Second sight

Head of Production, Sierra Leone

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Ed Kargbo and Augustine Ansumana from Radio Bontico on Sherbro island, Sierra Leone

My work here has been very rewarding. For me, becoming a journalist was about following my passion. I get a kick from collecting information and letting people know what’s going on.  I like being out in the field and not in an office. I’m very adventurous and I like to meet people - I can’t do that sitting in my comfy chair. It is through talking to people about their welfare and their issues and hearing their stories that we can touch people’s lives.

The volunteers at Radio Bontico do it because they know their radio station is important. In addition to production training, I have got them to think about ways they can raise money for the station, as they need to try and make the station sustainable. They now make a small charge for on air dedications, hold fundraising events and market the station by handing out request forms. It’s a diverse group - our volunteers include two teenage girls who are students and several teachers. Everyone helps out but we do have one stand-out volunteer and star attraction: Augustine Ansumana. He is amazing.

Augustine is 48 and has lived on Sherbro all his life. He donates most of his time to volunteering at the radio. About 13 years ago, a degenerative eye disease left Augustine blind. He says he doesn’t know why he lost his sight, that it might be the will of God. Augustine presents the weekend evening show and has a huge following. He presents in a local language, Mende, and plays music by local artists. People relate to this and they love the way he talks to them. Augustine tells stories that often end with a question and so people interact with him. Everybody knows him.

He didn’t need any training from me on presentation but I was able to help him learn how to use a Marantz recorder for vox pops. He feels his way around the buttons. He’s told me he has enjoyed the opportunity to be more like a journalist and not just a DJ. I’ve also encouraged Augustine to head to Freetown to take a course in braille but like many inhabitants of Sherbro he is reluctant to leave the island for too long.

Augustine loves his role and he loves his fame. He told me: “This is my home and I want to work for the benefit of the people. They know my voice, we speak the same language and I raise issues that matter to them. I am better than anyone else they can listen too.”

And I don’t think the other volunteers mind, as he is right! He has been an encouragement for other volunteers who aspire to be as good as he is.

The station does face financial challenges. The generator that powers the station was a second-hand gift, which is great, but it was designed for a much bigger purpose so it drains fuel when it is so expensive and scarce. When funds have run low the station has had to come off air when it ran out of fuel. Here at BBC Media Action we have provided computers and digital equipment and training but we can’t solve everything and it is important for the station to try and stand on its own. To help Radio Bontico with this challenge we have also trained the board. The people prize this station and do want to help. As part of this we have given the new and expanded board training in governance, so they understood their responsibilities and have had tips in how they might help shape and provide advice on the work of the station.

My posting here will soon be over and I have many wonderful memories and experiences of a very special place. Island life has a pace of its own and I’ll miss it. But I’m looking forward to seeing friends back in Freetown and getting back to work as part of the production team on the weekly radio discussion programme Fo Rod. And I’m looking forward to having access to a bank that is less than a day’s trip away!

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