ears to our world

At ETOW, we believe access to information is access to education. We provide innovative, simple and appropriate technologies to schools and communities in remote, rural and impoverished regions of our world.

ETOW: Ten years and counting!

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It’s hard to believe it’s been a decade since a school in Kibera, Kenya, took its first delivery of ETOW self-powered radios, generously supplied by our friends at the Eton Corporation. Since that day, ETOW has empowered educators, students, health workers, and communities throughout our world…for ten years and counting. We couldn’t have done it without you:  Thank you.

Sierra Leone. South Sudan. Haiti. Ghana. Mozambique. Mongolia. Chile. Belize. Uganda. Cameroon. Rwanda. Tanzania. Puerto Rico…Yes, we’ve been there, simply doing what we do and giving it our all––building the most incredible partnerships, and meeting the most extraordinary people, people who make all the effort worthwhile. We couldn’t have done it without you:  Thank you.

And while we built our mission around radio, we now include other information technologies, even developing our own safe and affordable lighting solution for regions off the power grid. Powered by the residual energy in one dead AA battery gleaned from a rubbish pile, ETOW’s super-efficient Humanalight will give a school child the light needed to read for weeks on end. And since this small flashlight can be constructed by scout troops, radio clubs, first-year engineering students, Maker groups––to name but a few––our Humanalight furthers education both before and after its little light shines on…and on. We couldn’t have done it without you:  Thank you. 

In a recent interview, I described ETOW as the tortoise in the world of charities: while we’re neither the biggest nor the fastest, we are steady, we are focused, and, whenever possible, we are there. We are guided, not by grand visions of success, but simply by compassion, common sense, and our ongoing goal of consistent support ETOW remains an all-volunteer nonprofit, upheld by a rock-steady base of caring donors––like you––who understand the powerful impact of focusing one’s giving where it’s needed most in our world. With your help, we’ll keep doing our part to brighten children’s futures, support teachers, expand health outreach, and rebuild storm-ravaged communities.  And it’s clear: We couldn’t have done it without you.  Thank you. 

With deepest gratitude,
Thomas Witherspoon
Executive Director,  Ears To Our World

“Small things, done consistently and strategically, can have a major positive impact.”

Just one of the sixty families we helped in Puerto Rico this year.

Just one of the sixty families we helped in Puerto Rico this year.

2018 will be remembered as the year we rolled up our sleeves in four countries, continuing our work in Kenya and Cameroon, as well as in Puerto Rico and Haiti…

Puerto Rico: Support after devastating Hurricane Maria

Both 2017 and 2018 have been active hurricane seasons. In 2017 ETOW noted the terrible destruction Hurricane Maria caused on the US island of Puerto Rico, and with the aid of a local PR ham radio club, initiated a pilot project to distribute emergency radios in communities there. In early 2018, we continued sending radios and helped inform sixty Puerto Rican households through a reliable, accessible form of communication: namely, radio.

Haiti: A focus on the visually disabled, and our first digital library

ETOW has been working in Haiti now since before the 2010 earthquake with our dedicated partners at the Haitian Health Foundation (HHF). Why? Recovery takes time. When a major disaster is no longer covered by the media, and the rest of the world has moved on, the people in the midst of the devastation are often just beginning to rebuild their lives.  This is not the time to forget them. So this year ETOW sent an additional 240 self-powered radios to rural Haiti, where they’re still needed.

Our partners with the HHF continue to concentrate the use of ETOW radios among the visually impaired.  Having a self-powered radio can open up the wider world to visually impaired people, who often become important sources of world events and weather information within their local communities. 

In addition, we’re working on a pilot project implementing a self-contained wireless digital library that can be deployed both at HHF community facilities and in the field. These digital libraries are essentially small computers holding 128 gigabytes of teaching and learning material in English, French, and French Creole. Students can log into the digital library via smart phone, tablet, or laptop to take classes in language, math, physics, chemistry, social sciences, and more. There are even video modules designed around health training: a win-win for both health care trainees and for the communities who need them.

Going forward…

ETOW remains committed to our strong partnerships, which enable us to achieve our mission on what other NGOs might call a shoestring budget.  And we’ve now proven that this model works.

With your help, we’ll continue to do our part for years to come.  We truly hope you’ll continue to stay interested in and involved with Ears to Our World. We welcome your support in any form.  And to those who have given, and continue to give––our heartfelt thanks. 

