Radio Celajes: "Calidad, no cantidad"

Last week I travelled to Tacaná, going there and back in one day, which totalled about 12 hours in many crowded chicken buses. The latter leg was spent standing, which turned out to be a lot more comfortable than sitting three to a seat, though the windy roads of the mountains meant holding on for dear life at every turn.  You know how if you're travelling at the speed of light you barely age? Well the chicken bus is kind of the opposite: you age, or at least feel like you're aging, at a supremely increased rate. All in all it was a very productive visit, but I might consider staying overnight to break up the transit if I were to do it again. 

Something I've learned to stop doing is looking up my destination on google maps because, after many 1.5-2 hr trips to Cajolá, I discovered that it is only 10 miles away from Xela, where I live. But between the lack of bus schedule, indirect bus routes, traffic, and constant stops whenever and wherever a passenger would like to get off or on (which can be very convenient), it takes two hours. 

My investigations here have definitely morphed over time, mainly based on the availability of programmers. I initially planned to work at primarily one station: La X Musical. And though I have definitely spent the most time there, unpredictable schedules and a last minute changes that seem to pervade all plans here, led me in the direction of visiting other stations to make the best use of my time. So I went to visit Radio Celajes.

Tacaná is located in the northwest of Guatemala near the Mexican border in the district of San Marcos. It has a population of 90,000 people, 45,000 of which are said to listen to Radio Celajes. I met with Lino, the man who founded the station 10 years ago, constructing a radio booth in the basement of his home and recruiting programmers to participate in the project. I was impressed by various distinctive qualities of the station:

  • Community service: Just last week the radio took four children with deformities to Guatemala City to undergo surgery through the Fundación Pediatrica Guatemalteca, a foundation whose campaigns Radio Celajes promotes in their programming. The journey to Guatemala city for the four children and their families was enabled by funds they collected through the radio and the families came to the station in response to radio announcements about this opportunity. Their collaboration with larger, more powerful organizations that they endorse is something that enhances their outreach and impact, linking the community of Tacaná to a broader network of community service.
  • Internet: In order to reach many of their community members who have gone to work in the United States, Celajes broadcasts their programs via the web. Through their site, many Guatemalans living in the United States send saludos to their town and small updates that the programmers read aloud on air. Though this doesn't sound extremely advanced, this is one of the few stations I've encountered who have enough funds and technology support to execute such a project.
  • Professionals: The point of community radio is that anyone can participate. It's programming for the community by the community. But based on my observations, sometimes that means that programming lacks educational content, thus making shows that discuss for example, the protection of the environment, have a preaching quality without research to support claims. The importance of doing research as educators of the radio is something that leader of the community radio movement, Tino, emphasized at the community radio workshop. But many stations have yet to achieve this. Radio Celajes, however, seemed to be an exception, it's few locutores being educated "professionals." The director of the Radio, Adolfo Rene de Leon Maldonado, is a school teacher in addition to his volunteering at the radio. So when we discussed the ways in which programming seeks to preserve Mayan Maam culture, language, and customs, (included in the video I posted) he was very specific about the objectives and content, which was refreshing to hear after the many vague answers I have encountered. When I told Tino I was going to visit Radio Celajes he explained that the programmers, though there are only five of them, are notably educated, exemplifying "quality not quantity." I now understand exactly what he meant. 
  • Help in crisis: One of the stories that both Lino and other programmers recounted various times was the mudslide that occurred in Tacaná in 2005, killing 54 people as a result of Hurricane Stan. During the 8 days without electricity, all the radios stations, including the commercial ones, shut down except for Radio Celajes. This catastrophe brought the community together, where listeners donated generators and other equipment to keep the radio on air 24/7 during the crisis. A true community effort. Lino took us to the site where the mudslide occurred, explaining the painful but necessary service that the radio offered as people came to the station to describe bodies found or announce missing persons. During this time, news journalists from various organizations including The New York Times visited the radio as it continued to broadcast news and information for their people. 

I've posted a short compilation video of my interview with the director. My interview with Lino, the founder, was also very interesting but I can only get through so many interview notes and translations at a time! 

Tomorrow I'm off to Antigua for the weekend, where I worked last summer. I will be visiting Radio Ixchel, a station an hour outside of Antigua that is in a Mayan Kaqchikel region. My station contact there is Rigoberta, who I met at one of the community radio workshops last month. Most of the people I have interviewed are men because there are more men in leadership roles of the stations. (The stations are progressive and encourage female participation, but nonetheless exist in very traditional communities, so most women tend to house and family duties.) I'm excited to speak to an influential female programmer who seems to have a very strong presence and leadership in the general community radio movement. Radio Ixchel was also shut down by authorities at one point, so I will be interested to hear their perspective on legalization, since the radios I've interviewed thus far have been lucky enough not to be raided (though they all operate under the fear that it could happen any day). Posts on that visit to come!