Al Jazeera Journalism Review

Abdullahi
Abdullahi Mire was raised in the Dadaab refugee camp, north-eastern Kenya, where he now runs a radio show focusing on health issues. [Photo courtesy of Abdullahi Mire]

Radio Gargaar - grassroots broadcasting to refugees in Kenya

What it’s like to host a radio show in the Dadaab refugee camp, situated in one of the world’s most overlooked regions, during a global pandemic.

 

Since early 2020 and right through the months that the coronavirus pandemic was at its height, I have been running a radio show in the Dadaab refugee camp in north-eastern Kenya. Dadaab is one of the biggest camps in the world, housing around 220,000 refugees from different countries, although the majority come from Somalia. I, myself, first came to Dadaab 30 years ago from Somalia at the age of just three, and I was raised and educated here.

Grassroots radio shows such as mine have been providing an essential service to marginalised communities during the global pandemic. According to the United Nations, there has been a huge rise in the numbers of people tuning in to radio programmes over the past 18 months in search of information and reassurance about COVID-19.

This is particularly the case in areas of the world like in the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya where many people are illiterate and do not have access to television or smartphones - but do tend to have a radio. 

Abdullahi6
A colleague and I reporting for Radio Gargaar from deep within the Dadaab refugee camp in north-eastern Kenya. [Photo courtesy of Abdullahi Mire]

Providing an essential service

Radio Gargaar (“Gargaar” means “assistance” in Somali) is a community-based radio station based inside the Dadaab camp. It is the primary medium through which members of the community - and those living in the larger community in Garissa County, north-eastern Kenya - stay informed about public health issues. We broadcast primarily in Somali, but also in Oromo, Swahili and English.

At the start of the pandemic, I began hosting a 20-minute daily morning show called “Our Health” at 10am, highlighting challenges within the community, providing information and helping to find solutions for day-to-day health problems in the camp. I also provide the community with the latest news updates related to the coronavirus from government agencies and international NGOs. We started the show specifically in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, but we cover all health issues. In 2020, we received an innovation award from UNHCR for our work as part of the Refugee Youth Education Hub. 

Last year, I was also awarded a grant from the Internews Information Saves Lives fund, which I am using to expand my show from 20 minutes to an hour each day. I also plan to add radio plays and entertainment for children. 

We are able to give refugees a voice and a sense of community in a camp with many nationalities who have essentially been warehoused here

 

At this camp, refugee women come every weekday to seek services such as health care, psychological support, legal aid and support for integration into the community here. They also come to register their new-born babies. The radio show places a particular emphasis on enlightening listeners about social-distancing, washing hands and the importance of wearing masks at all times. We also highlight as much as possible the dangers and risks of the coronavirus to the population. 

There are a lot of health concerns in the camp because of the lack of medical facilities and overcrowding due to the high-density population living here, which means the larger population is at greater risk during a pandemic. So, after we have run through all the latest coronavirus updates, we invite callers to ask questions, and we provide clarification about the latest rumours - of which there have been many. 

Abdullahi3
Young people living and going to school in the Dadaab refugee camp in north-eastern Kenya are particularly avid listeners to the camp's radio station, Radio Gargaar. [Photo by Abdullahi Mire]

‘They thought the vaccine would cause infertility’

Most people call in for information about public health issues such as the lack of water and sanitisers for handwashing, child marriage, youth empowerment and family planning. 

We are able to clarify issues that may be causing confusion. For instance, one man called in to the show to complain that his wife was taking contraceptive pills but they had not worked and she was pregnant. He wanted to know if he should also have been taking the pills. 

We told him where he should go for proper medical advice and attention and - from the following calls from listeners - we discovered that many were buying drugs which had either expired or were fake versions of the original because they were cheaper and readily available from traditional healers in the community. 

Correcting misinformation is a key purpose of the radio programme. There were a lot of rumors and misinformation flying around about the pandemic early last year, for example. Some of the locals were saying it was a virus that only affected other races, while others who are devout Muslims believed the coronavirus would not affect people from their religion. Yet more locals were claiming the vaccine was a “depopulation tool” which would cause infertility and death. It is our role to debunk all of these myths. 

We understand that people here do not always want to follow NGO advice, especially when it appears to go against their cultural beliefs and traditions

 

There was a marked change in attitude among this community after I reported the death of the popular Somali musician, Mohamud Ismail Hussein - commonly known as Hudeydi - from the coronavirus in April last year. 

Another time, a listener called in and claimed he could cure himself of COVID-19 by using traditional herbs. He was adamant about this so, to keep his trust, we advised him to take the vaccine but also to continue with his herbal concoctions.

Being in a Muslim community, we have to respect the culture and traditions of people here. Our advice is geared towards finding community-centered solutions because we understand that people here do not always want to follow NGO advice, especially when it appears to go against their cultural beliefs and traditions. 

