After his village was devastated by the earthquake two years ago, killing 15 of his neighbours, Bir Bahadur Tamang needed an engineer to tell him about seismic-resistant designs.
But like many other families in earthquake-affected districts, Tamang, the former chair of Satyadevi village of Dhading district, had never met an engineer. Still, he got all the information he needed on building safer homes using salvaged material from Milijuli Nepali, a radio program syndicated through local FM radio stations.
Tamang had never met a journalist in his life either, but knew the names of most of the reporters on Milijuli by heart. Which is why earlier this month he was very happy to finally meet not just a journalist, but one whose voice he had often heard on his radio set.
“No one ever came here: no engineer, no journalist; the only information we had was from the radio,” Tamang said. Soon, the earthquake survivor was himself being interviewed for the next episode of Milijuli, and his voice broadcast across Nepal through nearly 400 FM stations as well as streamed across the Nepali-speaking world through the Internet.
For Milijuli broadcaster Bhawana Gurung, there was no firmer proof that her program has helped convert awareness about post-earthquake reconstruction into behaviour change — something that was just a theory she had heard about in media school.
Radio programs like Milijuli have been filling the gap left by the lack of elected village leaders and making up for the absence of accountability in post-earthquake relief by spreading information about how to build safer, stronger homes, and by bringing the concerns of survivors to the attention of Kathmandu.
Sharada Danuwar of Kavre worked as a porter, earning Rs 500 a day. One evening she heard over Milijuli’s Katha Mala program that because of the shortage of brick-layers needed for reconstruction, women were being trained as masons.
She applied for training and today earns Rs 1,250 a day helping rebuild most of the 78 houses in her village that went down. With the money she has saved, she is planning to buy a scooter so she can commute to neighbouring villages to work on reconstruction there too.
Milijuli Nepali is produced by BBC Media Action, the BBC’s international development communication unit, which also broadcasts weekly debates called Sajha Sawal over radio and TV. Milijuli now has a listenership of over 2.1 million, and is relayed over 11 radio stations in the quake-affected districts. The programs are driven by personal stories of survivors, and generally have a positive slant.
“We have found that personal stories are the most effective method of communicating,” explains Subash Karki of BBC Media Action. “It is information not for the survivors, but about them. We try not to preach, or talk down to them… this is what communications for development means. It is proof that radio works.”
Indeed, while other media outlets try to highlight problems, Milijuli deliberately looks for solutions. Listeners are surprised that most of the people featured are women, and how cheerful they sound despite the adversities they have faced in the past two years.
Bhuwan Timilsina, program coordinator at Milijuli, says it was originally created as a radio program providing lifeline communication — broadcasting information that could actually save lives in the aftermath of the earthquake.
“Just like food, water, medicine, and shelter, providing correct and timely information to the public is equally crucial during times of crisis,” explains Timilsina, “and there is unanimous opinion that telling personal stories is the most effective format to spread information.”
This is something that Lal Maya Shrestha of Sindhuli knows only too well. She says: “I feel guilty if I miss a single episode of Milijuli, and sometimes I listen to the same program over and over.”