, 09 May, 2020 / 2:53 AM
As organizations continue adjusting to cope with COVID-19-related restrictions, the regional coordinator of Radio Maria Africa, a network of Catholic radios across Africa, has shared with ACI Africa about the impact of the pandemic on the stations and how they are coping.
Radio Maria Africa runs radio stations in 25 countries on the continent. Named after the Blessed Virgin Mary, the radio stations function through the generosity of volunteers and depend on donations from Christians.
“Each Radio Maria in Africa has been affected like any other organization, company and institution in the world by COVID-19. The biggest change is in the presence of volunteers. The lockdown and the risk of contagion do not allow them to go to the radio to present their usual programs,” Coordinator of Radio Maria Africa, Paolo Taffuri told ACI Africa in an interview Thursday, May 7.
He added in reference to the inability of volunteers to report to their respective radio stations, “This affected the organization of the editorial work of each radio; but until now it has been managed quite well, ensuring the dissemination of programs realized by the staff of the radio or by volunteers at home linked through the internet or phone to the studio.”
In some countries where the lockdown is stricter, Mr. Taffuri said that the leadership of the stations had to re-organize their way of working.
For instance, he said, most of the administrative personnel are working from home, while the editorial personnel has to remain in the radio, “in some cases living within the premises of the radio, in order to assure the dissemination of programs.”
On financial support from Christians, the Tanzania-based Radio Maria Africa Coordinator told ACI Africa, “Donations have decreased, as many listeners of Radio Maria are from low income families, which are those among the most affected by the lockdown.”
“Definitely the radios are suffering from a decrease in donations. However, it is still too early to make a clear analysis at a continental level,” Mr. Taffuri said and added, “We forecast to see the financial effect during May and June.”
Due to the impact of COVID-19 in some European countries such as Italy and Spain “where some of the biggest Radio Maria are,” the Italian official said that the World Family of Radio Maria (WFRM), the global entity that runs all Radio Maria stations across the world, is forecasting a reduced financial capacity this year.
To cope with the situation, the official revealed to that “around June, there will be a revision of the budget and we will see how we can better help radios with heavy financial problems.”
Annually in the month of May, each of the stations run a campaign dubbed “Mariathon” to raise funds to support their respective radio ministry. According to the Coordinator, several stations decided to postpone the funds drive to October, as the month of May “is still under the crisis time.”
Other Radio Maria stations such as in Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are running their “Mariathon” now, with others like Radio Maria Malawi expected to start the funds drive soon, Mr. Taffuri shared.
With public Masses suspended in many African countries to control the possible spread of COVID-19, the Radio Maria official told ACI Africa that all the radios have increased the number of daily Masses celebrated in the Chapel of Radio Maria and broadcast live.
In some areas where Radio Maria is the only Catholic media through which the faithful can follow the Liturgy, the local Church leaders have directed the faithful to participate in the celebrations via radio, Mr. Taffuri shared.
“One example comes from Mozambique, where the Archbishop of Maputo, Most. Rev Francisco Chimoio presided over most of the Easter celebrations in the chapel of the radio or in the Cathedral,” he noted.
COVID-19 has also affected the expansion of the radio network across Africa, the Coordinator noted, with the main impediment being the inability of technicians to travel as many international flights are suspended and the lockdowns would not permit them to work.
On the lessons learnt from COVID-19 crisis so far, Mr. Taffuri who has served as Radio Maria Africa Coordinator since 2010 told ACI Africa that those facilitating the running of the radios have realized the need to invest in developing digital systems of donating and educating listeners to use them.
“In some countries where Mobile Money is not yet common among the population, radios are suffering more than in others,” the multi-lingual official said and noted, “The world is reducing the use of cash and increasing the digital transfers; any non-profit organization including Radio Maria has to adjust.”
He added, “We had already put in place several channels of donations (online donations, through credit/debit cards, through online banking) during this time we have the opportunity to convince people to use them more than before.”
Appealing to Christians to continue supporting the stations even during the pandemic, the Tanzania-based official cautioned, “If the Catholics don’t invest in good communication, we risk to remain hostages of the big powers behind the big names in the media.”
“If we invest in Catholic media we can have a voice to the public in general, but also and most importantly we can keep on transmitting the faith and the Good News,” he said and advised, “Every Christian needs to nourish his/her own faith every day by praying and listening to the Word of God.”
Amid the turbulence brought about by COVID-19, Mr. Taffuri expressed optimism that Radio Maria stations in various African countries will thrive saying, “Let’s not forget that this is a project of Our Lady; she surprised us many times; she could do it even now. We are hopeful.”
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ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.
Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa