The global COVID-19 pandemic is frightening enough for all of us in the UK, with our great NHS to look after us. But for the Smart Villages team, it is the thought of what the virus could do in poor rural communities in Tanzania, who have no access to healthcare facilities, that is truly terrifying.
One of the biggest concerns of people in Tanzania is the lack of information about the spread of the COVID on a day-to-day basis, and the lack of information on how to best to protect themselves, their families and communities, and what precautions to take.
Our partners Orkenerei FM are the only community radio station broadcasting in Maa, the language of the Maasai people living in northern Tanzania. Most of the station's audience of more than 1.5 million do not speak any other language. But government information on COVID, when it is made available, is only in Swahili and English, which they do not understand.
Our team has been working in the Maasai region for several years on integrated development projects, like bringing electricity to remote villages, incubating entrepreneurial local businesses and helping communities access safe drinking water more reliably. We know for ourselves the power and influence of the radio station for people in a 100km radius of the village of Terat, where it is based. We even helped rewire the station three months ago to make it run more efficiently off the diesel generator they use.
Now more than ever, the radio station may be - quite literally - a lifeline to people who have no other way of accessing up-to-date, accurate public health information in a language they can understand, and be able to discuss their concerns, their questions and their fears with experts who understand them and their culture. Otherwise they will have nothing more than hearsay and word-of-mouth to rely on.
But the pandemic, and growing movement restrictions, are making it harder than ever for the radio station to sell the advertising on which it depends. Without the ad sales, they cannot afford the diesel to keep the generator running. We feel very strongly that, to help the Maasai population through this pandemic, it is essential that the radio station remain on air.
We have already donated several weeks of fuel to them ourselves. But now we are trying to raise the funds for 4 months of fuel and maintenance for their generator, to guarantee the radio can remain on-air throughout this frightening period.
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