Last weekend, we successfully did the most ‘work’ we have done since arriving in Cameroon! When we first arrived in Nkongsamba and heard how the radio had just opened began airing in the town, we have been brainstorming various ways to get public service announcements (PSAs) off and running on the radio. After a variety of setbacks, like the radio being shut down by the governmental top-dog for a couple of weeks, we decided to organize a public service announcement conference for multiple radio stations to attend; the conference took place last Saturday and Sunday, June 1-2.
In order to organize the conference, we’d need money! Shaun successfully received a grant from Peace Corps as the PSAs would include topics around HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment. With the approval of the grant, we were able to start working. Thankfully, we have three awesome Peace Corps volunteers around us who wanted to work with us. Collectively, we wrote 52 PSAs – one for every week of a year – and had them translated into French and Pidgin, the local language of one of the South West region. All together, we had 52 PSAs in 3 different languages: French, English and Pidgin. We then wrote a more technical manual on how to write a PSA and why PSAs are important in community development, that manual was then translated into French. After more photocopying and binding than I would ever care to do again, our manuals were set for the conference.
We arranged a deal with one of the hotels in town to host the participants, as four of the six radio stations invited were coming from the South West region, anywhere from 3-8
hours away from Nkongsamba. One of our work partners owns a restaurant and his wife took on the monstrous task of catering for 30 people. She did an amazing job and provided us with a coffee break both Saturday and Sunday morning, a fish lunch on Saturday, and her famous (among volunteers) chicken dinner on Saturday night. I am sure she was far more tired than Shaun and I come Sunday afternoon.
The conference was a success. We had all 6 radio stations show up, and show up on time. Those two aspects alone are accomplishments in Cameroon! We spent all day Saturday going over what is a PSA, why are they important, how do you write one, showing sample PSAs from America and France and so on. Jacques, our work partner who was educated in the Cameroonian legal system, lectured on the legalities around broadcasting and penalties for spreading false information. One of our fears was that the PSAs would somehow become a license to say opinions rather than facts, especially surrounding health topics.
While the morning went off without a hitch, the afternoon was the highlight. The afternoon was spent looking at how to make PSAs effective to the audience that will be hearing the announcements, and, to give actual practice reading/announcing the PSAs to the radio staff members in attendance. Each radio had to write or edit one of our PSAs to cater it to their community, and then share what they came up with to the group. I was reminded how much Cameroonians love skits! Many groups made the PSA topic into a dialogue between two friends in the community; one group even added broom sound effects of cleaning a compound to reduce the risk of malaria! We all enjoyed a laugh at the creativity and energy that the radio staff members put forward in our mini PSA competition.
After taking a two hour break between the session’s end and our chicken dinner, we had a chance to socialize with the participants and get to know them a little better. It was a nice night out, thankfully, so we all ate outside in at a long table. Saturday marked one year of being in Cameroon for Shaun and I, and honestly, it was nice to feel like we had accomplished a big project we were/are proud of. It was nice to sit out, enjoying a good meal, and chatting with motivated community members about different ways to improve Cameroon. (It ended up being a great way to ‘celebrate’ our first Cameroonian anniversary.)
Sunday morning, the conference continued even though the program was only for 2
hours. We started by asking each radio station to develop an action plan of how they were planning on integrating what they had learned and gained from the conference into their local radio programming. While a big “miss” on my part was not first training on what an action plan is – we got through the session a little more roughly than the sessions on Saturday. The day ended with handing out certificates to all of the participants. Stamps and certificates are big deals over here. We had prepared completion certificates for all of the participants, had them signed in ink, and stamped with an official stamp of our community partner, this is normal life in Cameroon! Each participant had their name called, the whole group clapped, and then they came up, shook our hands, accepted their certificate, and posed for multiple pictures. There was nothing special about our certificate, all certificates for seminars attended get that much attention. Once the certificate ceremony of sorts was ended, we enjoyed a coffee break and we were finished!
While we should have seen it coming, at the end of the seminar almost all of the radio staff members got out their Dictaphones and asked for interviews with Shaun and I. I don’t think we have ever been that popular, and I have no idea how many radio programs our interviews were aired on that night!
All in all, the conference was a good success; the seminar went off without a hitch. We will continue to follow up with the radio stations that attended and monitor if, and how often, they are airing the PSAs on their various community radios. Our first major work project is successfully behind us!