We travelled for a day and a half to reach Ntepe – a ward in Gwanda district, south western Zimababwe. A crowd of 50 – mainly women greeted us beneath the spreading arms of a huge, but dead, tree. Around us the earth was completely parched and there was red dust in the air as the winter wind was picking up.
I was travelling, with the Permanent Secretary of the Zimbabwean Ministry of ICT and a number of our key local partners – to witness for myself the podcasting work that Practical Action is delivering there.
Podcasting is effectively a way of communicating with people who have no access to the internet, no access to mobile phones, no TV and no radio. We use it to share information with remote and vulnerable people around agricultural techniques and issues of water and water conservation.
Local knowledge workers charge their MP3 players and are given new materials through our local partners who operate from the nearest market town (Gwanda) some 70 km away. They take the new messages out to community meetings where they play them. Unlike traditional extension services – where the Ministry of Agriculture employee comes, delivers a lecture, and then goes, the podcast and MP3 is left in the community, so anyone who missed it or wants to listen again can do so.
The most effective thing about the podcasts is that they are recorded in local languages and dialects. This means that unlike many knowledge materials – they really do reach the last mile. One of the women told me that what she liked best was that she could trust the podcast – it was accurate where, she suspected the men from the Ministry did not always tell the truth!