In 2019, may blessings abound and may peace guide us all toward a promising future.

Thank you for your support in 2016

Dear Friend,

Thanksgiving is upon us here in the US.  Ears To Our World wishes to offer our heartfelt thanks, both for those for whom we exist, as well as for those who so generously support us and without whom we couldn’t exist: you.

ETOW in Haiti: Support for Hurricane Matthew Victims

Many are aware of the devastating destruction caused by Hurricane Matthew in Haiti, a country that was still in recovery from the 2010 earthquake.

Following the storm, ETOW's intrepid partners at the Haitian Health Foundation rushed into action, distributing our remaining stock of analog self-powered radios for medical and sustenance relief.  We’re gathering more supplies even as you read this message. Many may not realize that the information a radio provides can be as important as food and medicine––indeed, radio informs Haitians where they can obtain clean water, fresh food, and medical assistance, as well as how to locate loved ones.  Thus, an ETOW radio can mean comfort and connection, as well as survival and safety, giving victims the will and means to carry on.

ETOW is now teaching HHF staff how to build HumanaLights in the field. Our HumanaLights are simple LED flashlights in kit form that run for weeks on a single dead (depleted) AA battery––and for many months on a fresh battery, even with heavy use.  To many, this remarkable little light in the dark means safety.

ETOW in Cameroon, South Sudan, Kenya, Tanzania: Let there be light 

Meanwhile in Kenya and in Tanzania, a new batch of ETOW radios provide news, health, and safety information. 

And this year, we successfully designed and deployed portable solar battery charging and lighting systems in Cameroon and South Sudan, where several schools and a girls’  dormitory will now have reliable light.  

Clearly, ETOW continues to be dedicated to improving lives and building children’s futures through appropriate, energy-efficient technologies.

If you would like to make a tax-deductible gift to help us help others, you can send it in the enclosed envelope. Or, feel free to give the gift of radio here on our website (printable donation forms available).

If you would like to learn more about the HumanaLight kit, or if you would like to purchase one, check out: humanalight.org.

ETOW radios being distributed through our partners in Tanzania.

ETOW radios being distributed through our partners in Tanzania.

We hope you've had a wonderful 2016, and continue to stay interested in and involved with Ears to Our World. We welcome your support in any form. And to those who’ve already given it:  We thank you!

In 2017, may the light of tolerance and song of peace spread throughout our listening world.

In friendship,
Thomas Witherspoon
Founder & Director, Ears To Our World


Mike is Gifting HumanaLights This Year

Many thanks to ETOW supporter Mike McShan, who purchased HumanaLight kits, built them, and gave them as Christmas gifts this year. Mike recently tweeted:

His family and friends are receiving a flashlight that runs for weeks on dead batteries.  Moreover, in purchasing HumanaLight kits, Mike has directly supported our work in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Cameroon, South Sudan, Kenya, Belize, Haiti and many other countries we serve.

Thank you, Mike!  And Happy Holidays!

Looking back on 2013

Dear Friends,

It’s been a bright year for Ears to Our World, and we’re profoundly grateful for all the Support we’ve received––and continue to receive.  So, thanks to our many, many friends––among them, educators, administrators, clergy, associates, guides, logistical experts, directors, and partner organizations the world over––and thanks to you.  

Following are but a few of ETOW’s 2013 highlights, that you helped make possible:

Miracle Malaki, a visually impaired student at the BCVI Summer Camp in Belize City, Belize, receives a self-powered radio from Ears to Our World. (Photo: David Korchin)

Miracle Malaki, a visually impaired student at the BCVI Summer Camp in Belize City, Belize, receives a self-powered radio from Ears to Our World. (Photo: David Korchin)

Sierra Leone: Ears To Our World donated world-band radios to a human rights program for use in a human rights monitoring project

South Sudan: For the fifth year now, ETOW worked with partner Project Education South Sudan to serve remote communities and schools helping shape South Sudan’s new democracy. And this year, in a new trial project, ETOW also provided a girls’ dormitory with a GoalZero portable solar lighting system for study and security

Cameroon: Also for the fifth year, ETOW continued work with Educare Africa, and received a wonderful report from a small remote village

