Congo: Radio Biso na Biso changes the lives of indigenous women (by Privat Tiburce Massanga, for Farm Radio Weekly in Congo)

| February 13, 2012

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Simone Botéké is a farmer who lives in Sembola. She is from the people often referred to as pygmies, who are the indigenous people of the Congo rainforest.  She works in the fields of Bantu farmers. Every Thursday night is special for Ms. Botéké. This is the day of her favourite radio show, called “Women’s life.”  The program deals with a variety of topics, including hygiene, agriculture, and peaceful coexistence between indigenous people and Bantus. Simone is one of the few women in the village who has a radio. She is never without it. She takes it to the kitchen, to the field − she takes it everywhere!

Listening to the radio is one of the highlights of community life in Sembola. The small village is one of many villages surrounding Pokola, a city in the forests of northern Congo. Most people in Sembola are of indigenous descent. Children and adults gather in small groups to follow the programs of Radio Biso na Biso, which is a Farm Radio International broadcasting partner.

In Sembola, women are busy cooking near wooden or thatched houses, while their children cry nearby. Simone Botéké calls to her child: “Bring me my radio, Mama Lydie is about to begin her show. It’s Thursday.”  Mama Lydie is Lydie Koungou, producer of the show “Women’s life” on Radio Biso na Biso  For three years, Simone has been listening to this show regularly.

Simone recalls a particular program which had a big influence on her. She says: “I once heard a show with indigenous women from the village of Ibamba. I was captivated because they had their own cassava fields. You know we, the indigenous people of the Congo, we are nomads and we rarely practice agriculture. But the experience of these women inspired me to challenge myself.”

After hearing about the farmers in Ibamba, Simone decided to plant crops, and has started growing vegetables. She says, “Thanks to the radio, I realized I could also make my own fields instead of always going to work for other people, like the Bantu who pay little. If today I go to work in someone else’s field, tomorrow I take care of my own field.”

Biso na Biso is the only station whose programs reach deep into the rainforest. It is also the only station whose programs are designed for the indigenous and Bantu communities which coexist with difficulty.

Apart from advice on agricultural activities, the “Women’s life” radio program also addresses health, children’s literacy, and the dangers of alcoholism, a disease which is rampant in the indigenous community.

The show’s presenter has a special status in the area. Many women ask her for advice, sometimes on matters of married life. Ms. Koungou says, “It is an honour and a pleasure to speak to people who believe in you. That is why I cannot say just anything on-air. My remarks are a kind of gospel truth for listeners. So I have to be aware of the weight of my responsibility. I could not imagine that radio has such an impact on people’s lives.”