When we started thinking about the Raspberry Pi project back in 2009, our ambitions were small, and very focussed on local education.
We realised we were doing something bigger than that pretty rapidly, but all the same, some of the projects we come across leave us shocked at their scale, their gravity and their importance. This is one of them.
In Syria, a German group called Media in Cooperation and Transition (MiCT) has been equipping towns with transmitters called PocketFM, built around Raspberry Pis, to provide Syrians with independent radio. Each transmitter has 4 to 6km (2.5 to 3.75 miles) of range, which is sufficient to reach a whole town.
In many parts of Syria, it’s impossible and politically unwise to build large transmitters, so a small device like PocketFM that can be easily concealed and transported, and that can be run off solar power or a car battery, is ideal.
A group of around a dozen independent Syrian radio stations has come together to form a group called Syrnet, who work together on programmes and topics and produce a joint station to be broadcast via the PocketFM transmitters; MiCT deal with the mix, distribution and transmission. “The variety of voices in a broadcast effectively illustrates Syria’s state of mind,” says one of the broadcasters. Using PocketFM, Syrnet is reaching 1.5 million citizens in north and north-western Syria, including Homs and Aleppo; they are currently making efforts to widen the network to more regions.
The project is about enabling freedom of expression; it also strengthens feelings of solidarity. “We are not for anyone, or against anyone. No one can escape our criticism, even ourselves.”
Between them, the participating stations have access to hundreds of reporters. As well as news, music and entertainment, they’re broadcasting vital information on security, health and nutrition. “One of our strongest programmes is called Alternatives. It describes how to keep warm without any fuel, or how to pick up the internet signal of neighbouring countries when the Syrian internet is down. The difficulties of life – and how to overcome them.”
In a warzone, radio can be one of the easiest ways to get information. If the power grid is down, you just need batteries.
“We lost one device in Kobane”, says Philipp Hochleichter from MiCT, who is the project’s technical lead. “But due to the bombing – not due to a malfunction.”
“At the moment our journalists are safe with the opposition, but it’s still a war zone with gunfire and shelling,” said Marwa, a journalist with Hara FM, one of the Syrnet stations, based in Turkey.
“I worry about our staff in Aleppo, but no journalist can be 100% safe anywhere in the world.
“For any journalist, telling the truth puts them in danger.”
These bold people are doing something extraordinary. We send them all our very best wishes, and our hopes for a swift end to the conflict.