The self-powered world band radios that Ears To Our World distributes to remote, impoverished schools and communities around the world through its global partners are often subjected to extremes—not only climatic, in the form of relentlless tropical rains and scorching desert sand-storms, but also the political and economic, resulting in extremes of usage most technologies are just not built to withstand. To support ETOW’s mission of providing the developing world with reliable access to information–e.g, educational programming, local and international news, emergency and health information–ETOW radios must be exceedingly rugged and maintainable in the field. Nevertheless, any technology experiencing this kind of usage must be expected to have a finite functionality: that’s the reason our commitment to ongoing partnership and follow-up support is so vital.
When we place radios in schools and communities through our global partners, we do so as a collaborative effort among equals: to make a lasting impact in our served areas, our in-country NGO affiliates distribute the radios where they can do the greatest good. Additionally, our partner teachers and community leaders entrusted with ETOW’s radios take responsibility for their care, monitoring each unit’s function as a result of daily usage. ETOW maintains contact with these partners and provides assistance as needed and feasible.
Fortunately, the Etón Grundig self-powered, hand-crank worldband radios with which ETOW works have been functioning superbly in the field, in places as diverse as Belize, Chile, Romania, Mongolia, South Sudan, and Cameroon. Thus far, these units have proven more than equal to the challenge: with care, these radios can last up to up to three years in the field, exceeding our expectations for the product. In areas where conditions are extreme, the radios do wear more rapidly, but we have learned that only tens in hundreds break within the first year of use, a remarkable finding and a testament to the committed care of the units by our partner-users.
Even a more significant finding, however, is the validation of our organizational model. ETOW recently had the opportunity to examine the sole radio returned to us from a remote area of Cameroon where our partner, NGO EduCare-Africa, had assigned it for use as a teaching tool in a local school. While the radio still received signals after three years of use, it no longer charged by hand crank; ETOW requested its return for analysis. Pavla Zakova-Laney, Founder, President, Executive Director, and full-time volunteer of EduCare, promptly responded with the radio’s return. In the meantime, as per our agreement, she offered the teacher partner a replacement radio. So, although the original radio experienced an internal component failure, it was apparently otherwise well-cared for, as the teacher partner had agreed upon placement; our NGO partner was informed of the problem, and served as on-site intermediary; and ETOW was able to address the problem by replacing the unit. Clearly, ETOW’s model of collaboration and follow-through works.
“We recognize that success in humanitarian aid requires providing consistent and reliable support over time,” explains Thomas Witherspoon, ETOW’s founder and director, “so we commit to our teachers and partners that we will do our best to replace or repair radios when they eventually reach the end of their useful life.”
ETOW’s experience in Cameroon is, in our view, a clear success story. According to Zakova-Laney, there are currently seven ETOW radios serving communities in Cameroon, being used in secondary/high schools. And although they are located in remote areas, EduCare estimates that nearly 2,700 students and teachers have directly benefitted from these seven devices. That number increases dramatically as news and other information is disseminated to students’ families at home and to communities at large.
But upon further examination, EduCare’s feedback is not all that surprising. In the areas ETOW serves, even one radio can produce a remarkably broad positive impact. “Every school [that received a radio] greatly appreciated it, and promised it would be used well and handled with care,” explained Zakova-Laney. In developing areas, each radio is an invaluable resource because it can affect so many lives. Even the single returned FR200 with the broken crank, in otherwise good condition despite extensive use, reinforces what we’ve believed from the beginning: radio is the best method to reach the greatest number of people where the need is greatest in the developing world. It is economical, uncomplicated, broadcasts are unhindered by boundaries and politics–and, as we’ve seen, as tough as it needs to be.
We’re proud of the continuing role we play in support of invaluable programs like EduCare-Africa’s, helping our partners achieve their goals of expanding opportunities and improving lives through education. So, exactly how important is our role? Zakova-Laney: “I believe that as long as there will be remote places without electricity and…a means of communication, these radios will be very helpful, bringing news, useful information and educational programs—and [they will be] appreciated tremendously.”
ETOW extends our appreciation to our generous supporters who enable us to do what we do. Thank you all.