In Sierra Leone, Radio Is Their Only Hope

It may be hard to imagine a world without tweets, texts, or television. But in a forgotten corner of west Africa, nearly six million people in Sierra Leone rely on radio broadcasts for basic information. Let Us Talk, a documentary produced and directed by John Lavall, documents the struggles that station owners and journalists face to stay on the air. Winner of the Cultural Spirit Award at the New Hope Film Festival (July 6 - July 15), Let Us Talk takes a hard, visceral look at a country that is still trying to recover from a ten-year civil war that left 50,000 people dead and thousands more maimed.

One of the poorest nations in the world, Sierra Leone has an annual per capita income of $900. More than a decade after the civil war ended in 2001, each new dawn brings yet another grueling episode of hardship and survival. According to the CIA Factbook, "physical and social infrastructure has yet to recover from the civil war, and serious social disorders continue to hamper economic development."

During the war, Sierra Leone was one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a journalist, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Nowadays journalists do not face the same level of danger, but their work is hampered by lack of resources and bureaucracy. Tasked with responsibilities that range from reporting on new construction, as well as the location and time of relief services that bring food, water, and medical help, independent radio serves as a lifeline to both urban and remote communities that have no other way of finding out where to go and what places to avoid. Scrawled on a dirty brick wall, a slogan sums up their mission: Giving voice to the voiceless.

Let Us Talk
is a brave little film that bears witness to the resilience of the country's independent radio journalists. Without money for spare parts for equipment and the generator, reporters by necessity wear a number of hats. As the camera zooms in to reveal an archaic bunch of vacuum tubes and copper wiring, an employee of Radio Moa uses duct tape to patch up the gear so that his station can get back on the air.

This is a documentary that pulls no punches; in so doing, it serves the viewer an indelible montage of heart-wrenching images. Young amputees play soccer in the sand, lurching around the field on crutches. In the background, we hear the story of a man whose hand was amputated during the civil war. He blacked out and when he came back to consciousness, he found himself lying next to the man who chopped off his hand. The man explains that he was angry at first, but he is not angry any more. After all, he says, "Hating will not bring back my hand."

Andrew Kromah, a journalist and owner of the independent radio network that broadcasts in Freetown, Sierra Leone, was himself beaten and his station attacked several times during the civil war. He continues to fight through financial and bureaucratic minefields to stay on the air. Not only does radio provide his listeners with necessary information, it meets another important need. He says, "Radio is the only source of hope."