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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.
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
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
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