The 'Voice of Shinkai': Rock star status in a box (Part 3 of 3)
October 2, 2012
(An ongoing series on the Radio Literacy Program)
FORWARD OPERATING BASE LAGMAN, Afghanistan - Many radio stations throughout Afghanistan have a call-in show, or an office with a telephone for the public to call and state their opinions to the radio station, said Sgt. Kat Klosinski, a non-commissioned officer from Provincial Reconstruction Team Zabul, 432nd Civil Affairs Battalion, Green Bay, Wis. The Shinkai district, however, is devoid of phones, so we had to come up with some other means of reaching out to the local populace.
"Atta Muhammad [a 21-year old Afghan who works as the local Radio in a Box disc jockey in Shinkai district] had the excellent idea of creating a box to hang in a populated area where people could write notes for the radio, as phones are non-existent here," said Klosinski. "We decided to paint an old ammo box blue [and] Atta used a black permanent marker to write in Pashtu, 'Voice of Shinkai Letter Box.'"
"We hung it on a HESCO [basket] in the bazaar, just outside of the clinic, in front of the District Center, [and] then we held our breaths to see how long it would be until someone destroyed or vandalized [it]," Klosinski said. "To our delight the box still hangs there unaltered in any way."
"After that, I got the letters about the Literacy Program," said Atta. "Really, they were very thankful, and they were appreciating my PRT Team ... and they were saying that they need this kind of help to provide for our children."
"The first week we got about 15 letters; then 50; then 120; then too many to keep counting," said Klosinski.
"Most letters are requests for Atta to find certain songs that people like," said Staff Sgt. Jeffery Mader, 432nd CAB. "He [Atta] has a live show every evening from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. where he reads the letters and plays the songs. Sometimes people write poems for him to read."
"Atta actually gets a bunch of 'hey thank you, you're awesome, we like hearing your voice' messages," said Mader. "He's kind of reached rock star status out here. Of course that's a motivator for him to keep doing what he's doing.'"
Some of the letters even praise the literacy program and ask questions about the lessons.
"A lot of it depends on the personality of the DJ"
Since its revitalization, the Radio in a Box program in Shinkai has been a success story. The proof is in the populace's reaction when the local RIAB was off the air in mid-January due to technical problems. The problems have since been resolved.
"We know that this [RIAB] is important to the people in the area, as the last foot patrol into the bazaar had many people asking what the problem was with the radio," said Klosinski. "Also the letter box that is up in the bazaar was filled with at least 20 letters from people asking what is wrong and requesting we start broadcasting again."
So what is it about the Shinkai model that has allowed it to thrive and be a model for success for other RIAB programs in Afghanistan?
"A lot of it depends on the personality of the DJs and how willing they are to work," said Mader. "I think that was [the] key to it being successful here; having a DJ who understood the program [and] is really into it himself. He's a rather energetic person, he doesn't mind going out there and talking to the village elders and putting his face out there for people to see."
Another factor in the success of the Shinkai Radio in a Box program was the decision by the PRT at FOB Sweeney to place the RIAB on the base and allow their deejay to live on the FOB. This ensures the program is not susceptible to Taliban influence.
"It also helps to have the actual DJ station here [and] a secure place for him to live," added Mader. "Some of the other districts where it's failed, they were trying to run it out of another location but those people [the DJs] were getting night letters [threatening letters from the Taliban] and decided to quit."
The 432nd CAB's time in Afghanistan is drawing to a close, but their mission is not. Even as they plan to depart for home in a few months, they are working to ensure they leave the people of Shinkai district with the best radio program in Afghanistan.
They are working on a new program that involves interviewing the children, said Klosinski.
"We want people to feel they are a part of the radio, especially in a non-political way, and recording children saying their ideas or answering various questions seemed a great way to do this."
Such approaches help the people of the Shinkai district develop a relationship with the Radio in a Box and the programs it has to offer, such as the Radio Literacy Program.
"I'm very excited to see that they are eager and willing to learn, because we all know that knowledge is what pushes people to make changes; to [do] better things for themselves," said Mader. "It's exciting to see them moving in that direction."
Perhaps most importantly, the 'Voice of Shinkai' is not going anywhere. Both, the RIAB and Atta, have become a fixture in the Shinkai community. The villagers have seen the benefits of the Radio Literacy Program and have embraced the RIAB as their own.
"Atta will still be here, so it will be completely transparent when the new PRT comes in and takes over out here," said Mader.
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.