Radio Dinosaur FM knows the power of myth-busting, inclusion, and destigmatization

| July 20, 2020

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Nestled in the heart of Karonga district, Malawi, Radio Dinosaur FM is named for the dinosaurs that once lived there. For station manager Daudi David Mwangomba, it is a name which signifies community ownership.

Founded in 2014, Radio Dinosaur FM is the first community radio station in the district. It broadcasts 18 hours per day every day in two local languages and, according to Mr. Mwangomba, plays an important role in promoting local development.

Mr. Mwangomba says, “For us, development entails a change in the way people think.”

Making this change is sometimes as simple as dispelling myths. For example, when Karonga district was filled with rumours about vampires and witches, Mr. Mwangomba knew he had to step in.

As Mr. Mwangomba says, neither vampires nor witches exist—but these are just a few of the myths that community radio stations must constantly address to help listeners focus their energies elsewhere.

He says, “Broadcasting helps to clarify and demystify…. In the end, people are able to live in harmony.”

When Radio Dinosaur FM isn’t busting myths, the station turns its attention to inclusion. Speaking about agriculture, Mr. Mwangomba notes that working as a farmer is a different experience for women than it is for men. Decisions in agriculture are typically male-dominated in Malawi, he says.

“This is why … we also include women. With the aim of empowering them so that they are not subjected.”

One program, titled Women and Agriculture, addresses the issues women face as farmers and aims of enable women to benefit from agriculture as would their fathers, brothers, or husbands.

To run such programs, Radio Dinosaur FM works hand-in-hand with local authorities, including the Minister of Gender and human rights organizations. But, according to Mr. Mwangomba, none of this would work without featuring the voices and addressing the concerns of women.

He says: “Radio Dinosaur FM is not just passively broadcasting the content. We are broadcasting the content in consultation with the people who tune into the radio so that we come up with sustainable solutions to the problems that exist.”

Another program, titled We are also here, is designed to address people living with disabilities in the community, including people who are blind or using wheelchairs.

Mr. Mwangomba explains: “We designed this program to make our disadvantaged audiences feel part and parcel of the radio. At the same time, to instill a sense of responsibility in the community members. They should know that these people exist, [that] these people are just like us.”

By inviting people with disabilities on-air to discuss the challenges they face, Radio Dinosaur FM works to promote inclusion and break down the stigma that faces these groups. Most importantly, says Mr. Mwangomba, programs like these demonstrate how communities can meet the needs of people with disabilities.

He adds: “In so doing, there is positive change towards disadvantaged people.”

But taking on stigma isn’t easy. According to Mr. Mwangomba, there is a culture of silence in Karonga district which makes some topics taboo.

He describes the district of Karonga as a border region with Tanzania. As a result, the region sees a lot of movement, which Mr. Mwangomba says is driven mainly by youth. When these youths engage in unprotected sex, they are at risk for sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV. Again, Mr. Mwangomba knew that Radio Dinosaur FM had to step in.

He says: “Parents do not want to discuss issues of sexual and reproductive health with their children…. Now that mindset is putting … a lot of young people in Karonga district at risk.”

To help open up this conversation, Radio Dinosaur FM broadcasts a program titled Youth and HIV. So far, listener feedback has been positive. Although it is difficult remove all stigma from conversations on sexual and reproductive health, Mr. Mwangomba insists that it is important and encourages other radio stations to do the same.

He explains: “This is where we need to reach out to [youth] with a lot of radio programming, and give them air space. We need more programming to break the culture of silence, to encourage parents to be discussing issues of sexual reproductive health with their children … so that when they grow up, they will know what is happening and how to protect themselves.”

To encourage community members to speak openly on-air about taboo topics, Radio Dinosaur FM offers to maintain anonymity. For example, in live episodes of Youth and HIV, broadcasters specify the location of broadcast, but each guest is given the choice to reveal their name or remain unknown.

Mr. Mwangomba notes that it is important to plan interviews on sensitive topics in advance. If a guest is uncomfortable doing an interview on a particular day, journalists at Radio Dinosaur FM choose a later date and agree to meet them in a comfortable or private location. This helps to build rapport and trust between journalists and guests.

Difficult or not, Mr. Mwangomba believes that the task of destigmatization is essential to the work of Radio Dinosaur FM.

He says, “It is very important to talk about difficult topics, especially reproductive health. Through all these programs, we are able to see people transforming.”