Tuesday, September 6, 2011
For three years, Free Press Unlimited provided radio journalism training for students of the University of Bamyan, Afghanistan. Huib de Zeeuw gave radio training to six students from July to August and shared his experiences working with Radio Paik.

There was clearly no lack of motivation on the side of the Afghan students. Approximately seventy students responded to our announcement of the training programme for Radio Paik. Unfortunately, only twelve students could be selected as participants. With six of them, I set up a ten-day course in radio journalism at the University of Bamyan. The focus was not only theory but also addressed practical matters like recording and editing of radio items. To apply this knowledge in practice, the students were asked to produce their first short item. These "health messages" are designed to provide information on health or agricultural issues. For example, students made entries on topics such as dehydration in children, dental problems and brucellosis (an infectious disease which affects cattle).

Corruption across the country
One of the students clearly had high aims and addressed corruption within the police forces in his first report. Many police officers extort money from civilians under arrest by making them pay for costs for foodlunch or transport during their arrest. The police chief in Bamyan admitted after many ifs and buts that this might be happening, but that people should report such things to the police if they occurred. This was good illustration of how some of the power structures in Afghanistan currently work.

Getting on top of things
After ten days of hard work we left with the whole group to Waras, a ten-hour drive from Bamyan. Never before has a local radio station been active here and now we are pioneering in this task with a young, highly motivated group of students in some small villages surrounded by mountains. First there were a number of practical issues to be resolved. For the best radio signal the broadcast antenna should be at the top of a mountain. Despite the mobility of our radio truck, the Afghan roads proved a tough challenge. The road to the mountaintop was full of potholes, raising doubts if we would make it to the top. Fortunately, we met a friendly Afghan who was enthusiastic about Radio Paik: The following day he arranged a team of ten men who worked half a day in the scorching sun during Ramadan to make the road passable.

In the meantime, the students kept themselves busy gathering news by talking to the local people. Within one day we had an impressive list of topics. In a very short time it became clear that almost no institutions in Waras were functioning properly. Problems at the hospital occurred due to delays or the lack of medication deliveries. Rations provided under the UN World Food Programme were offered for sale in the bazaar. Nonetheless, besides reports about the difficulties in Waras, there was also room for broadcasts of music and poetry.

Police poetry
For the commander of the Waras police, it was not clear what an independent radio station in his district meant. He wanted to be interviewed and he made that clear on the day after our arrival by sending an officer to our station who pointed out that the commander would have time to be interviewed now for an hour. Three hours later, another officer turned up with a special mission: he had written a poem about the heroic deeds of the police commander which he wanted to broadcast. The next day we did interview the head of the police about steps taken against the opium trade – precisely an area where the police need to use all their stamina and guile.