"Did you hear about the milk protests?" asks Jaqueline. My colleagues and I are sitting on the terrace outside our office, as we do every morning, for a mid-morning coffee and to talk about the issues of the day. I listen carefully to the conversation flowing back and forth, and now and again ask a question which my colleagues answer patiently and with good humor. My Spanish isn't yet good enough for me to catch every word, every joke or innuendo, but it's good enough to get the gist of the conversation. I'm learning something new everyday - not just in terms of vocabulary, but in terms of culture, local politics and the world of community radio.
A mouthpiece for indigenous communities
I've been working with CEPRA, the Centre for Education and Radio Production, since mid-March. It's the perfect place to learn about issues affecting people in the region around Cochabamba, Bolivia's fourth largest city. CEPRA's role is twofold - as an alternative provider of training and education, and as a radio station. The organization is "alternative" in the sense that since being established in 1981, it has campaigned on behalf of those who until now have had no say in their country: the indigenous peoples of Bolivia.
Saskia is CEPRA's first kulturweit-volunteer
The CEPRA team organizes workshops for aspiring broadcasters with the help of radio professionals from the region, and also produces news programs, features and radio plays. Programs are tailored to reach target audiences and are produced not only in Spanish, but also in the indigenous languages Quechua, Aymara und Guaraní. The goal is to play an active role in the democratization of the country's media and communications sector, which is still largely dominated by political and economic interests, and which shows little interest in issues affecting grassroots communities, particularly those in outlying regions.
CEPRA wants to act as a bridge - it wants to help citizens understand political and legislative decisions. This is where the Radio CEPRA journalists take up the slack. Three colleagues and I are currently working on a new project aimed at a particularly disadvantaged group in society: women. The CEPRA team wants to develop new program formats that encourage audiences to tackle issues such as machismo, the institutionalized discrimination against women in education, healthcare and employment, and the dominance of stereotypical role models.
Empowering women: looking for new program formats
An initial team meeting in the office shows, not surprisingly, that the gender debate is an emotionally fraught and highly sensitive one. Three women and a man are at the meeting, and we all have our own ideas of womanhood and have different stories to tell. We come from different regions - or even countries - and have been influenced by the attitudes and ideals that we've grown up with.
Lots of input: Saskia gets to work as a radio producer
We ask ourselves where discrimination begins, what constitutes violence, and whether discrimination in the media and everyday speech constitute violence, and they do, whether they are on par with actual physical violence. Do we have statistics to support our hypotheses, we ask ourselves. Which issues are the most important, which formats seem most suited, and who do we want to reach? And where, as a team, do we start? There are so many questions that need to be answered.
Different worldviews collide in the fascinating, ensuing debate and once again I realize that I come from the other side of the globe. In moments like these I begin to recognize - and above all, respect - how different realities can be. Late that evening, with the sun dipping down behind the mountains and the bus driving on in a cloud of dust, I head for my room in a suburb of Cochabamba and take with me the many voices of new-found friends and colleagues, the echoes of stories on the radio and sounds from the streets. I welcome experiences like these, and the different perspectives they offer.
"kulturwelt" is a program that gives young Germans the opportunity to spend up to 12 months doing voluntary service overseas in the fields of culture or education. It is run by the German UNESCO Commission in cooperation with Germany's Federal Foreign Office, and is a partner of DW Akademie.