97.3 Radio Zaatari - The Voice of Zaatari Village
“Hello everyone, Radio Zaatari here, calling on a hot summer’s day in August. Stay tuned for all the latest developments here at Zaatari Village,” blared announcer, Sondose’s voice-over after the stations introductory jingle. Although crystal-clear in quality, the program was not being broadcast from a fancy studio in Amman, the capital of Jordan, but from a high-tech oasis, a radio studio in a desert region a few kilometres from the border between Jordan and Syria. Sondose and Salam, the other star of this local radio station had worked tirelessly the previous day researching the latest updates at Zaatari that should be included in their daily broadcast. “Temperature’s a bit high today, around 30 degrees so remember to drink plenty of water and stay in the shade”, Salam continued.
Sondose and Salam, the once shy twelve-year olds, had gradually during the course of their summer school built-up confidence on air. Before their radio classes, they had not cared to listen to the radio. “We also thought that the radio was just for news and music, but now we understand how important it can be and how we can use it here in Zaatari Village.
As part of AFCI’s education projects, Zaatari Radio offered the two girls and the other AFCI students the opportunity to learn about radio broadcasting and the benefits of using radio as a platform for refugees to navigate through their new host community’s environment and culture.
Now in its second year of successful educational workshops, Zaatari Radio broadcasted a range of creative radio shows targeted at the war-weary refugees who had found shelter at the Zaatari Village. The children can now use radio programmes to express their thoughts and opinions on a wide range of topics. Even the few seconds they speak on air boosts their self confidence and feeling of self-worth, both of which had been shattered by their experiences as refugees.
Kotaiba Alabdulla, the founder of AFCI highlights how the centre provides psychological support as well as developing new and transferable skills necessary to succeed later in life.
Creativity is one of the major goals when formulating radio shows to communicate crucial, and even life-saving information, to the station’s listeners. Often the topics for these health-education snippets come from overhearing children’s comments. Once, for example, twelve-year old Hiba complained she had had bad toothache for days. On being advised that she should see a dentist, she dismissed the trouble as being minor. Hiba was surprised that if she ignored the problem, she was likely to lose one of her teeth and also risk other dental-caries-related medical problems. “Brush your teeth everyday – have them checked by a dentist – keep yourself in good health” was the follow-up radio jingle the day after her comment. Jingles, broadcast on subsequent days gave advice on preventing the spread of viral Respiratory Tract Infections (RTI) by frequently washing the hands, and covering the mouth when sneezing and coughing. Promoting health messages are certainly one of the primary objectives of the centre’s ‘bottom-up’ humanitarian response.
Broadcasting to over 15,000 Syrian refugees located in Zaatari Village, the camp’s own radio station also serves as a creative platform, providing a space for musicians and creatives to meet and generate social connections. One day, the village was filled with melodic chimes of percussion instruments the children had recreated from simple recycled metal items. This led to a response from the children that they would love to sing some of their favourite songs to entertain their listeners.
One of the most successful initiatives this summer was the suggestion to introduce the children to photo-journalism. Each child in the program was given a disposable camera to take home for the weekend to photograph things in their everyday life that they thought were important. One child, Nasayem, photographed only members of her highly numerous and extended family but did not snap a single object or scene around the village. When asked why, she replied that she photographed what was most important to her – her family.
It is important to emphasise that the Zaatari Radio Station is only one strand of the centre’s rich tapestry of educational initiatives. The Art Program also proved to be a highly successful student activity this summer. Students proudly showed the radio-station volunteers the menagerie of animals they had conjured up from an unlikely assortment of discarded paper and cardboard objects. The excited children explained that art was something new to them– this explained why they found their art classes such an enriching and confidence-building experience.
Involvement with the summer programs was a highly rewarding experience not only for the refugee children, but also for many dedicated overseas volunteers without whom the summer school would not have been possible. These volunteers deserve thanks and much of the credit for the success of this year’s programs which have indeed provided a new and remedial, on-air voice for the refugees.
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