Sunday, February 27, 2011

Radio EducAid

Don't think I can say it any better so....thank you for this letter that tells the story so well and thank you all that were involved in making this happen.  Fingers crossed the baton will not be dropped!

Dear Chris and Julia

This is just to say a big thank you to you both for all your advice and help with making radio at EducAid.

EducAid was hugely receptive to the radio idea. We all had loads of fun, and your technical advice on making radio with schools was completely apposite.

I should really let the schools’ programmes do the talking, but I can’t wait to send you that: the EducAid team tell me they will be putting them online shortly. But uploading an MP3 file requires biblical patience in Salone. I will bring home the MP3 files to share with you when I get home.

We were assigned small groups of students at schools in Rolal – a rural school a few miles outside Port Loko – and in Lumley, a jam-packed site in Western Freetown, with perhaps 500 students crammed on three floors. I didn’t managed to hold the groups to 5, but we ended up with about 12-15 on each site. All ages, and we found abilities from singing to interviewing, acting to technical editing.

The kids were hugely enthusiastic about all aspects of the process, from conceiving dramas and conducting debates, to recording gospel music and a traditional Temne greeting: the chief summons his people with his flutes. We had confident interviewers and proper continuity presenters. They learned lots about recording radio drama – making the sound convey the message (I almost had to tie them down with gaffer tape), performing to the mike, using sound effects, using different acoustics, maintaining silence. The experience that Lily and I had with your radio drama was invaluable.

Several staff and students took to Audacity software like ducks to water. If our levels and edits aren’t perfect, I hope you will see we broadly followed your advice about balancing and alternating music, drama, interviews, and the authoritative voice of continuity presenters.

I think Audacity was the factor which really validated the decision to stay with audio, and not go for video. It meant we got a much more deliberated product. Kids worked really hard and listened to their results reflectively. You can do this immediately on the mike, as well as later on the pc. The Lumley group took time to listen to their first drama “take”, and also to listen to the interviews. We picked out key words and re-record the drama with a much more powerful focus the next day, echoing and building on the words of the doctor and other interviewees. If they had stumbled around with a video camera, I don’t believe they would have had the opportunity to focus their product it nearly as sharply, let alone edit it without the time and resources to get to grips with a proper video editor like Avid. They barely believed me when I told them that it used to take Everyman 3 months to make a 50 minute TV documentary. But after the hours and hours they put in to make 14 minutes of radio – we worked till 10 and 11 many nights - I think they were getting the idea.

We had very little time – Salone has plenty of holidays. Effectively we had three working days in Rolal and two working days in Lumley before presenting the show to the school on the final day. In Lumley we ditched the idea of continuity and presentation, and opted instead for linking drama and interviews with loops of the soundtrack of a song / rap that some girls had devised with Mr Deen: “TB is a killer disease – hello – TB can be cured!”

All of this with a single plastic “Easy-speak” mike, a bit of free software, and any old PC – which the schools now have in plenty, even if you have to whack on the generator to use them. (We had to do some of the recording in various hot broom cupboards to minimise the generator noise). They managed to play the radio at assemblies in both schools through their big PAs.

This is a culture where children are too often seen and not heard. What a pleasure to be able to reverse that! Particularly with the young girls who demonstrated what one of them argued cogently in her school “One minute Debate”: women can do what men can do.

We could genuinely say at the end that several students had taken the first important step to careers in media if that is what they want. I told them that if you want to make radio or TV for the BBC, it doesn’t really matter what course you follow at school at college – but what’s on your showreel/memory stick/portfolio that counts. Well, these kids have made the first bit of their showreel, and I think you will agree they can be very proud of that.

When we left, a young teacher and EducAid alumnus, Jimiyke, was already forming a radio club, and students were eager to take the new technology out to the other EducAid schools. By the time we left, the Rolal programme was also to be heard coming out of various computers around the school, so perhaps we are fostering a small local virus of communication. Jimiyke is also a fan of movie maker on which he had been editing the school sports day, so hopes to build videos of the radio programmes with stills, for uploading to Youtube.

Richard Johnson

If you are interested in knowing more about EducAid's work with vulnerable young Sierra Leoneans, please go to

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