Radio Free Nepal

An S.F. organization is providing radios and radio programming that just may save lives a world away

"We are not an advocacy organization. We are focused on doing the best work we can do despite those political things that are going on," Michael Bosse says.

While a lot of USAID dollars do fund Equal Access programs, much of that money comes by way of multilateral organizations, like the United Nations. The loyalty oath does not affect U.N. funds because the U.N. is an international organization that does not have to abide by U.S. policy.

Money that comes to Equal Access directly from USAID or from other U.S. organizations is used for non-HIV-related programming.

One such program is Desh Pardesh, or Home and Abroad, which focuses on Nepali men who are forced to seek work outside of Nepal. The program is funded by Family Health International as part of its safe migration initiative in Nepal. But the $90,000 that has gone to run Equal Access' production, outreach, and other efforts has all come from USAID-sourced funds.

FHI's own anti-prostitution requirement did minimally affect Equal Access' work on Desh Pardesh when the organization was asked to rephrase and carefully maneuver around the issue of Nepali migrant workers visiting brothels while working abroad in India in a recent episode.

Other Equal Access radio shows that do focus on HIV/AIDS are also indirectly funded by USAID. According to Bosse, the popular teen chat show is funded by UNICEF, which uses USAID money.

Equal Access is walking a fine, but important, line.

"We do talk about prostitution and sex work, and we do that in programs where the U.S. government is involved in some way," Bosse says, referring to U.S. money that goes to Equal Access programs via other organizations.

Equal Access goes so far as to employ former sex workers as reporters for some of its programs, which Bosse says is not prohibited because Equal Access does not take any money directly from the U.S. government that is specifically targeted for HIV or reproductive health issues.

"We have sex workers, who are bright young women, participate in our programs as reporters, knowing that we are able to pay them some money and that they will be able to stop doing sex work at least temporarily. And for some that is a path out of sex work," Bosse says. "And no one at the USAID office in Nepal is knocking on our door."

But all of the political bickering over prostitution and funding is only a distraction. The fact remains that Nepal's AIDS epidemic is fast reaching a point of no return.

Faced with the realization that the AIDS epidemic will only continue to worsen as long as Nepal is in the midst of an increasingly brutal civil war, Equal Access has decided its next step will be to create a peace-building radio program.

It will aim to inform Nepalis about what is going on in their own country -- much of the reporting about the conflict has only been in foreign newspapers -- as well as about other grass-roots movements in history like the U.S. civil rights movement and Gandhi's nonviolent efforts.

The peace-building program comes at a time when NGOs throughout Nepal have recognized that civil war has paralyzed the government and in the country's current state it is unlikely that Nepalis will ever have access to enough information or better care. But Bosse says Equal Access is committed to Nepal for the long term. He and Goldfarb are hopeful that their apolitical approach to information will continue to give Nepalis new tools to carve out better ways of life.

"If they can begin to claim their own human dignity and understand that they have choices, that's what it is all about," Goldfarb says.

Cristi Hegranes was a reporter in Nepal in 2004.

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