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Child radio RJs of the 'City of Joy'

20 April 2010

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Armed with little digi-recorders, Children of Kolkata are producing their own programmes that show their concern for the city, environment and health. Trained under the joint initiative of Jadavpur University and UNICEF, it has helped them connect with the community and deal with issues with fresh ideas.

There’s a story that Community RadioJU programme coordinator Abhishek Das recalls with great delight. When Community RadioJU -- Kolkata’s first community radio based in the city’s prestigious Jadavpur University -- carried out a campaign to get auto drivers in the city to switch over to compressed natural gas in order to check pollution levels, the plea fell on deaf ears.

Das says “Whenever there were experts in the studio during phone-in programmes for e campaign, the autowallahs who called in would counter every argument by the experts and continued to resist the switch to CNG.”

They were only able to make some progress when Community RadioJU trained child reporters who approached the autowallahs with their earnest questions and requests.

Child Radio Reporter is a joint initiative between Jadavpur University and UNICEF to empower children to talk about issues related to their everyday lives. The project started in August 2008 with 20 children; since 2009, 40 more children have been involved in making programmes for Community RadioJU.

Children between the ages of 12 and 17, selected mostly through non-governmental organisations and local government schools in south Kolkata, were encouraged to take part in the programme that went on the air on Children’s Day, 2008.

"Through this they have an opportunity to speak about things that they feel strongly about and what they experience in their community"

Says Nilanjana Gupta, professor of English and director of the School of Media Communication and Culture, Jadavpur University “We have trained children on radio reporting and, armed with their little digi-recorders, they are producing their own programmes which are aired on RadioJU. Through this they have an opportunity to speak about things that they feel strongly about and what they experience in their community."

The issues raised by the children in their weekly programme Shishu Tirtho are a reflection of the environment in which they are growing up. They discuss child labour, human trafficking, broken marriages and their effect on families, especially children, and alcohol-related violence.

While the programmes elicited a good response from the community, Das explains “They led to the realisation that many of the children needed counselling facilities and that the programmes needed to be done in a very different manner."

Deepa Kar of Hitoisha, a Kolkata-based NGO, who has been instrumental in turning some extremely talented children into child reporters, recalls “Some of the children who were selected from Hitoisha to be trained as child reporters were earlier in touch with our organisation for remedial studies, to help them complete and compete in their studies.”

Fifteen-year-old Aparna Chakraborty was one such regular at Hitoisha who was also learning how to sew. “One day Deepadi told me that children were being trained to be reporters and that I should try to get selected. I come from a poor family and naturally my parents were hesitant. However, since we have known Deepadi for a long time my parents agreed to let me give it a shot,” says Aparna.

Like Aparna, Shubhodeep Mistry and Tanmoy Noskar also sought to be selected for the training. The selection process was simple -- the children had to show RadioJU what they could do best. If Aparna was selected because she could articulate an opinion well, Shubhodeep was good at cracking jokes, and Tanmoy was a talented singer. “The first day I attended the training, I was very scared as there were so many of us,” says Aparna. 

"This is a good thing because it gives me an opportunity to learn many things."

After the initial training, when the children began to file stories from the community, they were accompanied and helped by students from Jadavpur University.

So far, the child reporters have interviewed UNICEF India chief Karin Hulshof, physically challenged Olympian Masid-ur-Rahman Baidya, Loreto School’s Sister Cyril, All-India Radio’s Manash Pratim Das, and police officer Kanishka Sarkar. All the interviews were aired on Community RadioJU.

Aparna says “My mother is very happy with me these days as I have changed a lot. She says that I have ‘channelised my energy’.

This is a good thing because it gives me an opportunity to learn many things. Initially, I used to be very shy. Today I am able to ask my own questions during an interview. Also, I am careful how I dress and speak when in the company of outsiders."

Aparna has just passed Class X and, although her parents were not very keen, has sought admission in Class XI. “I know how my life has changed, I know I can be a reporter, and I am willing to work hard for it. When I graduate I will pursue this as I will be able to go to many places and see and learn new things.”

Deepa sees a big change in Shubhodeep too. “Earlier, he was a very shy boy. Now he likes to be in charge. He also wants to do more things.”

Team members at RadioJU recall that at a function, when the media turned to interview the children, Shubhodeep was asked why he was learning to become a child reporter. Although the question took all the adults aback, a composed Shubhodeep amazed everyone with his reply. “I want to fight child trafficking,” he stated simply.

Deepa, who was surprised by his answer, says “This, from a boy who earlier was unable to articulate ideas.”

"If we do not let him learn, how will he move ahead in life? He is doing things we never had the opportunity to do."

Tanmoy Noskar, Class VII, likes mathematics and wants to become a doctor. He wants to interview Shankar Sinha, a well-known paediatrician in the city. “He is a good doctor and one day I want to be like him,” Tanmoy says as his parents nudge him along. Deepa recalls that when Tanmoy first came to Hitoisha, he would take a lot of time to answer questions directed at him.

Children like Shubhodeep, who was interviewed by a local daily, receive a major boost in their immediate environment. Shubhodeep says: “The day my photograph appeared in the newspaper, along with an article on Community RadioJU, my teacher came and shook my hand in class.”

Shubhodeep’s parents Shankar and Archana add “If we do not let him learn, how will he move ahead in life? He is doing things we never had the opportunity to do.”

Nilanjan Shah, who studies in Class XI, is a dedicated Community RadioJU listener and contributor. Shah made his first contact with Community RadioJU after listening into a story session. Totally taken up by the programme and the invitation to become part of Community RadioJU, Nilanjan would skip school to help the RadioJU team.

One day, his agitated mother dropped in at the station alleging that her son was not attending school, and that Community RadioJU was responsible for this. After showing Nilanjan’s mother around and pacifying her, the team advised the young boy to pay attention to what his mother was saying and to focus on his studies.

Nilanjan, who has been associated with the station since September 2008, now waits eagerly for Tuesdays when the children read out their stories.

He says “My mother has set down the rules. You can do your radio programmes if you finish your studies on time and are on track.” "Making radio programmes has given me self-confidence,” he explains, adding “The station has something for every section of society. I like to express myself and I can now connect with people in my community. I want to continue doing programmes as they allow me to share my thoughts and ideas.”

Source : Infochange

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