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At a glance: Lao People's Democratic Republic

Youth radio initiative spreads health messages in Lao People's Democratic Republic

© UNICEF Lao PDR/2008/Phouthavong
Youth radio presenters Pany and Denphachanh at work in the studio of Luang Prabang provincial radio.

LUANG PRABANG, Lao People's Democratic Republic, 16 January 2009 – The thought of going live on the air might be daunting to most people, but not to Pany Vilaychith, 18. Despite her youth, she is the lead presenter on 'Smile of Hope', a weekly broadcast from a radio station covering Luang Prabang province, a mountainous area of northern Lao PDR.

The programme is part of a four-year-old initiative run by Lao National Radio with backing from UNICEF, funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA).

“I’ve been involved with the radio project for four years now,” Pany explains, taking a break from recording in the station’s small studio. “What I like about it most is that it gives me the chance to share information on lots of different issues with young people.”

Community outreach

One aim of the project is to give youths like Pany an opportunity to express their thoughts and opinions on child rights-related issues and to share them with audiences of a similar age.

The initiative does not rely on the airwaves alone. Once a month, the youth radio team piles onto a rented bus and heads off into remote corners of the province, home to some of the country’s poorest communities.

© UNICEF Lao PDR/2008/Phouthavong
Members of the Luang Prabang youth radio team perform a play highlighting the dangers of preventable diseases like measles, for community members in Kok Ngiew village, Luang Prabang province.

Today they’ve come to the village of Kok Ngiew, set in thickly wooded hills about an hour’s drive outside of Luang Prabang town. Farming is the chief occupation for most Laotian families, although this weekend, most have left the fields to assemble in front of the village chief’s house. They eagerly await the show to be put on by Pany and about a dozen of her colleagues from the youth radio team.

Creating awareness through laughter

The show is a colourful, noisy – and highly participatory – mix of music, drama, dance and puppetry. It kicks off with a chaotic game led by a youth dressed in a chicken costume in which a group of excited children try to pop balloons tied to each other’s feet. The point of the game is to raise awareness about the dangers of bird flu, outbreaks of which have occurred regularly in Lao PDR over the past two years.

Next up is a puppet show that highlights the threats posed to children by preventable diseases such as measles. That’s followed by a sketch act in which the radio team – wearing grotesque paper masks – play the part of the diseases, before succumbing to the power of immunization, represented by a giant syringe.

The comic antics of the players have the children in the audience doubled up with laughter, but it’s clear that an important lesson is being delivered as well.

Alternative perspectives

“Humour is one of the best ways of getting the community to accept important messages about health,” said Director of the Children’s Cultural Centres (CCC) of Luang Prabang, Chanpheng Singphet. “The shows these kids put on are really helpful in reinforcing the work done by regular health outreach teams.”

CCC is UNICEF’s key partner through which the youth radio teams are organized.

Back at the radio station, the deputy director, Houmpanh Vithayaphone, says that while people in Luang Prabang can get information from many different sources, the youth radio team provides a different and vibrant perspective.

© UNICEF Lao PDR/2008/Phouthavong
Pany and fellow youth reporter, Sonesoulilan, interview child member of the audience at Kok Ngiew village, Luang Prabang province. Interviews like this will be used in the next edition of the radio programme.

“It’s very important that young people can contribute to providing information about different issues,” he explains. “Here in Luang Prabang, immunization is a particular focus. But it could equally be any other issues that affect the social and economic development of the province.”

Luang Prabang is one of ten provinces where the initiative is working. In addition, last October, with UNICEF support, Laos National Radio launched a new weekly national show with a specific focus on life skills, demonstrating that in Laos PDR, the potential of youth radio to change lives is yet to be fully tapped.




UNICEF correspondent Simon Ingram reports on youth radio in the Lao People's Democratic Republic.
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