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Kyrgyzstan feature: Batken is famous for rocky soil, apricots...and Radio Salam

BISHKEK, 10-9-2004 (UNICEF)
By Galina Solodunova

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.
Batken province, the poorest province in Kyrgyzstan, is not an easy place to reach or to live. Natural disasters and inclement weather do little to help. But the rocky soil does nourish lush gardens of apricots in the pockets of flat land surrounded by mountains. For local people, Batken means rocky soil, apricots and… Radio Salam. Who are the most respected people in Batken? Locals list the sculptor Torgunbai Sydykov, Askar Shadiev, Governor of the province, and Maksuda Aitieva, Director of Radio Salam.
Schoolchildren cheerfully divide the history of Batken in two eras: before and after Radio Salam began to broadcast. Radio Salam came to life on 12 April three years ago with support from UNICEF in partnership with Internews and the International Tolerance Foundation. UNICEF continues to support this radio station, which tackles the concerns of young people.
In its brief history, Radio Salam has been fuelled by gusts of appreciation and has lightened thousands of hearts in need of help and support. It creates a place and time for young people to speak out and listen to each other, to study together and to entertain.
About 30 volunteers from schools collect information and develop scripts for programmes. "Some days ago, we went to the Children's Institution," says Aidai, a third-year student at Batken University and a volunteer at Radio Salam. "Most of the children have biological parents or extended families and they miss them. Our group is now working on scripts for the Daily Stories Programme to tell people that an institution is not a solution to any of their problems. Children should live with their families. We take our work very seriously; people trust and listen to the radio's messages."

A young journalist prepares for a live show on Radio Salam
Photo credits: UNICEF/KIRA/Aitieva

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.

Modern equipment and an active crew help to Radio Salam reach a wide public - Photo credits: UNICEF/KIRA/Aitieva

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.
Radio Salam, with its dedicated and devoted young volunteers, its enthusiastic staff, and its history of programmes on health and education make it an attractive partner for youth organizations, local authorities, and the mass media. UNICEF believes that it is the people of Radio Salam – their love and care – that is the station's greatest asset, helping it to become self-sufficient and, perhaps one day, stand on its own without any need for UNICEF support.

For more information, please contact:

Galina Solodunova
Communication Officer
UNICEF Kyrgyzstan
Email: gsolodunova@unicef.org

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