In April 2004, Mountain Forum staff and other stakeholders from around the world congregated in Kathmandu for a Strategic Planning Workshop. Through this workshop and the global survey carried out earlier, the task was to define the direction that MF should take in the future.
One of the main issues to come up was that MF must reach out to the grassroots more effectively. A key reason for the current gap in delivering communication and capacity building support to mountain communities was the limited reach of the Internet as a medium. The technology that allowed MF to exist in the first place had also limited it to be in touch with only those people who are literate (especially in the English language), and who have computers and Internet connections. A clear need was identified to work towards equal access to knowledge by creating a more effective process for information exchange and knowledge sharing.
One of the strategies recommended was the exploration and assessment of other communication media, both traditional and alternative. Looking at existing media for information sharing and their capability to bring out voices of the people at the grassroots level, MF identified radio as a simple, effective and powerful communication tool. To test the feasibility and sustainability of incorporating radio within the tools used by MF, the Mountain Forum Secretariat, the Asia-Pacific Mountain Network (APMN), and Radio Sagarmatha—the oldest independent community broadcasting station in South Asia—launched a collaborative pilot project in September 2004.
Radio Sagarmatha directly reaches out to people at the grass-roots level in 8 districts of Nepal. It has also established a network with 8 community radio stations across the country to fill the vacuum of information and critical perspectives at the grassroots level, particularly for communities outside the Kathmandu valley. As Sagarmatha is a community radio station, the voices of people are consistently brought into the fold of the radio programs through interviews in the field.
This collaborative pilot project aims to form a bridge between the audience (and participants) of the radio programs and the MF community. This way, the project hopes to facilitate a regular exchange of dialogue between communities at the grassroots in Nepal and MF communities spread across the region and the world.
The process being followed is simple. Radio Sagarmatha and Mountain Forum research and identify issues for discussion that could be pertinent to several mountain regions in the world. Input is sought from the MF community on these issues through postings on various discussion lists. MF and Radio Sagarmatha staffs then act as messengers for the MF community and take this input to the field and record reactions from community members on the same (Figure 1). These, along with expert opinion, are then put together and produced as a radio program, which is then broadcast across the area. Following this, key ideas to emerge from this process are shared with the MF community through the web and discussion lists. The idea behind this process is to facilitate dialogue and knowledge exchange, and encourage mutual understanding between the MF community and communities at the grassroots.
In the first phase, 8 such programs will be produced. As this is a pilot phase, the purpose is to assess whether such an approach—which links discrete online and offline communities to facilitate mutual support—can be successful or not. This process is constantly evolving, as an attempt of this kind has not been made anywhere before. At the end of the pilot phase, it is hoped that all hitches will be resolved and this model will be ready to be taken to a larger scale.
The first 3 programs have already been produced and are on issues related to mountain identity, mountain tourism, and market linkages for mountain products. The first field trip brought the MF and Radio Sagarmatha team in touch with the Tamang community. The team had the privilege of experiencing Tamang traditions and culture, observing their means of livelihoods and recording their perspective on their identity. The community was very enthusiastic about the prospect of sharing their thoughts on radio and with the larger world through MF. This is what some of the people had to say:
“Village girls are simple; city girls are into fashion. Because we live here in the mountains, we have to clean cowsheds, go to forests, cut fodder and grass…That's what we do.”
Man Bahadur Tamang:
“Crisp winds, cold water found here. We can see the Himalayas from here. All vegetables grown on mountainous land are tasty. My clothes, which consist of a suruwaal (Nepali tight pants), bhoto (Nepali top matching the suruwaal) and waistcoat all mark me as a mountain dweller. We do not wear pant suits like you.”
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