News: The ‘Voice of Shinkai’: Rock Star status in a box (Part 2 of 3)
Story by Sgt. Christopher McCullough
(An ongoing series on the Radio Literacy Program)
FORWARD OPERATING BASE LAGMAN, Afghanistan – The 432nd Civil Affairs Team began the Radio Literacy Program in Shinkai district with approximately 100 literacy books and 200 radios that were stored at Forward Operating Base Sweeney, Zabul province, Afghanistan.
The literacy book is an easy-to-follow guide that allows the “students” to follow along on the pages according to the programming on the radio. The Afghan National Security Forces and International Security Assistance Force partners hand out the literacy books and handheld radios to the local Afghans. The radio allows the villagers to listen to the broadcasted lessons over the airwaves.
“This radio is a hand-crank radio that has a diode in it so it can charge via hand-crank, a solar panel, or can operate off typical AAA batteries,” said Master Sgt. Joel E. Fix, of Fort Belvoir, Va., who oversaw the Radio Literacy program during 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team’s deployment to Zabul province.
Once in the villages, Atta Muhammad, a 21-year old Afghan who works as the local Radio in a Box disc jockey, took the lead in selling the Radio Literacy Program to the village elders.
“We were going to the villages and we distributed the radios … with the notebooks, with the pens,” said Atta. “I was with them [the soldiers] to distribute the boxes to the people.”
“Our lead DJ, Atta, has been very instrumental in promoting the program,” said Staff Sgt. Jeffery Mader, Provincial Reconstruction Team Zabul, 432nd Civil Affairs Battalion, Green Bay, Wis. “We actually took him out village to village, along with some of the radios and the books and the writing material [and] had him explain the program to the locals, which I think helped a whole lot.”
“Instead of trying to work through translators, we actually had him explain it; showing them the book, when to expect the program, asking the locals what hours they would like to hear the program,” Mader said.
The Reception was Better than Expected
“They [the locals] were actually very receptive to it,” Mader said. “The further east we went, they seemed a little more iffy about the program; but here, closer towards the mountains and the pass and around the FOB, they actually were pretty receptive. A lot of them even talked about incorporating the women, and letting them learn, which was actually quite surprising.”
Hereafter, a 30-minute lesson was played four times every day - except Friday (the Islamic holy day) – at 9 a.m., 1 p.m., 9 p.m. and midnight.
“We chose those times according to the recommendations of various elders in a couple different villages,” said Sgt. Kat Klosinski, also from the 432nd CAB.
Between scheduled shows – to include the Radio Literacy Program – we broadcast a variety of other programs, said Mader. The topics include local and provincial news, radio interviews from the district governor, the district chief of police, as well as Col. Dost from the Afghan National Army. They also broadcast important information, such as scheduled shuras.
“We would play that on the air for everybody to hear,” Mader said. “[We] also have children’s programs [and] health and wellness issues.”
The Shinkai district PRT detachment also aims to broadcast at least 15 minutes of current news, every four hours, around the clock, beginning at 6 a.m.
“When a scheduled program is not playing, the default will be songs and commercials,” said Klosinski.
According to Klosinski, the Radio in a box broadcasts traditional Pashtu music in the mornings and contemporary music after 4 p.m.
Commercials are 20-second spots that are played a couple times each hour, said Klosinski, they are often a mix of health, education or public safety announcements. Topics such as fire safety, reporting insurgent acts, the importance of education and being kind to others have been a few of the themes previously broadcast.
The Radio Literacy Program is part of the “Knowledge is Light” Campaign, which was designed to raise literacy awareness and is being run in some capacity across most of Afghanistan. The target audience is largely women and children, though many men participate. The participants can complete the Radio Literacy Program from their homes and villages. The 116th IBCT, Fort Belvoir, Va. introduced the Radio Literacy Program to Zabul province in 2011. The 432nd Civil Affairs Battalion, Green Bay, Wis., and the Provincial Reconstruction Team Zabul, Combined Task Force Arrowhead is currently running the program in Shinkai district.