Emory Report
April 13, 2009
Volume 61, Number 27


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April 13
, 2009
Refugee radio expands its reach

By Kirsten Tagami

Growing up in Negele, Ethiopia, Hussien Mohamed often could be found with one ear glued to a radio. It was — and still is — the way many Africans received news and other important information.
“I learned English from the radio,” says Mohamed. “There was a booklet you read while you listened to the course.”

So when Mohamed was thinking about how to inform and connect Atlanta’s growing African immigrant community, naturally he thought of radio.

In 1998, Mohamed founded Sagal Radio Services, which broadcasts news and educational programs each week in Somali, Amharic, Afaan Oromo, Swahili and English. The programs air live on Saturdays and Sundays from WATB-AM, a small, 1,000-watt station in the east DeKalb area of Scottdale.
Mohamed says the nonprofit radio service reaches many of metro Atlanta’s 40,000 East African refugees, who tend to live nearby. About 5,000 more listeners tune in via the Internet.

Sagal Radio joined forces with Emory’s Office of University-Community Partnerships in 2003, when OUCP’s undergraduate Community Building Fellows helped Sagal Radio obtain nonprofit status.
The partnership grew and in 2007 OUCP and Sagal Radio created Health Education via Airwaves for Refugees with a three-year grant from the Benton and Robert Wood Johnson Foundations. Mohamed now is Emory’s program coordinator for HEARMe as well as director of Sagal Radio.

Later this spring, Sagal Radio will have a new recording studio, says Sam Marie Engle, OUCP senior associate director. The station will be able to do sound-mixing and pre-recording for the first time, and will produce short spots for its new FM partner, WFRG-Radio Free Georgia.

WRFG, a 100,000-watt community station at 89.3, will air the 5-6 minute spots and will train the Sagal volunteers in the use of their new equipment. Sagal Radio hopes the relationship will grow to include more airtime.

The new studio is located in an office park on Memorial Drive along with about six other refugee organizations, and is convenient to public transportation — an important consideration for many of the refugee volunteers.

With help from volunteers in the Emory community, especially the schools of nursing and public health and the journalism program, Sagal Radio broadcasts a wide range of programs about health, safety, job openings and basic information about navigating life in the U.S.

What, for example, should one do if pulled over by a police officer?

“In some African countries, if a police officer stops you, he’s looking for a bribe,” Mohamed explains. “We tell them, ‘stay in your car, don’t offer money and don’t argue. You will have the chance to give your side in court.’”

The station uses humor and storytelling to broach controversial health topics such as family planning. One health show — called “double double” after the way Somalis like their coffee (sweet, with lots of milk) — addresses a tendency of newly arrived refugees to overeat and not exercise, sometimes leading to diabetes, says Mohamed.

Erin Single, an Emory College sophomore and a board member of Sagal Radio, helped create a new Web site for the station and wrote articles on a variety of topics during an internship last summer.

Single learned about the station through the journalism program. “Before that, I wasn’t aware of the large refugee community in Atlanta, just down the road from Emory,” she says.

Single, who plans to major in business and global health, says she realized during the internship what an important service the station provides.

“One of the articles I wrote was on home safety, and I compiled a list of emergency numbers to call. That’s when it hit me,” she says, that through Sagal Radio “you have the potential to save a life.”