Radyo Bakdaw: Airwaves aid in disaster relief


ON AIR. Radyo Bakdaw is the only running radio station in Guian. All photos contributed by Ana. P. Santos

ON AIR. Radyo Bakdaw is the only running radio station in Guian. All photos contributed by Ana. P. Santos

GUIUAN, Philippines – Every Friday afternoon, they have a karaoke contest. That may not sound unusual at all for the Philippines and its known penchant for singing, but in the small town of Guiuan, where many of life’s basic necessities have yet to be restored after Typhoon Yolanda, a karaoke contest is a luxury and a welcome distraction.

The karaoke is an “accidental service” of Radyo Bakdaw, the only running radio station in Guiuan. set up by international media non-profit, Internews.

“We landed in Manila and were looking around for other equipment that we might need for the radio station. We saw the magic mic in the mall and thought, ‘Yeah! Let’s get one of these,” said Styn Aelbers, team leader of Internews Humanitarian News Service, about their light bulb moment. (READ about another emergency radio effort in Tacloban)

Human news service

Radyo Bakdaw (bakdaw means “rise” in waray-waray) is the information service of INTERNEWS, as part of Communicating with Disaster Affected Communities (CDAC) network.

In times of disaster, when mobile service is cut, mobile connection is down and devices have been washed away, there is an information gap that urgently needs to be filled.

“Absence of information creates anxiety and spreads rumors,” said Aelbers. “Radyo Bakdaw was set up to help fill that need.”

Aelbers, one of a two-man team set up in Guiuan two weeks after Yolanda hit using an emergency telecoms kit and transmitter.

At the time, the need was for very basic information: location and schedule of food distribution, where shelter materials were available and who would be qualified as a beneficiary for shelter material. “This is information that is all essential during the time of a disaster,” said Aelbers.

Liaising with the program officers of the various humanitarian agencies on the ground, information was gathered and broadcast it over the airwaves.

HUMANITARIAN RADIO. A radio announcer at this booth in Radyo Bakdaw in Guiuan, Eastern Samar

HUMANITARIAN RADIO. A radio announcer at this booth in Radyo Bakdaw in Guiuan, Eastern Samar

Two-way communication

When Internews first set up, they put up billboards with a straight-forward announcement: the name, radio frequency and the station’s mobile number. They also gave out an initial 200 solar-powered radios to residents.

“The communication process envisioned by INTERNEWS is one that is a two-way process. We also want to get questions from the community, what do they want to know and what are their concerns.”

Radyo Bakdaw gets about 300 text messages a day from the basic questions about where to buy candles or where to charge cellphones. These questions and or their answers are broadcast over the airwaves. During the early part of the emergency, there were also requests from listeners to broadcast that they are alive and safe so their families who may be listening will hear.

“We also get requests to help look for the missing, but in those cases, we refer them to the ICRC (the International Committee of the Red Cross) because that is their mandate; ours is communication,” clarified Aelbers. (READ: The Comfort of closure)

Field reporters

Radyo Bakdaw also employs reporters, local residents and journalists from Guiuan to look for news. Their job is to go out into the community, get to know what the community wants and what the community needs.

The radio format also includes guestings and radio interviews with key aid agencies and local officials. “Listeners can send us their questions through text or we get (questions) from our field reporters. The idea is we have to know what the community wants to know,” said Aelbers.

In between these news programs and radio interviews, they play music. “That (music) is also so vital at a time like this. Can you imagine being deprived of music in this day and age?”

The karaoke contest is broadcasted every Friday afternoon and the winner gets to take home a solar radio as a prize.

“We discovered some great singing talents during these contests,” said Aelbers about this way of communication that is also a form of aid. But their biggest achievement is what the service of Radyo Bakdaw has given back to the people of Guiuan.

“The biggest compliment that we have received is from the people who tell us ‘We feel alive again.”

This was re-posted from Rappler.


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