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Group Offers Shortwave Radios to Poor Communities

Project Education Sudan

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This is the VOA Special English Technology Report.

A shortwave radio might seem like ancient technology these days. But for some people, it remains their only link to the wider world.

Ears to Our World is an organization based in the United States. It provides shortwave radios to schools and communities in some of the poorest areas of the world.

The radio is small, about the size of a book, and self-powered. Users turn a crank. Winding it for two minutes provides about forty minutes of listening time.

Ears to Our World is supported by private donations and partners including Eton, the company that makes the Eton Grundig radios.

Thomas Witherspoon started Ears to Our World in two thousand eight.

THOMAS WITHERSPOON: “Our radios are going to people who have no other source of international news and information. It’s hard for them to learn new languages and be connected to the bigger world.

"In fact, in a lot of these communities, the feedback we get is before they had their radio, most of their news and information came word of mouth, from other people. So this way they’re getting more accurate information. And teachers use this information in the classroom to enhance a student’s learning ability about the world around them.”

Ears to Our World works with local organizations to get the radios to where they are needed most. Mr. Witherspoon says the radios are now in eleven communities, most of them in Africa.

He says many of these communities are unable to get information any other way.

THOMAS WITHERSPOON: “We take our radios to parts of the world that lack access to the Internet, to a national power grid of any sort. We’re talking about places maybe in South Sudan that are very, very remote. No one in the community or the village has power in their homes."

Thomas Witherspoon says information is the most important tool to improve the lives of poor people.

THOMAS WITHERSPOON: “In this economy, information is sort of the lifeline for all of us to function and get along. Especially if you’re living in a place where you have no information, information is your way out of poverty.”

The self-powered radios are also useful in emergencies. Teachers in Haiti used them to get information after last year's earthquake.

Mr. Witherspoon says Ears to Our World has sent out about one thousand two hundred radios. More than half have gone to earthquake victims, mostly in Haiti. About five hundred have gone to individual teachers and schools.

More recently, Ears to Our World worked to bring the radios to children with vision problems in Belize.

THOMAS WITHERSPOON: "Having a radio that they can control and listen to, and search around on, it just opens a world of information to them."

And that's the VOA Special English Technology Report, written by June Simms. You can read and listen to all of our reports at You can also join us on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube at VOA Learning English. I'm Steve Ember.