Help Save Peace Radio in Burundi — a personal appeal from Ruby Pratka

Help Save Peace Radio in Burundi — a personal appeal from Ruby Pratka

Main pic: Radio staff members John Habonimana (left), Christian Nsavye (second from right) and Cynthia Ngendakuriyo (far right) host a live talk show before the troubles that lay ahead.

My name is Ruby Pratka. Many of you know me as Life in Quebec copy editor, podcast editor or feature writer, as a behind-the-scenes contributor at CBC Radio in Quebec City, a contributor to several other community publications or perhaps even as a former international affairs commentator on CHYZ 94.3.

But before all that, there was Burundi.

I worked in this tiny East African country for a total of about six months between August 2011 and September 2013. Most of that work was as an editorial intern at a small but widely respected community radio station dedicated to covering events objectively and promoting reconciliation among different ethnic and political factions.

The station’s reputation was the fruit of more than a decade of hard work by a few dozen extremely smart and talented people. Now they need our help.

BEFORE: Radio staff members John Habonimana (left), Christian Nsavye (second from right) and Cynthia Ngendakuriyo (far right) host a live talk show.

Photo of heavily damaged equipment taken surreptitiously by a fleeing employee.

Photo of heavily damaged equipment taken surreptitiously by a fleeing employee.

The country’s precarious peace came crashing down on May 13, 2015. A largely peaceful protest movement was co-opted by a military coup. The coup failed, and the authorities cracked down on all independent media outlets, which had covered the protests and the coup attempt.

Police officers pillaged four independent radio stations, including ours, while they were on the air. Computer screens were smashed, plastic equipment melted, tires shredded and transmitting equipment demolished. Each station absorbed between $80,000-$300,000 in damages. The airwaves went silent. They are silent to this day, as the situation in the country becomes more and more unstable.

The destruction of the independent radio stations is a body blow for freedom of information in Burundi. Low Internet penetration and relatively low literacy rates mean radio is the only media accessible to the majority of Burundians. According to data from 2013, 23% of Burundians have access to a TV at home and just under 6% have Internet access. However, 88% have access to a radio at home. In wartime, knowing who’s shooting at whom and where can be a matter of life and death— since the disappearance of the radios, ordinary citizens don’t even have that.

To bring back freedom of information, thousands of us, inside and outside Burundi, will have to pull together. Our ultimate goal is to help one radio station, Radio Isanganiro, get back on the air.

In collaboration with Radio Isanganiro and its director, Anne Niyuhire, with the School of Information and Communication of Laval University and with CHYZ 94.3, a crowdfunding campaign has been set up to replace the destroyed equipment. We have raised nearly $1,000 so far and we hope we can count on your help. As the situation becomes clearer, we may also seek in-kind donations (computers, mixing tables, recorders) so if you’re looking to give away any used sound equipment, please get in touch.

Any money raised will be used for:

– shipping costs to get donated equipment to Burundi once the studio has reopened, if necessary ($2-3000)

– repairing or replacing damaged supplies (computers, sound recording and mixing equipment, broken windows, slashed tires) in the country.

It will be disbursed at the end of this year or when the studio reopens, whichever is sooner.

If you have QUESTIONS or if you would like to make an IN-KIND DONATION or an OFFLINE DONATION, please email me (irenepratka1@gmail.com).

$12,000 is a lot of money, but if 500 people give $25 each we will already be over our goal. Please share and send.

To donate, please go to http://www.gofundme.com/waenj4c.

Anything helps.

As we say in Burundi, TURI KUMWE! Let’s do this together!

Categories: News

About Author

Ruby Pratka

Ruby Pratka grew up in Baltimore, Maryland, studied in Ottawa and took the roundabout way to Quebec City via Russia, Slovenia, France, Switzerland, Belgium and East Africa. In addition to writing for LifeinQuebec.com and Life in Québec Magazine, she also contributes to other media outlets in English and French. She enjoys keeping a close eye on international affairs, listening to good music and singing in large groups.

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