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When the United Nations started a community radio station project in her neighbourhood, Raki Abdoulaye jumped at the chance to take part.

Goudel, an overcrowded township on the outskirts of Niamey, is not the sort of place where opportunity knocks often. And Raki is not the sort of girl who waits for opportunity to knock twice.

One year into the project, Raki's role as a radio announcer and DJ has not only transformed her own life but has also tremendously influence on the lives of the thousands of young people who tune into her radio broadcast.

In November 2000, Raki was 17 years old. She lived in Niger, the second poorest country in the world. She had no radio experience, nor any education beyond sixth grade. Like many other girls in Goudel, Raki dropped out of school to help out her parents, who didn't have the means to feed her family. But she lacked the skills to find employment that paid enough to lift her out of poverty. "I didn't get any work," she said. "I just sat at home and did nothing."

That changed when the United Nations established Radio Goudel FM 88. Established with the support of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the station provides information on issues such as health, the environment and human rights and is run by the youth of the community themselves.

"The first programme I ever did was on hygiene. I was scared before I did it," she admitted with a laugh. "I had never even seen a microphone before."

A producer gave her information in French, the country's official language, which she had to translate into Zirma, one of several of the station's local broadcast languages. "I had to explain the information in a way that people would find interesting and informative," she said. "I froze when the technician waved his hand, indicating that I should begin," she said. "But I calmed myself down and pretty soon the words began to flow."

Talking on the radio quickly became second nature to Raki and she now hosts a programme five days a week. Her clear, unaffected voice has become a part of the daily lives of youth in Goudel, as well as Niamey, which also receives the station's signal.

"I learned that all I have to do is pretend to be talking to my friends," she said, adding that with that strategy, "I soon found that I really did have a lot of friends."

It's not just youth who is listening, said Abdou Son-Allah, a United Nations staff officer who monitors the 18 community radio stations in various parts of Niger. "When there was an outbreak of meningitis recently, Raki asked the community of Goudel to clear away all rubbish, explaining how dirt transmits the disease. After just one day, the streets were visibly cleaner."

About one hundred such stations have sprung up in recent years in various parts of Africa. UNDP and UNFPA provide communities in poor and often remote areas with broadcast equipment that is high-tech but low-cost and user-friendly. The equipment runs on solar power and is easily transportable. The cost is less than $4000.

That price includes a special satellite link so that the community stations can pick up programming produced by various development organizations around the world and rebroadcast it. The satellite signal, provided by the WorldSpace Foundation, includes not just an audio but also a visual stream. Each community radio station has a receiver that displays many channels of text-based information that is in English and French. The community radios can translate what they want into local languages.

Each station tailors the material to fits with its needs. Some stations provide meteorological information for. Stations in conflict areas focus their programming on ways to improve dialogue and understanding within the community.

Raki tailors many of her programmes to women. "I talk about what we as women can do to help ourselves and our families. I tell girls to stay in school no matter what."

Other days she is a disk jockey, playing popular local musicians. "In between songs, I talk about how we can keep our culture alive given that it's hard enough to just survive in Goudel."

Being a DJ is only the beginning for Raki. Radio Goudel also offers computer training and Raki is now able to compile and produce her own radio programmes. Her newly acquired computer skills will allow her to run the first telecentre in the area soon to be installed on the grounds of the radio station.

It's not easy to think for the long term in a township, she said. "But I tell people that we have to figure out how to stay alive today as well as tomorrow."

FIND OUT MORE about how the UN works to protect and preserve cultural heritage as part of a community's development. Go to the links next to Raki.

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