Empowerment Through Community Radio

Bluefields, Nicaragua. March 1995.

If you would plan for a year, plant a crop. If you would plan for ten years, plant a tree. If you would plan for 100 years, build a school.
Asian proverb.

Most of the recent news from Nicaragua has been very depressing; 60% unemployment, rising poverty rates, structural adjustment run amuck. However, the revolution did not end when the voters -- literally with guns to their heads -- elected Violeta Chamorro as president. Throughout the country, non-governmental and grassroots organizations are resisting the neoliberal model forced on them by US AID and the World Bank. At the same time, they are building a more humane and sustainable alternative.

One such organization is URACCAN -- the University of the Autonomous Regions of the Carribean Coast of Nicaragua. In one of the poorest regions of one of the most impoverished nations in Latin America, a university is being established with no funding from the central government. Currently there are no higher education opportunities on the Atlantic Coast and most of the region's men and women who leave in search of higher education do not return after graduation. URACCAN will fill this gap by providing higher education opportunities in the area. Perhaps more importantly, its focus is on the needs of the residents of the Atlantic Coast; study and preservation of the cultural and linguistic heritage of the inhabitants of region; defense of their political, social, and cultural rights at the university's Institute of Studies and Applied Research on Autonomy; and providing the training needed for intelligent management of the region's forestry, fishing, and mineral resources, so that these riches may be used in a sustainable manner for the benefit of the inhabitants of the Atlantic Coast.

The campus will be located at three sites. The faculties of marine science and language will be based in Bluefields. The faculties of forestry and mining will be in Puerto Cabezas and Bonanza, respectively. Classes are expected to start in the spring of 1995. Pastors for Peace has been supporting this project through material aid caravans and work brigades. TecsChange has donated over two dozen computers and a laser printer to the university. About half were delivered in the spring 1994 caravan, and the rest are en route as this article goes to print.

Last fall, TecsChange offered to build a low-power FM radio transmitter for the university. We received a very warm response from Ray Hooker, Sandinista representative to the National Assembly from Bluefields and one of the founders of URACCAN. A stereo transmitter and amplifier were ordered from Free Radio Berkeley(*), assembled, and tested over Christmas.

John Grebe, a TecsChange volunteer, has been in Nicaragua since January, installing the radio on the Bluefields campus and helping with other computer and technical problems. We expect that the radio, like the university itself, will be used for the empowerment of the population. We plan to have a report-back by John on Wednesday, April 5 at 7 pm. in MIT building 5, room 232. Professor Martin Diskin of MIT will present an introduction on the history of the Atlantic coast, and John will show his slides and give an update on the university and plans for the radio station. For room information, please call LACASA at 617-492-8699 or the peace and justice events hotline (24 hours a day) at 617-787-6809.

TecsChange will continue supporting this worthwhile project. We are looking for more volunteers to help organize future events. Our computer recycling project is also going strong. To date, we have donated close to 100 used computers to grassroots organizations throughout Latin America, Asia, and Africa. For more information on TecsChange or to volunteer, e-mail tecschange@tecschange.org or call 617-963-0262.

(*) FRB was founded to promote grassroots empowerment through low-power community-based broadcasting. Their stated goal is to "take back the airwaves" from the media empires that dominate commercial broadcasting. Two of their transmitters have also been installed in Chiapas, Mexico. One is run by the Zapatistas, and the other by the PRD. They can be reached at FRB, 1442A Walnut St. #406, Berkeley, CA 94709.

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