A typical Wayanad morning is clad in a cool fog blanket. On my last two visits to the hill region, I had needed to wear a sweater and drape a blanket. However, during my most recent visit, I encountered unusually high temperatures.

I was there to meet the people behind Mattoli, a community radio station that has had a huge impact on the lives of Wayanad residents. We set out early in the morning to map how a community radio station that covers only a 15-km radius has so deeply inspired the lives of the people.

Community Radio Mattoli Poster

Christian priest Father Jais Chettissery, a former program director of Radio Mattoli, told us that the radio's aim is to serve the local community, and that is why they have only a 15 kilometers radio spectrum. The community radio focuses on serving the farmer's community, tribal communities, Dalit women, and children.

Father Bijo Thomas is the current director of Radio Mattoli. "The community radio was instituted in 2009 with the aim of providing information to aid the development of the most marginalised communities," he said.

Today, it provides a platform for people to express themselves freely. Mattoli radio has been recognized by UNICEF (the United Nations Children's Fund) for its charitable efforts. “Reshma is one of our beloved listeners. She suffered violence in her home. Eventually, she decided to take her life, but Radio Mattoli inspired her to fight back for her life” says Father Bijo as he shows the letter of gratitude she had sent to Radio Mattoli.

The letter full of gratitude

We met people whose lives have been rejuvenated after Radio Mattoli became an integral part of it.

Ashwathi Murali is a 22-year-old radio jockey working at Radio Mattoli

Ashwathi Murali has been honoured with the health care warrior award by the Union government for her efforts during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

She belongs to the Paniya community, one of the most marginalised tribal communities in Kerala. The Paniya community has its own language. With the help of the Google Translate App, she translated the COVID guidelines into Malayalam and then into the Paniya language.

In the program "Karuthal," she would explain these guidelines to the tribal community in their own language. This aided the vaccination drive in tribal hamlets across Wayanad. She is now a recognised figure and her hard work paid off.

Ashwathi shows the trophy she was honoured with

She has a trophy but Ashwathi Murali’s struggle against caste and feudalism has a long way to go. Her community is still caught in the grip of inequality and injustice. “I am happy with the kind of appreciation that I am receiving from the people. However, the discrimination against our community is continuing. Sometimes I feel hopeless that nothing will change for our community,” Ashwathi told The Citizen.

We also met Nimisha Chechi (her sister). She runs a small stationery shop. She lost her vision in 2012 after undergoing surgery to remove a tumour from her eye gland. She faced domestic violence and lost her eyesight completely, but that never took away her strength to dream for her life. Her friend gifted her a small radio in 2017. According to Mattoli, she has been an avid radio listener since then.

Nimisha is inspired by Radio Mattol

“I cried all day. It was very difficult to bear the pain. I still remember those days when I woke up at night and tried to find the switch to turn on the light. It took me months to realise that I had lost my sight completely. I was alone, but after the radio came into my life, I found meaning in my life. As of now, I have written seven books and am working on the eighth one,” said Nimisha tuning the radio channel.

The radio has influenced and inspired her to move forward in life. The radio functions as a ‘bridge’ for her to transition from darkness to light. “I am not dreaming of that day when I can see my son, but I feel a ray of hope,” she said.

Basheer Karokoni has been bedridden since his 30s

We visited Basheer Karkonam. He runs a small Kirana store. He was bedridden in his early 30s due to the various alignments. He said, “I was bedridden for four years. I was physically weak, but it was the mental trauma that was more painful. I believe somehow we can all adjust to physical pain, but mental trauma is impossible to cope with.

“Radio helped me fight against the loneliness that I had been facing for the last four years. It helps me imagine a world in which I have never been.”

After his recovery, Basheer began to distribute radios to people who were going through physical and mental pain due to various health issues. “These radios helped people who were bedridden. A radio gives a ray of hope,” he said.

We stepped into Samira's house after meeting Basheer. She is an aspiring entrepreneur. People know her as Meera. However, she was shattered when her dream to become a government officer ended, “I've wanted to be a self-sufficient woman since I was 19 years old. I thought working for the government would provide stability. However, I could not make it. But the responsibility of being a homemaker did not stop me from dreaming big. Now, Radio Mattoli has inspired me to pursue entrepreneurship. It's hard, but I will not lose hope.”

The four corners of her home wouldn't restrict Meera from chasing her dream. The radio is a friend who will be a companion to her on her long journey.

Traveling across Wayanad we met Sukumaran, a barber.

The 65-year-old Sukumaran runs a saloon. The specialty of his shop is that radio Mattoli will always be on. “My own have taunted me because I am an avid radio listener in the age of social media,” he said, adding “today I know what was happening around the world. I feel more contemporary, and I can feel the warmth of modernity, all thanks to Radio Mattoli”. His state of mind has not been limited to the corners of the Wayand district alone.

Alli, is a 70-year-old cancer survivor, she says her radio helped her recover

We also met Alli, a 70-year-old cancer survivor. She beat cancer at the age of 65. She was able to find peace and a smile at Radio Mattoli. "It was so calm, that the days flew by. Radio Mattoli helps me forget my pain. Although I would not completely rely on the radio, it does provide me with a lot of relief, and I can manage without it,” she said.

The constant companion