In a village square, under a tree, about 20 women of all ages sit in a rough circle around a radio CD player.

Mothers nurse infants, small children shift in their grandmothers’ laps, and toddlers and older kids shuffle around.

The women are listening to taped broadcasts of the radio programme Khirki Mehendiwali, produced to spread family healthcare messages – such as the importance of immunising or breast-feeding an infant – designed to reduce maternal and child mortality.

Shared learning

The women are members of a pre-existing self-help group that generally meets to discuss livelihood and financial issues.

The woman in charge of the group is either a community-level coordinator or a literate member of the group, who has been trained by BBC Media Action. She is paid a small fee to be a facilitator, and is responsible for mobilising her  group and the wider community to adopt health behaviours that save lives and improve maternal and child healthcare.

Once the group has listened to the programme, which is just under ten minutes long, the organiser turns off the machine and begins a discussion, perhaps starting with the question included at the end of each programme.

The listeners are encouraged to clear any doubts that may be confusing them, and express their opinion of the programme and its messages. The women, almost universally, find it helpful, and say that they will share what they’ve learned with their families.

BBC Media Action and its partners have worked to form 5,600 listeners’ groups across eight priority districts in Bihar.

Each group is given a radio CD player. Members who have not been able to listen to the live broadcast, or who wish to listen to it more than once, can hear it on CD. The women meet regularly, and each group gives itself a name, such as Ma Durga, named after a goddess symbolising female power.

The multiplier effect

Listeners’ groups are an effective way of ensuring that information and initiatives reach communities in areas that may not have access to radio or other media.

They have a multiplier effect for greater reach, across caste and economic divides. Along with direct interactions with health workers, mass media and mobile health services, they are a critical component in shaping maternal and childcare health behaviours.

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