Nestled on the Island of Bohol in Central Philippines, Jagna is a small town of about 30,000 people and considered an important commercial trading center with a busy port. Much of the town and surrounding Barangays, or villages, however, depend largely on agriculture. Even though its history goes back to the 17th century its story of social and economic transformation began just over a decade ago when Forrest Malakoff, an American citizen went to Jagna with a team of doctors and nurses with a health care program that continues to improve the health of its citizens and empowers them to undertake other measures to improve their lives.
When I went to Jagna in 2008 I could see how a small-scale health care program involving a few doctors and nurses from the United States was growing into an operation that encompasses the Jagna municipality and surrounding Barangays and involves the training of local health personnel in the operation of modern medical equipment. Medical volunteers came to the area three times a year and screened as many 1,000 people on each visit. Gradually, this program was becoming integrated with Jagna’s health system and even the isolated Barangays were included in the medical system. The success of the program in identifying health problems through careful screening and providing medicines to the needy led to the next important stage in strengthening the community. The community began to assume full responsibility for the program as the first important step in achieving sustainability. It led to a burst of creative energy that is so essential for social and economic transformation of society.
I was in Jagna with my friend of 33 years Forrest Malakoff to explore the possibility of establishing a community radio as a tool in promoting health education among the local people. While Forrest’s non-profit organization, Philos Jagna would continue its health care program the station would help in educating the population on the value of preventive health in addition to public discourses and entertainment. A station to be owned and operated by the people of Jagna would, for instance, remind the patients to take their medicines on time, how to deal with side effects, speak about the value of exercise and the important role of diet and nutrition.
I had with me three people who had been involved in promoting community radio around the world: Bharat Koirala who pioneered community radio in Nepal, Louis Tabing who supervised a project that established 25 community radio stations in the Philippines and Choy Arnaldo who supported establishment of community radio in the developing world from the Communication Division of UNESCO in Paris. Following a two-day meeting of the local leaders from all walks of life it was decided that the community would take responsibility for a community radio. I decided to come up with the funding required for a low cost station.
While the radio project received full support of the town’s progressive mayor it was the Media Council that took initiatives in running a popular and at the same time productive radio program. It is interesting that the Media Council comprises individuals that represent diverse groups including women, a Barangay captain to a porter who would normally not be regarded for such a body. I appreciate the diversity in the representation on the Media Council, especially the presence of women that has generated such elements as mother-to-mother discourses, discussions on malnutrition and healthy recipes to improve daily family diets. These are essential elements of a health education program that are equally essential for a community radio that helps bind members of the community together and strengthens their capacity to undertake actions that help improve their lives.
Two outstanding developments in Jagna’s radio station are first, the use of cell phones in texting instant messages to the station and second, the use of the Internet in streaming its programs through such social media networks as the Facebook. It is interesting that their broadcasts in the local dialect is reaching the population on the island of Bohol and listeners abroad. And, the interactive nature of community radio is further strengthened by instance responses from listeners. As many as 800 text messages, mostly music dedication and personal messages, are received and attended to each day. And, the use of the social media has opened up new opportunities for the station to improve its broadcasts by sharing information and material with other community radio stations and interacting with listeners in other parts of the country.
Speaking of community radio the question that is often asked is “why community radio?” Two most important aspects of the community radio movement around the world is first, the ownership of the station and its operation by the community. With the station managed by the community with the help of the Media Council its broadcasts are designed to give voice to the members of the community and to use material that benefit its members. Since the station is operated by few individuals, mostly volunteers, and the whole operation is very simple, the financial needs are minimal and can be managed by the community without having to depend on regular external support. Because of its capacity to empower the local community, provide forum for public discourse, share success stories that tend to breed more successes and entertain the local population with programs of their choice there has been a spurt in the community radio movement around the world.
One question that came up during my presentation at the U.N. Habitat meeting was how a combination of community radio and the social media could be useful in an area that had very limited access to computers and the Internet. A social media like the Facebook was used to reach those who had access and also other community radio stations that could initiate a spirit of sharing. Since most of Jagna’s programs were in the local dialect it created a new audience in other areas of the Philippines and abroad. One area of success that the Jagna station can boast of a system of using texting that could be used for live broadcasts. There are of hundreds text messages received every day. Originally most of these were dedications but now more and more of them are from people seeking answers to their day to day problems for live broadcast, for example, from farmers out in their fields. Like new mothers seeing solutions from experienced mothers. These are examples of how the social media can be used for live broadcast to receive information from experienced mothers to benefit a larger audience. Such valuable information thus becomes available for people who do not have access to the social media. A combination of both thus demonstrates the power of community radio and of the growing influence of the social media.
It is often said that community radio is the best medium for the practice of democracy at the local level since it allows consultation among the local population for decisions that affect their lives. As one of the participants at the U.N. meeting put it, “Jagna is using social media to promote the practice democracy rather than to protest its absence”.
Even more important would be to share Jagna’s experience in health care using this powerful media since it has successfully developed an effective drug delivery system that meets international standards, something most communities in the developing world are yet to achieve. In turn the partnership of Jagna and Philos has been very effective since the volunteer doctors from Philos are able to work with local health professionals to screen more than 2,000 people a year and enter them into an on-going medical system made possible by this partnership with support from other organizations.
We intend to share the Jagna experience with similar communities in the Philippines and other countries. To begin with we are already in communication with the Media Foundation in Nepal which, in the past three years, has initiated many development programs using communication. Since its focus is on community radio we are contemplating an exchange of radio producers to learn from each other’s experiences, and to begin with a radio program producer from Jagna could visit community radio stations in Nepal. This could initiate a process of sharing and expanding the Jagna experience to other communities around the world.
Similarly, a conference of community radio operators and promoters from, say Asia and Africa could be arranged to exchange their experiences with those in the more developed parts of the world, for instance the United States and some countries of Europe. Such a conference could be organized in a country with new experiences in community radio, where participants could examine first hand the elements in the establishment and operation of community radio as an important tool in development.
In order to undertake these ventures in promoting development through the sharing of experiences and promoting development in the South we will be needing financial resources and expertise. We hope like-minded organizations in the North will come up with the support that we will need in the coming days and months to promote development based on the Jagna experience. The Jagna story has already inspired some and we hope it will continue to inspire more and will lead to an outpouring of support. For instance, because of the lack of funds for medicines in the Philippines, Jagna Philos may not be able to continue supporting patients of diabetes and high blood pressure in the future as is being done now with outside support to maintain the high medical standards that has been developed by Philos. Similar is the case with a million meals that an outside organization donated to counter the high level of malnutrition found in the local population through research.
In my two presentations at the U.N. I tried, with the use of vivid pictures from Jagna, to depict the changing scenario in the lives of the local people as a result of an effective North-South collaboration. These real-life pictures showed how technology and limited material resources from NGOs in the North had begun to change the lives of the people in the South through community empowerment. It was this fact that I tried stress during my second presentation at the U.N. during which I pointed out visually with the use slides that the success story in Jagna was due principally to community ownership and community participation in both the health program and broadcasting, each complementing the achievement of the other.
In conclusion, it becomes evident that the close collaboration between the town of Jagna, Philos and other outside agencies that has been able to present the Jagna experience as unique. This combined with the ability of the community radio to reach a large population with health and nutrition messages and live texts from the local residents on things that have helped them improve their well-being are things we wish to share with others and learn from them.