4 May 2020 — From sharing vital health information about COVID-19 to providing educational programmes during school closures, radio stations operated by United Nations peacekeeping missions are now offering vital services amid the coronavirus crisis.

Radio Okapi, the station of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), has recently become the first media outlet to respond to a request from the Congolese Government to provide education via radio. The station’s urgently launched classes on air are aimed at roughly 22 million children struck at home because of COVID-19.

With support from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the MONUSCO-managed Radio Okapi and the Congolese National Radio (RNTC) have committed to broadcast two to three hours a day of classes on the main primary cycle subjects, including Math, French, reading and writing, health and environmental education and hygiene. For the secondary cycle, special emphasis will be placed on Math, French, technology, life and earth sciences and information technology.

Education is a right and a child's place is in school,” said UNICEF Representative in DRC Edouard Beigbeder. “Distance learning will enable us to offer students the opportunity to enjoy this right.”

radio tower

Messages and prevention programmes on COVID-19 will also be broadcast on these radio stations to increase children’s knowledge and enable them to develop life-saving practices.

Radio Okapi is one of the four UN peacekeeping radio stations in Africa set up to support the missions in fulfilling their mandates. These stations, capable of reaching both urban centres and remote areas without basic communications infrastructure, are now taking on an increasingly important role in addressing the pandemic, in addition to their regular activities.

Radio Miraya, the station of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), is helping the country’s awareness-raising campaign.

“For the great majority of people across South Sudan there is no internet, television or newspapers available. So how do people get their news? Some by word of mouth, but mostly from Radio Miraya,” said David Shearer, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for South Sudan and Head of UNMISS.

Reaching people in more than two-thirds of the vast country, the station is a communication lifeline for communities in times of crisis, Mr. Shearer explained. Eighty per cent of its listeners tune in every day.

A panel discussion aired by Radio Miraya last week aimed at breaking down the local population’s resistance to much-needed physical distancing.

“Our people are rather difficult when it comes to following instructions, and it is very difficult for us to avoid practicing social habits of hugging, shaking hands, meeting over a cup of tea and generally interacting among ourselves,” said Alier Kucha, a representative of the Chamber of Commerce in Bor, the capital of Jonglei State, said in the panel discussion. 

Mr. Kucha admitted that he needs to improve as well, as he estimated that he shook hands with about 40 people on that day.  

Radio Miraya has also begun broadcasting lessons in support of a remote learning initiative developed by the Ministry of General Education and UNICEF.

radio presenter with laptop and mask

Ben Junior Kambiré, is the host of a quiz show aired by Mikado FM, the outlet of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA).

In the time of COVID-19 pandemic, Mikado FM has started a race against the clock: contributing in its own way to saving lives. Photo: the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA)

His show goes like this: “Tell me the basic protective measures you can take to protect yourself and others from the coronavirus,” he asks in his cheerful voice.

“Wash your hands frequently, avoid touching your eyes, mouth and nose,” replies Salomé Dembélé, an elementary school teacher who is calling from Bamako. She adds: “You must also avoid crowds, cover your mouth and nose with your bent elbow or a tissue when you cough or sneeze and seek medical attention as soon as possible when you have fever, cough, and difficulty breathing. But before going to the doctor, you must first call ahead.”

Mikado FM was already essential in consolidating peace and promoting harmony and coexistence in Mali.  As the country is hit by the pandemic, Kambiré has never felt so useful to his community.