Pooja Shahani: Community Radio for SHGs
Mid Year Public Progress Report
Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh
Born and raised in Hong Kong, Pooja Shahani’s fellowship project aims to create a sustainable radio program Kanpur-based NGO Shramik Bharti. Pooja graduated from Middlebury College, Vermont with a Bachelors in Creative Writing and Economics. Pooja feels that media is a platform through which people can communicate their opinions, become aware of their rights, and share their stories.
NGO & Community Background
Shramik Bharti began its journey in 1986 to promote microfinance in rural and urban areas in Kanpur. Women and men were organized in Self Help Groups [SHGs] for credit and saving activities. Currently, Shramik Bharti has promoted more than 1,073 Self Help Groups with a membership of about 15,082, out of which 98% of the members are women. The organization today has developed other livelihood related projects such as educating farmers on eri silk rearing, weaving handloom cloth and producing recycled leather bags. Moreover, Shramik Bharti continues to increase its effort on sustainable agriculture activities, water sanitation, health initiatives, animal welfare and many more.
Evolving with modern trends, the organization decided to experiment with grassroots media initiatives. They began making radio programs for current projects. Shramik Bharti soon realized that putting their efforts in developing a community radio initiative in rural areas will provide the voiceless with their own platform, one in which they will speak of themselves, for themselves and by themselves.
At the moment, we are introducing the community radio initiative to twelve villages in Maitha block, 30km away from Kanpur city. Our mission is to increase awareness of individual rights, address local social issues, share relevant market information and create an alternate educational space where villagers will be able to learn from one another. We believe that the presence of a community radio team in the area will encourage public discourse and increase civil participation in the areas.
As an Indicorps fellow, I live in both a village in Maitha block and in the city. I have many communities – the community radio reporters, NGO staff members, the family I live with in the village and city, the young girls in Anooppur and the twelve villages we work in.
Community Radio Team
Sometimes, the team views me as a trainer. Sometimes, they treat me as friend sharing their fears and joys with me. Sometimes, they see me as the mediator between them and Radha Didi (my co-worker and Shramik Bharti community radio coordinator). I love working with teams. But, what’s different about this team is learning how to make them push their own boundaries. Slowly, over the past six months, I’m noticing that they are beginning to be more honest with themselves and with each other.
The Shramik Bharti staff is very much my family as well, especially with the people I interact with on a daily basis. There’s so much to learn from them. I’m grateful to many people at Shramik Bharti that have accepted my comments – good and bad – with an open heart. I especially love the relationship that I have with the kitchen staff, drivers, and security guard (Yadav Bhaiya). These individuals inspire me with their hard work and dignity. They treat me as their little sister and I definitely feel like they are my big brothers.
Radha Didi (Shramik Bharti radio coordinator and the person I live with in the city)
I am with Radha Didi 24 hours a day seven days a week. On the phone or in her house, we are always connected. Our relationship has evolved from one of colleagues to one of true friendship. We are with each other during our low times and high times. I feel like I am part of her family because she has shown me that love is a bond that breaks all walls, exposing and accepting vulnerability and weakness. I respect Radha Didi and am very grateful that I have such a healthy relationship with her.
My relationship with each is based on honesty and understanding. Every time, I’m amazed at the warmth, love and enthusiasm that welcomes me with open arms. Even as a nomad, I have many homes.
Before coming to Shramik Bharti, I was well aware that I was going to be engaging with a very new and modern aspect of development, one that many people are skeptical of. I also knew that there would be many challenges in developing such a program. However, in these six months, despite the difficulties, I have seen many seeds grow.
I initially thought that I would be working with only women involved in Self-Help Groups. We do use self-help groups as listener forums, but they don’t play a very significant role in our activities. We cater to the needs of entire villages, targeting different age groups and issues as we develop and learn from our mistakes.
We began with nothing. Now, we have a ten member team, are producing monthly programs, are narrowcasting whenever possible and have had a training workshop for our team. Furthermore, there’s a demand from the communities to listen to more programs. Yes, the project has evolved and grown.
I’ve watched as our listeners react to the radio program. They laugh when it’s funny, they cry when it’s sad, they curse when they dislike the characters, they sing to their folk songs. We’re reaching their hearts. Now, we have to slowly bring that energy to their hands and legs from where they will transform their emotions into actions. Villagers and even our community reporters are exposed to a small faction of possibilities. Meeting people, finding solutions, and then sharing these solutions widens their horizons, provides them with new options, and provides them with opportunities to make better decisions.
