An Internews community radio station in Southern Sudan has rapidly become a trusted resource for displaced Sudanese fleeing the contested border region of Abyei.
“It was a few minutes to 8am and I was still in bed, my neighbor’s radio was on and we were listening to some Dinka music on Mayardit FM,” said Malueth Thiep, who fled the fighting in Abyei. “Then this lady called Monica Nyanyai started reading names of children that had been lost and found. I heard her mention my son’s name and that he was in Akoc. I got out of bed immediately and rushed to the station. Once I arrived they confirmed that indeed someone had called the station and said that he had my son.”
“We were the first people to report on the crisis,” says Deng Bol David, the station manager of Mayardit FM in Turalei, one of five stations in Southern Sudan established and supported by Internews. “We started receiving large numbers of people from Abyei and within a very short time there were many people camped under trees, and outside shop verandahs.”
On May 21, 2011, armed forces from north Sudan occupied the contested border region of Abyei. When troops and tanks from Khartoum and northern-aligned militia gunmen poured into Abyei, tens of thousands of people fled southwards. Mostly Dinka Ngok, many continued until they reached Twic county, Warrap State, where Mayardit FM is located in the town of Turalei.
The International Organization for Migration says as of the end of May, at least 39,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) are estimated to have arrived in the South from Abyei, concentrated in Warrap, Northern Bahr el Ghazal and Unity states. In Turalei alone, more than 20,000 people have arrived since the current Abyei crisis began.
The team at the Mayardit FM in Turalei realized they were facing a crisis. They started producing news stories relevant to the IDPs, as well as broadcasting humanitarian Public Service Announcements (PSAs) that had been produced by Internews and Miraya FM, the radio station in partnership between the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) and Fondation Hirondelle.
“The station has played a great role during this period and I have come to send different messages to the IDPs,” says the Twic County Commissioner Dominic Deng Kuoch. “We are facing a real crisis and the best way to reach out to more people has been through the radio,” he adds.
The commissioner and the radio station team have worked together to record PSAs to address challenges caused by the sudden influx in population, such as sanitation and hygiene issues, that are placing pressure on Turalei’s limited existing resources.
Mayardit FM has also been working in partnership with UNICEF, Save the Children and the Warrap State Social Welfare Office to broadcast messages on children that are lost, unaccompanied or who have been separated from their parents while fleeing Abyei.
Mawuith Angok, a member of a Twic community-based organization says a meeting point for agencies working to reunite families was established the radio station grounds as a result of the swift response. “Mayardit FM has kept people informed from the first day the crisis broke out. Since they came here the IDPs have been going to the radio station and asking the journalists to read out the names of children that were separated from them when they fled. … Everyone trusted the radio. This way we have been able to receive many names of lost children which normally wouldn’t have been easy.”
For Malueth Thiep, the fact that he hasn’t seen his son yet doesn’t worry him. All that matters is that he has heard his son’s name on the radio, a source he fully trusts. “I couldn’t believe it. I was just so happy after eight days I was finally going to see my son. I can’t thank the radio team enough for making this happen. Even if I haven’t seen him, my worries are over because I at least know where he is.”
Mayardit FM is one of five radio stations managed by Internews in Southern Sudan. The project is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).