Ms. Kris Dasgupta
HKI New York Headquarters
(212) 532-0544, ext. 812
Bamako-April 12, 2004: In rural Africa, the sense of hearing can sometimes save the senspe of sight. As international development organizations have learned in recent year, rural radio stations are a highly effective method of raising public health awareness among disadvantaged and often illiterate populations. This March, the etón Corporation reached out to rural citizens of Mali by donating forty radios to be used by women's and students' listening groups. The United Nations consistently ranks Mali as one of the least developed countries in the world, with a literacy rate of only 26%. The government has opened airwaves to community radio stations in recent years, and there are now over a hundred stations working towards increasing Malians' access to quality information. There is a dire need to aid Malians in their emergence from poverty, and rural radio is fast becoming an integral component of reaching the illiterate majority.
etón presented the radios as an offer to aid Helen Keller International (HKI), an organization dedicated to combating the causes and consequences of blindness and malnutrition. Since opening an office in Mali in 1999, HKI has used rural radio on a regular basis to raise awareness of nutrition, child survival, trachoma and river blindness. The agency currently reaches nearly 7 million people with rural radio programming in Mali and Niger, broadcasting from several stations built with community partners.
HKI and partners work to reach these avid listeners, broadcasting local and international music to keep interest levels high. Between music broadcast, radio hosts share messages describing how the audience might improve their everyday nutrition and hygiene practices. Malnutrition, as well as the infectious and blinding diseases of river blindness and trachoma, have high prevalence rates in Mali. Nutrition messages promote breastfeeding, the use of iodized salt, and attendance when vitamin A capsules are distributed. To prevent and treat river blindness and trachoma, HKI radio stations inform audiences of distribution days for antibiotics and the benefits of frequent face washing. HKI recently received a three-year grant for "Communication for Development" from the United States Agency for International Development, but programs could not operate without gifts such as those donated by the etón Corporation.
Specifically, etón donated forty of its FR200 hand crank emergency radios. The radios are cordless and self-generating, and therefore ideal for the conditions in rural Mali. The listening clubs etón is aiding will meet once or twice a week to listen to a particular program. The manager of the listening club, trained by HKI and partners, will then hold a discussion to ensure that the listeners have understood the message. Role playing, singing, dancing and other activities will be used frequently, to help make serious topics fun. All questions are welcome in the discussion, and HKI hopes that the reinforced understanding will lead group members to share what they have learned with their friends and neighbors.
Ms. Lina Mahy, country director for HKI programs in Mali, commented on the etón donation by saying, "In these changing times, the international donor community increasingly requests private voluntary organizations to add their own share of funding to projects. Therefore, etón is helping us to better help the most vulnerable and disadvantaged people of Mali. We are always looking for assistance in our efforts to combat malnutrition and improve the overall quality of life. Improving knowledge is a powerful tool toward keeping the peace, and a great weapon against poverty and malnutrition."