Abdullahi4
Women refugees - such as those pictured here cooking in a makeshift kitchen - are in particular need of advice and information about health in Kenya's Dadaab refugee camp. Radio Gargaar helps to provide that. [Photo by Abdullahi Mire]

Giving a voice to the voiceless

I chose to work as a radio journalist because nearly everyone has got a radio. Most people at the camp are illiterate but almost every house has a radio. After growing up in Dadaab and going to college in Nairobi, I started working as a fixer and public information officer for NGOs and media outlets. 

I believed it was important to try to give a voice to the voiceless, particularly as I speak their language and I myself was raised in the camp. 

For a while during the pandemic, I moved back to Dadaab from my home in Nairobi to run the radio show. At the moment, I make long trips to Dadaab from Nairobi but when I can’t get there, I can participate in the show using my smartphone, thanks to social media and the internet. 

Despite the challenges in raising funding, our radio show is making a difference. 

I am always delighted when interacting online with young people who sometimes direct-message me their problems if they don’t want to share publicly, and I am always glad to help.

Abdullahi5
A poster at Radio Gargaar shows the ripple effect a grass-roots radio station can have when creating a network of aid and information sources for the greater community. [Photo by Abdullahi Mire]

Through this radio station, we are able to give refugees a voice and a sense of community in a camp with more than 10 nationalities from war-torn African nations who have essentially been warehoused here. The aim is to inspire them to take their destiny into their own hands by telling their own stories.

I am always engaging with them and the vibe here is on another level. From my experience, young people here in particular yearn for better opportunities in life. So, we try to connect young people from different parts of the world through networking. We are continuously building our network of people around our broadcasts.

I have found that the show works as a sort of therapy for many adolescents and helps to keep them away from dangers such as drugs or grooming by al-Shabaab groups.

Radio Gargaar is a case study for international agencies on how to ‘do aid’ effectively

 

 

 

My show builds trust and resilience between the different communities that make up the larger community in and around Dadaab. People know me here. I speak the local languages and I am working to keep my people out of danger from the virus.

What the pandemic has taught us is how we as a community can change our lives through our voices. This is a case study for international agencies on how to do aid effectively. The international community should focus on gearing up funding for community-led projects rather than just importing their own.

With my radio show and the network of people we have built up around it, there is a conversation going on with donors. We are dreaming at least, that someone will hear us.

 

More Articles

‘You will be silenced’ - investigating human traffickers in Nigeria

REPORTER'S NOTEBOOK: Philip Obaji Jr has devoted years to uncovering and reporting on the sexual abuse and human trafficking of displaced women and girls in Nigeria. This is his story

Philip Obaji Jr
Philip Obaji Jr Published on: 18 May, 2022
‘Like walking on a tightrope’ - navigating a career as a journalist in Vietnam

THE LONG READ: Through a series of in-depth interviews with journalists in Vietnam, our writer - who remains anonymous for security reasons - paints a picture of censorship and journalists facing fines and even prison for mentioning ‘toxic’ subjects

headshot
Al Jazeera Journalism Review Correspondent Published on: 12 May, 2022
‘It takes courage to be a journalist in India’ - charting the collapse of press autonomy

THE LONG READ: With a rising number of journalists in India receiving ‘summons’ from the police and even finding themselves in prison just for doing their jobs, we ask - why has the profession come under so much pressure in recent years?

Abeer Khan Published on: 21 Apr, 2022
Beyond bystanders: Citizen journalism during the Egyptian revolution

A journalist looks back at the founding of RASSD News Network during the Egyptian revolution, which trained and supported ordinary citizens to become journalists

Khaled Faheem
Khaled Faheem Published on: 14 Apr, 2022
‘The bottom of human misery’ - reporting on Rohingya refugee women and girls

THE LONG READ: How should we go about reporting on members of vulnerable communities in an ethical way? We examine the case of Rohingya refugees, overwhelmed and struggling for survival in the refugee camps of Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh 

Azraa
Azraa Muthy Published on: 11 Apr, 2022
How smartphones are changing the face of news journalism

The telegraph transformed the way that newspapers could report the news more than 150 years ago. Now, smartphones are doing the same for TV news organisations

Rokeya
Rokeya Lita Published on: 5 Apr, 2022
Telling the stories of brutality - reporting on political prisoners in Belarus

REPORTER’S NOTEBOOK: Constructing a long-form feature to document the narratives of Belarusians imprisoned for protesting after the 2020 presidential election was a pain-staking, months-long task fraught with danger

Olga
Olga Loginova, Ottavia Spaggiari Published on: 30 Mar, 2022
From Syria to Ukraine - telling the stories of Russian aggression

REPORTER’S NOTEBOOK: Omar Al Hajj, a Syrian journalist working for Al Jazeera, explains what it’s like to go from covering war in his own country to bearing witness to another on a different continent

