As reported by Christopher Carruthers, Project Manager of Radioactive Productions
For over two years, our NuBeat syndicated radio show has played regularly on Radio Paidha, one of seven Ugandan stations that air our show. Radio Paidha reaches the whole troubled area of Northern Uganda, as well as parts of Eastern Congo & Sudan. We recently visited this up-country station to host some live radio programs, as well as make personal contact with listeners who had been writing us from these areas.
The town of Paidha lies just over the border from northeastern Congo (formerly Zaire). In recent months,thousands of refugees have fled to Paidha over the border from Bunia, where the Hema & Lendu tribes have been engaged in Rwanda-style massacres. Despite the seriousness of this conflict, it has only recently caught the attention of the world media. And the U.N. has at last sent a French-led peace-keeping force. However, whether they will be able to do much to stop this seemingly unbreakable cycle of revenge killings remains to be seen. For thousands who have already been brutally hacked to pieces, it
is already too late.
Paidha is a place where very few foreigners venture. Although the town of Paidha itself is secure, to reach it you have to run a hundred mile gauntlet through Murchison National Park, where rebels regularly attack buses & trucks. They have terrorized Northern Uganda for the last 17 years, killing thousands of innocent people. So traveling to Paidha is not without its risks.
After a grueling, crowded, hot & bumpy ten-hour bus ride from Kampala, Lori & I reached Paidha, a small mountain town, late Friday afternoon. Most of the populace live in straw-roofed huts. There is electricity only for a few hours each evening in the main part of town, which consists of a few dusty streets of small shops. There is no TV or Internet, or even telephones, unless you can afford a mobile. But…nearly everyone has a radio! For most people in rural Africa, this is their only contact with the outside world.
We stayed at the home of Jakisa from Congo. Jakisa’s house consists of five rooms of unpainted cement walls covered with a tin roof – a mansion compared with the neighborhood of simple mud-brick huts surrounding it. Cooking is done outside on charcoal fires. Water for cooking or washinghas to be laboriously hauled up in plastic jerry cans from a spring in the valley. The toilet & shower are the same as one would find in Bible times. In fact, almost everything is.
It's a 15-minute walk from Jakisa's place to Radio Paidha. The station had been advertising our visit for the past week & were happy to see that we had arrived safely. NuBeat is one of their most popular programs with the youth, so there was a lot of anticipation of our visit. The plan was for me, Christopher, to host a three-hour NuBeat style morning show on Saturday, followed by a three-hour Gospel show on Sunday. I spent Friday night loading a library of our best songs onto the station's computer, making them "user friendly" for the local DJs to be able to use in their own shows.
We had also brought with us a selection of songs recorded for NuBeat by local Ugandan artists, songs like "Cry of a Continent" & "Forever Free" by Rachel Adyeri, "Soldier Boy" & "God's Spirit in Africa" by Kawesa, & "One God" by Paul Mugarura. These songs, written for Africa by songwriter Andrew Vee, have powerful lyrics that directly address some of the worst problems faced by Africans.
As Radio Paidha beams into an area impacted by two of Africa's most horrible conflicts, we hoped that these shows would help to bring peace, forgiveness, healing & reconciliation to the area. However, we were aware that those listening could very well react, "But we have endured hardships, suffering & difficulties to adegree that you can't possibly relate to." This dilemma was solved in a very effective way.
I was up early on Saturday morning, as the show started at 6.00 a.m.Outside it was still dark & the night sky was awesome – the stars so crisp & clear & bright, the country air so fresh & clean. From what we have observed, it seems that people in rural Africa are able to function perfectly well in total darkness. They seldom even use candles and especially not flashlights which would be too expensive considering they would have to buy batteries! They walk along the winding paths, or even ride bicycles at full speed, all in the pitch black!
I was thankful Jakisa & I had a small flashlight as he guided me to the radio station. We arrived as they were starting the generator. When doing live radio, we've found it a good format to co-host with a local presenter. That way they can translate when needed, &
you also have someone local to bounce off. They are also familiar with the studio equipment & are able to help handle phone-ins, and advertisements that need to be aired or any technical problems that may come up. My co-presenter on Saturday was Patrick, a very open man who was easy to work with.
You would be amazed at how fast three hours can fly when you are live on air! It seems like a long time, especially when my usual approach are recording half-hour syndicated programs. But on live shows, three hours never seems like enough time to fit in even half of what I planned. I always get a "rush" when our songs are playing on air, envisioning the thousands of people listening. (On this occasion, the song that really struck a chord was the song "Forgive & Forget"—probably not so much because of its country style, but its message. Since our visit, we’ve been told that this particular song is been played repeatedly, & the song itself has been the subject of much discussion in the town, as it gives the answer to break the endless cycle of violence & revenge.)
"Phone-ins" are fun, & it was great to receive calls from NuBeat listeners thrilled that they were hearing us live. On this first show, we were also able to commend & encourage the populace of Paidha for graciously absorbing so many Congolese refugees from Bunia into their midst. They are already poor enough, but have been willing to share the little they have with those who have even less.
After the show, eagerly waiting for us outside the studio were Ronald, Francisco & Albert. All had been NuBeat listeners for a couple of years, & were thrilled to have this chance to meet us personally. They excitedly told us said that NuBeat and the Activated magazines [which they received as they had written to our address] had inspired & helped them make important choices in their lives. Ronald had been a poor farmer & was digging in his field one day when he heard the NuBeat Show. One particular quote stuck out to him, & it was enough to hook him to the show & decide that he wanted to do more with his life than dig. He is now a youth counselor & represents youth on the District council, as well as coordinator for NGOs in the district.
Francisco & Albert are from Gulu, a major town in Northern Uganda. Both had been orphaned as small children. They'd worked hard at whatever odd jobs they could find, to scrape together their school fees. Francisco, who is 6’ 4”, has been eating only one simple meal a day, so he could afford to attend college.
On Saturday afternoon we counseled together about how to approach the Sunday Gospel
show. Uakani had recently heard that his family had most likely been killed in Bunia, and yet he had made the decision to forgive. We thought it would be powerful for him to give this testimony on the radio. We also invited Francisco, Albert, Ronald, Calvin & Jakisa to help translate into the local languages. Between them they had powerful personal stories of power & protection, and how they had miraculously risen above bitterness, hatred &
revenge – effectively bring a message of healing & hope to this war-torn region. Through it all God helped them become positive, optimistic, industrious young people. We were very thankful for the fruits of the radio ministry going on air & reaching their own people in their own languages.
On Sunday morning, the Gospel show aired from 9:00 to 12:00. Arriving at the studio it was encouraging to find ten or so letters from listeners in Nebbi. Nebbi is the District capital at the bottom of the mountain before the road winds up to Paidha. We found out that rural radio stations have their own system for receiving listener response. They have agents dotted around the countryside & people give their letter to the agent, & they see to it that it gets to the radio station via the local transport. This was how the responses from
Nebbi arrived so quickly. We are now arranging with other local stations throughout the country to tap into this system, which should significantly increase our mail response – since the cost of stamps is too expensive for some of these poor people.
The next morning we were up early again to catch the 5.30 a.m. bus back to Kampala. As we passed through Nebbi, I thought of all the listeners there who we needed to meet on our next visit. Nebbi is an even a more remote looking place than Paidha. And these are just two towns out of many in Northern Uganda, like Arua, Kitgum, Gulu, where we have many more listeners & NuBeat club members to be followed up on.