In a similar vein, my presence brings in a different perspective. Together, Radha Didi, the team and I come up with ways and solutions that best suit our communities. It is an organic approach because we use our individual experiences and styles to challenge boundaries. It’s not always a conflict-free method, but for all of us, it’s proved to be an effective learning opportunity.
I truly believe in the ability of grassroots media to empower people. This project is beneficial because media is a source of knowledge and with knowledge comes power. With the presence of a community media, people begin to believe in their ability to change things, find ways to improve their lives, and have more authority over the paths their lives will take.
Project Implementation Progress and Future Plans
We have made progress in the past six months for the community radio project. The process of identifying villages began before I arrived. When I arrived, we began identifying volunteers who would be interested in working on community radio programs. I remember that in our first meeting, we had 25 volunteers from 15 villages. Slowly, the numbers dwindled. Eventually, we were left with three dedicated individuals who expressed interest to work on a daily basis as community reporters without any monthly payment. Some of the volunteers continue to support us by acting as local reporters or organizing listener forums in their communities.
We call ourselves Waqt ki Awaaz (The Eternal Voice) and our ten-member team is divided into two. One group focuses on local issues (SB team), while another consisting of young women (YWT) produces programs for young women only (Made possible by a grant from Mehta Foundation). Both teams have been working together since February. Initially, we thought that we, as a team, could produce four programs a month. But, in reality, we’ve produced four programs in six months. I’ve realized that we have to work with the pace of the team. Our priority is good quality programs. We shouldn’t sacrifice that for the sake of simply producing programs.
We are developing the strength of our team by focusing on knowledge building and team building exercises. We realized that a training workshop on community radio is not enough in providing the skills needed to be a good community reporter. We need to train the reporters on critical thinking and give them more knowledge so that they will be able to identify different issues on the field without our constant input.
Project goals for the next six months
o A schedule for community radio reporters
o Team-building and critical thinking training
o Establish a set of rules on behavior and work ethics together with the team
o Training Workshop II in April
o YWT to produce 2 programs per month
o Narrowcasting: YWT reaches out to 500 young women monthly
o SB team to produce 2 programs per month
o Narrowcasting: SB reaches out to 60% of the all twelve villages
o All scripts and program briefs to be organized in folders
o Team holds bi-monthly fun and interactive events for the communities on studio ground
o Teach editing to five people from the team
o Write a SB Radio Plan
o Conduct door-to-door surveys in 12 villages (for Community Radio license)
o Apply for Community Radio Forum membership
o Fully decorated and equipped studio
o Help with funding proposals
o Teach Radha Didi how to use the internet and software
o Identity cards for community radio team
I came here with the expectation that by the end of the year, I would be leaving Shramik Bharti feeling confident that we have a dedicated and ethical community radio team. Six months in, and still more or less working without funds, I believe that we are on our way to building a committed team.
My journey with Indicorps began on rocky terms. Before I was scheduled to arrive in India, I found out that I was going to be the only fellow working in Shramik Bharti (there were supposed to be four of us). I was very nervous and considered backing out myself. Today, I’m grateful that I stuck to my decision.
I chose to do Indicorps because I wanted to be a part of grassroots media in India. While the project is an important part of my journey here, I’ve realized that being an Indicorps fellow has allowed me to find an inner strength that I never really knew existed within me. I’ve experienced a range of emotions – extreme happiness, depression, excitement, fear, frustration, anger, joy, laughter. In each emotion, every moment, I’ve learned something new about myself, about people, about relationships, and about values.
In today’s fast-paced and result obsessed world, I was finding it difficult to look beyond the project. Everything that I did was related to my project, including my thoughts. Until January ’10, the project was my life. Emotionally, I was unhappy with who I was becoming. I had forgotten the things that made happy. I knew that I was treating myself very harshly. I realized what I was doing when I attended Indicorps’ second workshop. Thanks to the safe space and the loving Indicorps family, I decided that it was time to take care of myself. I had to learn to love myself and give my soul the same attention I put in building relationships with others. Being alone in this fellowship has taught me that I tend to neglect my emotional health. I’m learning how to make that an integral part of my life – breathing exercises, being more aware of my thoughts, reading, being constructive.
I’m not sure where I’ll be going after this fellowship or what my life would look like in five years, but I know that I will be carrying with me a very important understanding – the value of relationships. Building and maintaining relationships require patience, honesty, love, vulnerability, and faith. It requires the acceptance of the good, the bad, and the ugly. I’m truly grateful to the Indicorps family, Radha Didi, Rakesh ji, Waqt ki Awaaz team, my community for teaching me that building relationships is the soul of human existence.
Pooja Shahani, August 2009 Indicorps Fellow