NAIROBI, KENYA —
Mtaani Radio has become the voice of Nairobi's Dagoretti area since its founding three years ago. The station serves the community, making announcements about lost children, calling out pickpockets and lobbying politicians to keep to their promises.
Mtaani is Swahili slang for "our ghetto." The 100-watt station broadcasts both in Swahili and Sheng, a dialect favored by local youths. It reaches an estimated 5,000 listeners.
Kelvin Nyangweso grew up in this deprived area of Nairobi and developed the station as an initiative to inspire and empower young people – the majority of its listeners, he said.
"We felt like there were a lot of issues that can be highlighted and the message can reach to more people, because Dagorreti itself has a population of 240,000," Nyangweso said. "... So can you imagine the message that's being aired on the radio can transform this person who is listening to the radio."
Nyangweso started the station using a transmitter donated by the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO. The station gets financial support mostly from well-wishers, using the money for rent and electricity. He said financial donors continue to give because they've seen positive impact on the community.
All nine Mtaani Radio journalists live in Dagoretti and donate their time.
Tebby Otieno, who has been with the radio station for three years, said she volunteers because she believes in the power of communication.
“When I am walking around and hear people talking about things they are going through and what is affecting them, that’s the topic I will come talk [about] in the studio," Otieno says. "As a journalist, I believe when I talk about it, maybe it’s an issue about insecurity here or water shortage, if I talk about it they will feel like issues affecting them are being handled."
Through her show, Otieno lobbied local politicians to build a local road and improve street lighting for better security. Two years later, there is a paved road and good lighting.
Some residents say the journalists or presenters have become their spokespeople.
One listener, Alex Opondo, said Mtaani Radio's coverage of issues such as gender-based violence and insecurity spurs improvements.
Once a problem "is reported to the Mtaani Radio, they do take action because most of the time they do not just leave the issue that way,” said Alex Opondo, an ardent listener.
Organizers say they hope the station eventually will be able to offer paid staff positions and to have the ability to reach other parts of Nairobi.