As Nepal Reels, a Radio Station Offers a Steady Voice
By Gopal Guragain
When a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck Nepal on April 25, killing upwards of 6,000, many Nepalese were thousands of miles away. They were building skyscrapers in Dubai, cleaning houses in Doha, and repairing electrical systems in Kuala Lumpur. Nepal sends more migrant workers abroad per capita than any other country in Asia, and those workers’ remittances account for nearly one-third of its GDP.
Now thousands of those workers are unable to return to Nepal to search for loved ones and help with the rescue mission. For many of them, the sponsorship system that lets them find work abroad also restricts their movements and requires them to get permission from their employers to leave the country. They’re stuck, helplessly watching the disaster unfold from afar.
We at the Ujyaalo 90 Network can’t bring these workers home to Nepal, but we can try to bring Nepal to them. Ujyaalo is a radio broadcast based in Kathmandu that can be heard on more than 170 radio stations throughout Nepal, and globally via the internet. The traffic to our website, which has always had a large and growing audience, has leapt to 200,000 daily visitors since the earthquake.
Through the aftershocks, which have at times forced us to work outside our building, we have continued to cover the disaster day and night. We are running PSAs and news to keep people informed and help reduce panic. Right now, our reporters are traveling to all 11 of the affected districts of Nepal to conduct live broadcasts from each of them, bringing the stories of victims to the forefront of our coverage.
Still, one hard aftershock could put us off the air, which is why we need a backup mobile broadcast station. Our partner stations in the most devastated districts, where the electricity has failed, need transmitters, microphones, towers, and solar panels to resume their broadcasts as soon as possible.
Our migrant listeners in particular need to hear from us in times like these. In 2012, we redoubled our efforts to reach them with a weekly radio program specifically aimed at them called Desh Paradesh. For many Nepalese, radio is their primary source of information. Three-quarters of all Nepalese get their daily news from radio, whereas only about half get it from TV (an unreliable device in a country with frequent power cuts) and about one-tenth from print media.
We at Ujyaalo feel a strong sense of responsibility to keep migrant workers informed about what’s going on at home. But even on a good day, migrant workers have unique needs that we can help fill. We offer services that go well beyond radio broadcasting. For instance, workers who are being treated unfairly at their jobs abroad can send us questions and complaints through our website, through Facebook, even via text message.
We receive over a hundred questions every week. Some we feature on the air, but we also bring many of them directly to the attention of the proper authorities in Kathmandu. We get complaints about everything from nefarious recruiting agencies to abusive employers, and we try to link victims of these circumstances with officials in Nepal who will work with them to solve their problems. Sadly, we receive few messages from women migrants, who tend to have higher rates of illiteracy and are often employed as domestic workers, where they’re watched more carefully and sometimes not allowed to use cell phones.
But their voices need to be heard—every migrant worker has a story, and we compile those stories on our website as part of our ongoing citizen journalism project. Ujyaalo’s website also provides all sorts of information that can be useful to migrant workers, like embassy contacts and information about conditions in destination countries, including laws and employment policies, what the climate is like, the food, the major cities, and advice on where to go for help abroad.
We realize how helpless many of our migrant worker listeners must be feeling at the moment. Right now, our broadcasts and website are laser focused on news about the earthquake to keep them informed. We are also broadcasting positive stories to give migrant workers abroad some hope. Our goal is not only to provide them information about the humanitarian crisis, but also a steady voice they can tune into when they need to hear from home.
Ujyaalo is a grantee of the Open Society Foundations.