Bush Broadcaster Keeps Remote Papuans Connected

West Papuan radio presenter Kathe Vince Dimara is a firm believer in the power of information.

Kathe was born and raised in Kurima, in the isolated district of Yahukimo in central Papua, where about 50 percent of the population of nearly 11,000 is illiterate.

With almost no communication infrastructure available, Yahukimo’s geographical landscape, mainly made up of mountains and rivers, makes it difficult to get information to residents.

Kathe was among the few residents of her village to receive a formal education, and even more unusually, went on to study communications at university in Jayapura.

Kathe took a job as a reporter and announcer for Pikon Ane, a community radio station that provides information to the residents of Yahukimo.

Pikon Ane, or “the sound of Pikon” (a traditional musical instrument made of bamboo), was established in 2007 by radio news agency KBR68H and PPMN, a media development association, with funding from the Media Development Loan Fund.

During the launch of the station, as many as 500 radio sets were distributed among 52 subdistricts. This was a breakthrough for a remote region such as Yahukimo, Kathe said.

“People were very happy when we had a radio station built in the area. They would gather together to listen to the information on the radio,” she said. “They were even willing to save money to buy their own radios so they could tune in at home with their family. They have become more aware of the importance of information in their lives.”

Pikon Ane’s programs range from entertainment to news, talk shows and community service advertisements. The local news is collected by the station’s reporters, while national news is taken from prerecorded materials from Jakarta, the Internet and national newspapers.

“Information on what is happening in Jakarta, for example, is received late by us, but it is still worth listening to,” Kathe said. “It is great to see how people in our region are enthusiastic, longing for information. Despite their limitations, they want to change their lives for the better.”

Four months after Pikon Ane started airing, however, it suddenly stopped. Residents were so disappointed, and they started to come to the radio station to ask for the programs to be put back on the air.

“It was not easy at that time, because we were used to having someone to direct us,” Kathe said.

About eight months later, Kathe was asked to relaunch the station, taking charge of both the management and programs. She now works not only as the station’s director but also as a reporter and announcer for Pikon Ane.

“It was as if we had to start from the very beginning, because we wanted to start a new chapter,” she said.

Today, Pikon Ane airs from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., serving more than 70,000 listeners around Yahukimo. The talk shows cover a variety of topics, including health, education and the environment, with a particular emphasis on farming, Kathe said.

She brainstorms ideas for topics to be covered based on what she sees in the everyday lives of the people in Yahukimo. When she sees an issues that she believes deserves attention, she will invite people with knowledge of the subject to appear on a talk show. Guests include people from government institutions.

“We talk about topics ranging from things often take for granted, like the importance of washing your hands to techniques on how to have a better harvest, and from the price of vegetables in the market to the spread of HIV/AIDS. This is the kind of information that people need,” Kathe said.

She said more people in the district were now going to community health centers for regular check-ups, which she credited to the effect of the station.

As for education, Pikon Ane has also helped reopen a number of schools that had been left idle for some time.

“Once we had a talk about a school in one area that had no teachers. It turned out that there were also other schools with similar problems,” Kathe said. “We heard about it from listeners who came to the radio station and asked for the information to be broadcast.”

Farmers also benefit from broadcasts on farming techniques, broadening the varieties of vegetables they grow, which can diversify their incomes.

The work of Kathe and her team has not gone unnoticed. The Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) recently recognized her achievements by awarding her the S. K. Trimurti Award for female reporters and activists.

But Kathe said her work was not over yet, as there were plenty more that still needed to be done in empowering the people of Yahukimo .

“Human resources are a big challenge, especially for radio stations looking for people to carry on the work in the future,” she said. “I want to provide training for local high school graduates to become reporters. One of my dreams is to see this radio station grow by empowering local young people.”

Kathe said that she had little time for her personal life, with most of her waking hours devoted to Pikon Ane, but she’s not complaining. “I was born and raised here in Kurima. I feel that I owe something to the land and this is all I can give back,” she said.

“My dream is to see the people of Papua live a better life.”

Source: the Jakarta Globe

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