The young Sylheti dream team on the radio
More than 70% of people worldwide have access to a radio – making it one of the easiest and reliable channels of communicating news, information, and entertainment.
Radio is an inexpensive yet influential tool that can create positive changes in social belief systems and behaviours.
Community radio is especially powerful in the way that serves a local community, covering the interests and issues relevant to its members, which mass media outlets often overlook.
On the outskirts of Moulvibazar, north-eastern Bangladesh, sits a two-storied building abuzz with the young, powerful voices of Radio Pollikontho – an initiative of BRAC’s community empowerment programme. This community radio station is a platform for people in rural Sylhet to express their stories in their own language and style.
Having started its journey in 2012, Radio Pollikontho has been broadcasting programmes addressing a wide array of issues spanning from reproductive healthcare, gender-based violence, legal advice and literature – all in Sylheti, the local dialect. The language helps establish a sense of community, enabling people to relate to the broadcasts and learn useful information. The programmes are produced for the community and by the community – a dynamic team of 24 young individuals who write their own scripts and broadcast them.
Nilima Akter Papri is one of the team members in Radio Pollikontho who runs a healthcare-related programme called Suswasthya (good health in Bengali). One of her main concerns is to de-stigmatise dialogues on menstrual and reproductive healthcare, and address health concerns people in the community face every day. She conducts courtyard meetings with women, notes their queries and concerns, and invites a healthcare professional to the station to answer them live on air.The journey has not been smooth for Nilima. Her family and neighbours- conservative village elders, did not welcome her discussions on menstrual and reproductive healthcare.
“I used to be heavily criticised by the elders for promoting contraceptives,” she said, “It is considered a taboo topic in society. Many elderly women would not hesitate to use crude languages to scold us for our ‘blatant blasphemy’, and at times, their behaviour even made me cry. But I continued educating women about the importance of reproductive healthcare”.Besides working on such sensitive issues, Nilima also addresses more common issues like heart health, diabetes, maternal and neonatal health, and many more.
She recalls as one of the most horrific experiences of her life- the unfortunate death of an infant due to lack of awareness and superstition.