A picture of the author, Mohammad Ahdad.
Mohammad Ahdad Published on: 15 Mar, 2022
‘A sense of belonging has been taken away from us’ - the closure of the Kashmir Press Club

THE LONG READ: The closure of the Kashmir Press Club in January this year has come as a major blow to independent journalists in the troubled region who relied on it for camaraderie, respite and a ‘place to share ideas’

Meher
Meher Qadri Published on: 10 Mar, 2022
Reporter’s Notebook: Inside Europe’s largest brothel 

While covering a story about a Spanish proposal to outlaw middlemen involved in prostitution, AJE senior correspondent Natasha Ghoneim and her team came up against a wall of silence, but managed to get a story nevertheless

Natasha Ghoneim
Natasha Ghoneim Published on: 8 Mar, 2022
Investigating racist conviction laws in America - and seeing a man freed after 25 years

REPORTER’S NOTEBOOK:  How a team of journalists spent nearly a year investigating the conviction and 25-year imprisonment of Brandon Jackson and then watched him walk free

Jeremy Young
Jeremy Young Published on: 2 Mar, 2022
Reporter’s Notebook - on the trail of Boko Haram

For one journalist in Nigeria, covering the activities of the militant Islamist group, Boko Haram, primarily means documenting the horrifying stories of its victims, sometimes to his own cost

Philip Obaji Jr
Philip Obaji Jr Published on: 21 Feb, 2022
Avoiding mistakes in the newsroom - verifying video from external sources

When video of Osama Bin Laden surfaced around the time of the September 11 attacks on New York in 2001, many people questioned its credibility. We examine how Al Jazeera verifies the authenticity of outside materials, much of it produced by 'citizen journalists' 

A picture of the author, Montaser Marai.
Montaser Marai Published on: 15 Feb, 2022
Branded a ‘troublemaker’ and summoned by the police - life for female journalists in Kashmir

The repeal of Kashmir’s autonomous status by the Indian government, combined with a crackdown on press freedom, has made life extremely tough for women journalists in the region.

Safina
Safina Nabi Published on: 10 Feb, 2022
Making the world a better place - one camera ‘click’ at a time

REPORTER’S NOTEBOOK: How one photojournalist in Nigeria takes a ‘solutions-based’ approach to the images he captures.

Femi2
Femi Amogunla Published on: 2 Feb, 2022
Deploying news teams to dangerous places - what media organisations need to know

Reporting from the heat of battle or covering the tragedy and desolation of a humanitarian disaster can be perilous, but the risks are less if media professionals are prepared for the task. 

Aidan
Aidan White Published on: 27 Jan, 2022
When war is on your doorstep - the impossible road taken by a citizen journalist 

REPORTER'S NOTEBOOK: The 11-year war in Syria has shone a light on the struggles of local journalists who are often dismissed as ‘mere’ activists and whose plight is largely ignored by the international community. 

Zaina
Zaina Erhaim Published on: 20 Jan, 2022
Can you spot the fake news? Steering clear of conspiracies in science journalism

The world is full of fake news, nowhere more so than when it comes to scientific issues, so science journalists must develop a keen sense of scepticism. We look at why it’s so important to keep a clear head and search out the facts.

Ali
Ali Shehab Published on: 12 Jan, 2022
How to do science journalism - and do it right

THE LONG READ: With a new variant of COVID-19 sweeping the world, putting healthcare systems under strain, good science journalism has never been more important. This is our guide to how to report responsibly, accurately and ethically on scientific issues.

Ali
Ali Shehab Published on: 9 Jan, 2022
‘Kill the rented journalists’ - the reality of life for local journalists and fixers left behind in Afghanistan

THE LONG READ: The recent takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban shines a light on the often exploitative relationship between Western foreign correspondents and the Afghan ‘fixers’ they leave behind.

Sayed Jalal
Sayed Jalal Shajjan Published on: 4 Jan, 2022
Investigative journalism in the digital age

Data-driven journalism is an increasingly integral part of investigative reporting. We look at the ways to put it to best use. 

Malak Khalil Published on: 21 Dec, 2021
‘Violence and degradation’ – covering refugee stories on the doorstep of the EU

REPORTER’S NOTEBOOK: From changing the wet clothes of babies who have just arrived across the Aegean Sea to dodging police to interview vulnerable people who have poisoned themselves to avoid deportation - life as an aid-worker-turned-journalist in Eastern Europe.

Lucy Papachristou Published on: 6 Dec, 2021
‘It was a black day for all women journalists’ - supporting our Afghan sisters

THE LONG READ: How women journalists in India are coming together in solidarity with female reporters and media workers in Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover.

Safina
Safina Nabi Published on: 2 Dec, 2021
Planning and pitching refugee stories

In part three of our series on covering refugee stories, we look at best practice when it comes to planning and pitching to editors. 

Kareem
Kareem Shaheen Published on: 29 Nov, 2021