Aceh, Indonesia: Community Outreach Program

Approximately one year after the 2004 tsunami decimated Aceh province in Indonesia, it was decided that more needed to be done when it comes to communicating with those that were falling through the gaps. Thus, the Community Outreach Program (COP) was launched. The overall goal of the COP was to empower people affected by the tsunami to act on their own behalf. In order to achieve this goal it was clear that the program had to reach even the poorest of the poor communities. This was by no means a simple task, how can one communicate with beneficiaries that lack even the most simple communication tools. At the core of the COP was the CAU, the Community Advocacy Unit. The CAU managed an SMS gateway along with face to face interventions that provided the initial basis of engagement with the community. The SMS system allowed community members to voice their needs. From the information received from the SMS system the COP team members were able to analyze what some of the main gaps were in the rehabilitation and reconstruction process and work as advocates on behalf and with community members to try and deal with the issues. The CAU and COP team carried out training and FGD to build the capacity of communities to be able to interact with the many NGOs operating in the area and providing resources. 

  1. Newspapers: Over 60,000 newspapers were distributed on a monthly basis to beneficiaries in Aceh province. Using low-tech traditional communication channels is sometimes one of the most efficient, and only, way to communicate with individuals, especially when it comes to reaching poor communities that lack electricity. The biggest drawback with newspaper communication is that is can be difficult to address the exact issues that people are interested in. The time it takes to write, publish, and distribute a newspaper greatly affects the relevance of the information, not to mention, two-way communication is almost non-existent. Nevertheless, in Aceh province Newspaper communication was one of the most important tools when attempting to communicate with poor communities.
  2. Radio: A radio program was set up in 2008 that provided 24 hour broadcasting of important information. Radio penetration is fairly high in Aceh so it was a viable option during this program. Radio allows for more two-way communication, which is essential for beneficiary communication. People could call in and report information directly to the masses live through the radio. This helped insure that information was relevant and up-to-date. Radio in Aceh only had one real drawback, that people without electricity could not use it.
  3. Television: A television section of COP was developed in April 2009. The weekly show provided viewers with information based on the reconstruction and rehabilitation phase of the current tsunami operations. This TV show reached around 90% of all Acehnese homes. Television once again, does not penetrate into the poorest of poor communities living in Aceh. Although, in many cases local coffee shops and restaurants became the central access points for these electronic mediums.

In Aceh, it was clearly not viable to use modern communication channels such as social media like Facebook and Twitter. The goal was to reach as many people as possible by utilizing a mix of communication tools including face to face and traditional media channels like newspaper, radio, and television. In Aceh it was cost effective to use Radio and TV and broadcast ‘live’ as opposed to pre-recorded methods. This allowed direct feedback from the audiences and live feedback from viewers and listeners by people calling pre-established phone numbers.

The COP team attempted to fill all of the gaps by different forms of media. In an attempt to always remain as relevant as possible, any feedback was recorded and logged into a database, which could then be used for the next newspaper, radio show, or television broadcast.

The Aceh case study shows the need to understand access to different communication mediums by communities as well as the need to use a mix of communication channels to reach the widest audience. It also highlighted that as much as people need information and that organizations need to engage with communities, there needs to be a measurable outcome from the engagement.

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