Pass any high street while football championships are underway and you will see crowds of punters gathered in pubs and bars watching the latest play-offs. The lure of a big screen and a beer may be strong, but many spectators will have access to a fridge and a TV at home.
However, watching the match at home does not, for most people, offer companionship, a shared experience and the chance to discuss the finer details of the off-side rule.
As a species, we have a powerful need to come together - to listen, learn, be entertained and lead richer lives as a result. Which is – in part - why community listeners’ groups work so well.
Community listeners’ groups are, thanks to the dedicated work of organisations such as the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), enabling communities in Africa to come together, share experiences and learn from each other. A significant facilitator is the dynamo and/or solar-powered radio – indeed, Freeplay Energy’s Encore range is currently supporting groups in a growing number of West and Central African locations.
The radios are used to listen to broadcasts and take part in debates about agriculture, food security, health, education and social issues. They enable communication within and between communities that share similar experiences, concerns and opportunities.
Each of FAO‘s community listeners groups – which now number more than 700 in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Niger alone – is set up following a process of consultation, followed by training of those who are chosen by their communities to lead the groups. Radios are then provided and relationships are established with local radio stations which broadcast programmes relevant to – and in many cases assembled with input from – the clubs and their members.
The impact on local communities has been both significant and very positive. They have acted as a driver for changes in behaviour, practices and perceptions. They have also contributed to increased take-up of HIV/AIDS testing, to more equitable access to land in the DRC and to improved agricultural practices in Niger.
And, importantly, they have also provided a focus around which people can come together, reaffirm their places within their communities and take pleasure in each other’s company.
In fact, like those pubs and bars with their big-screen TVs, community listeners groups play a vital role in building and sustaining community spirit. It’s just that – with all due respect to football fans – the stakes are much, much higher.