1.2 million other students in Oaxaca, Alondra saw her dreams put on hold in 2006 when a teachers' strike turned violent, closing schools throughout the state. Girls were especially vulnerable, and indigenous communities were hit hard – which is why Tenango was chosen for the radio project.
UNICEF Education Specialist Marcelo Mazzoli fought for the project and is one of its most ardent supporters.
"The radio project is a way to build a new path for the children to engage in school – to rebuild the school by their own means, acknowledging their view of the world, using their mother tongue, not just Spanish," he says. "Also, it's important because girls are building the project. Girls are acting as leaders inside the school."
Mobile radio stations
Once they have been produced, the children's programmes are sent to different radio stations and posted on the Internet. Many villages don't have radio stations, so the recorded programmes are often played through the public address systems that are still common in the town squares.
Even idle ambulances are conscripted as mobile radio stations, playing the programmes over their loudspeakers as they drive through the community.
In the city of Oaxaca, the project has even created a full-scale production studio, where children are learning the skills needed to prepare for a career in broadcasting. But regardless of their future careers, these children have already succeeded in helping to preserve their cultural identity with every broadcast.