Melvin Menjivar prepares to go on air at Radio Positiva in Marianella Garcia Villa, El Salvador. Photo by Sr. Evanne Hunter

The positives of radio

  • June 27, 2015

In a nation where violence is no stranger to its youth, a group of Salvadoran teenagers stand as a hope for their country’s future.

These ambitious teens run Radio Positiva, the lifeblood of a small hamlet in El Salvador called Marianella Garcia Villa, in the municipality of Suchitoto. Supported by the Loretto Sisters, the radio station is run from a small room in the town’s community centre with a few microphones and a sound system connected to speakers perched in trees and on posts throughout the community.

Several times a week, a small team of youth take a 20-minute bus ride to the main town of Suchitoto to access the Internet for their research before heading back to the community where they prepare daily broadcasts heard by the 200 townsfolk.

Every day, the team broadcasts local news, town meetings and educational programs. They also play El Salvadoran music to promote their own culture, instead of the American media that has become more prominent in their society.

The Loretto Sisters’ Canadian province has supported the radio station for five years through a town twinning program run by SalvAide. SalvAide is a Canadian not-for-profit organization based in Ottawa that acts as liaison for North American groups and local organizations in El Salvador to build social and economic development in the country.

René Guerra Salazar, SalvAide executive director, said youth empowerment is essential to building a future for these smaller rural communities.

“El Salvador is one of the most violent countries outside of a war zone in the world,” said Salazar. “And unfortunately, the vast majority of that violence is affecting young people under 30. It’s youth violence towards other youth.”

Salazar said this violence epidemic has a lot to do with the lack of quality education and job opportunities for youth. He said the solution lies in building initiatives to create better youth leaders to help them stay in the country and in their own communities. For Marianella Garcia Villa, the radio station is the solution.

Sr. Evanne Hunter, the Lorettos provincial superior, travelled with a SalvAide delegation to El Salvador last month to celebrate the beatification of Archbishop Oscar Romero. The delegation also stopped by Marianella Garcia Villa for a few days. During their stay, the youth read excerpts of Romero’s homilies over the radio every afternoon. They played songs about him and even broadcast a prayer vigil on the night of the beatification.

“(Romero’s) homilies were broadcast by radio across the country. That’s how he communicated with the people,” said Hunter.

“They’re modelling themselves after him. That’s their inspiration.”

Melvin Menjivar is a young man who leads a team of 10 youth running Radio Positiva. He welcomed Hunter with a presentation about the work they have been doing to grow the radio station in the past five years.

“They’re really interested in environmental stuff now because water is a big problem in El Salvador. The other big thing that’s happening in El Salvador is mining... They did a lot of stuff about the elections that they just had recently,” said Hunter.

During his presentation, Menjivar asked the Sisters for their support in three youth projects that they would like to work on. A long-term project they would like to continue at Radio Positiva is to create more educational radio programs to teach the community about important issues, such as encouraging the children of the town to go to school, educating people about their drinking water and staying informed with teir local politics.

This year, the youth would also like to have the nearby soccer field restored and expand the youth community they have created through the local soccer league.

Most importantly, Menjivar asked for more scholarship support to send youth to the leadership program in Suchitoto.

“He talked about how important it is to the community, in a sense that it’s giving them something to do and staying in the community instead of joining gangs,” said Hunter. “He says it’s teaching them to be responsible and how to organize, so it’s really valuable.”

Radio Positiva broadcasts regularly throughout the day. Because it’s a small community, radio hosts celebrate birthdays, holidays and all important events. They also broadcast special occasions, such as the Loretto Sisters’ visits. People gathered in the community centre where the guests of honour were welcomed for a special broadcast.

“They announced all our names and where we came from and people came running to see us, to welcome us and say thank you,” said Hunter.

Hunter said the community leaders of the town are very proud of the work the youth have done with the station.

“The interesting thing this time was that (the community leaders) would be the ones meeting with us (in the past), but they let the youth do it all this time. They wanted to focus on their youth,” she said.

Hunter said she has seen the town grow for two generations now and is encouraged by the positive change the twinning program has had in the lives of the people. It is important for her and the Loretto Sisters to stay connected with the town because it is in this long-term relationship that both communities have found valuable growth.

“There were 18 twinnings (around the area) during the early years, but a lot of them stopped once the civil war ended,” said Hunter. “A lot of the twins then stopped helping... they feel there’s a need somewhere else and we won’t do that. In our experience, if you stay connected and stay involved, you can have a long-term impact.”

The Loretto Sisters have been twinning with Marianella Garcia Villa, formerly known as La Bermuda, since 1988. Every October the Lorettos organize a brunch and Mass at Loretto Abbey in Toronto that raises between $7,000 to $10,000 to send to the town. And every year, a group of the Sisters travel down to the community with donations and most importantly, the gift of friendship.

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