Postcard from Barranquilla, Colombia | Media Development | DW | 26.06.2013
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Media Development

Postcard from Barranquilla, Colombia

Ramón García-Ziemsen is coaching local radio stations and learning more about the art of patience.

Ramón García-Ziemsen ist Journalist, Trainer der DW Akademie und seit 2011 als integrierte Fachkraft an der Universidad del Norte in Baranquilla, Kolumbien, tätig. Zudem berät er das kolumbianische Lokalmedienprojekt für die DW Akademie. Datum 5.2013 Foto: Diana Jaramillo / DW Akademie

Ramon García-Ziemsen with students

One evening a while back Vokaribe's radio mast fell over. It's 32 meters high. You could call it a setback, given that it had just been installed and we had just started working on the community radio's pilot programs. But thankfully nobody got hurt. The mast fell onto a fairly stable roof, and the manufacturer said it would cover all the costs.


We don't usually start postcards with tales of disaster. Instead we write about the great weather, the great food, and the fact that our better half is less irritating than usual. Which of course isn't always true.

But the Costeños, the people who live here on the Colombian Caribbean coast, see setbacks, minor and major catastrophes as part of "the process". Walter's reaction – he's the station director but doesn't like to be called that – was, "OK, then it'll all take a bit longer now."

I've got a lot to learn.

I live in Barranquilla, which is a bit like Cologne, the German city I come from: ugly but both celebrate Carnival. I feel at home here. People are nice, even if they never answer my emails. That's because they're all on Facebook. But they never respond there either because they all have about 2,000 friends.

My office is at the chic, private Universidad del Norte. The office measures about four square meters - enough space for the 15 students who want to discuss their marks again. Marks are everything. Still, it's fun: apart from the lectures and seminars I'm free to pursue other areas, such as DW Akademie's local media project in northern Colombia. We're working with radios comunitarios in Cartagena, Santa Marta, Riohacha and the one here in Barranquilla. These stations aim to be critical and independent and at the same time produce good and creative journalism.

And Walter - who in his other life is the lead singer for the cool and famous Sistema Solar band - has another fitting comment. "We might be poor, but a poor radio station doesn't have to sound poor."

And no doubt the station's mast will soon been upright again. It'll take longer than planned, but Walter is relaxed. It's the same with elephants, he says. "They might be slow but they always get to where they’re going."

Ramón García-Ziemsen has long worked as a journalist for Deutsche Welle, initially as a freelancer and since 2007 as a full-timer. He previously headed DW's German arts desk in Bonn and intermittently worked as a trainer for DW Akademie projects primarily in Latin America. He has been an "integrated expert" at the Universidad del Norte in Baranquilla, Colombia since 2011. Germany's Centre for International Migration and Development (CIM) sends "integrated experts" – engineers, doctors, teachers and other professionals – all over the world. García-Ziemsen is currently teaching journalism at DW Akademie’s long-term partner Universidad del Norte and helping develop new curricula as well as the university’s arts-based radio. He is also an advisor for DW Akademie's local media project in Colombia.