Belize: ETOW continued to work with the Belize Council for the Visually Impaired; in July, ETOW advisory board member and photographer David Korchin accompanied me to inner-city Belize to document our placement of ETOW radios with a number of inspiring kids attending BCVI’s summer camp (one of his amazing photos is enclosed)

Kenya: ETOW board member/professor Nyaga Mwaniki and his group of university students distributed radios, through Kosmos Solutions, to schools and communities in rural western areas

Mongolia: ETOW and partner EduRelief undertook our most recent project in the extremely remote Tsagaanuur (White Lake) region of Mongolia, near the Russian border, distributing radios to nomadic Tsataan reindeer herder families

But among the brightest potential projects we’ve undertaken in 2013 is our new partnership with Western Carolina University’s Kimmel School of Engineering, where a group of bright students have just produced a new prototype of our HumanaLight, the remarkable little LED flashlight that shines long and bright, even when powered by the residual voltage of “dead” batteries.  


Right now, we need your help to raise the materials costs of our first production run of the HumanaLight. Please, won’t you help us reach our goal?  We only need $5000 more to make this little light shine the world over.  With our loyal supporters, we can do it...and school children in powerless areas will soon walk home, not just with their schoolbooks, but with a safe, affordable light to read them by.  

In 2014, may blessings abound and peace reign throughout our listening world. Happy holidays!

In friendship,

Thomas Witherspoon

Director, ETOW

Donation Crosses Globe as AIM Sets Sights on ETOW’s Humanitarian Mission


Ears to Our World is delighted to announce that it has accepted a generous — and wholly unexpected — gift from a non-profit educational institution…clear on the other side of the globe. It’s an ideal illustration of how access to information shrinks the world, and can make it a better place at the same time.

ETOW founder Thomas Witherspoon said the unforeseen largesse, from the Australian Institute of Music (AIM), which learned of ETOW through an Internet search, would support the organization’s continuing work in countries like Kenya, Cameroon, and South Sudan, where it has expanded its presence with a recent shipment of radios. The shortwave broadcast receivers ETOW distributes enable children and their support networks in the most remote, impoverished parts of the world to hear educational programming, local and international news, emergency and health information, as well as music and arts programming.

The ambitious, course-related endeavor that led to the donation was a fulfillment of AIM’s Events and Project Management class. Dubbed “Memories & Melodies,” it was held at the Gaelic Theatre, Surry Hills, New South Wales, Australia, and focused on the theme of “Music Nostalgia” through film clips, hired props, and highlights from musical history. Entertainment included a hoopla performer, a ballet dancer, and a comedic gypsy. Guests also enjoyed a glam booth and photo booth, bingo, a dance competition, and a DJ playing hits from the 1950s through the present. Revenue would be collected from ticket sales, raffles, donations, a silent auction, and sponsorships. To donate those proceeds, the non-profit institution wanted to find a charity that aligned with its own vision.

AIM fundraising team photo from "Memories and Melodies"--all dressed in the music nostalgia theme.

AIM fundraising team photo from "Memories and Melodies"--all dressed in the music nostalgia theme.

Ashton Smith, project manager for “Memories and Melodies” and a student of AIM, said, “We agreed to align the event with an organization which focuses on ‘access to the arts’ in some form or another.” After much “scouring of the Web,” as Smith puts it, they came across ETOW, which had a further appeal to them by also targeting communities disadvantaged by social, political, or economic circumstances. They selected ETOW as the sole recipient of their donation. “At the Australian Institute of Music, we value the importance of having access to broadcast media, and can think of no better cause to support,” he added.

“Memories & Melodies” was a resounding success, attended by 140 people and raising a total of $1,700 for ETOW.

Witherspoon says the donation perfectly reflects ETOW’s core principle that access to information is access to education, stating, “Here we have an educational institute in Australia reaching out via the Web — the ultimate access tool — to a humanitarian organization in the U.S. to help foster its efforts in schools in Africa. It’s also inspiring, and humbling, that the young people behind the event, many of whom will one day work in mass media, chose to donate the fruits of their labors to people without mass media, in small villages in another hemisphere. It doesn’t get any more global than this.” 

“As we here at AIM make music our life, it's hard to imagine a life without it,” explains Ashton Smith. “Throw in education, news and health information and you've got power through access to information. ETOW just offered the full spectrum for those who need it the most and we were proud to support them.”

ETOW Radio Empowers the Disabled in Remote Cameroon

In case you've ever wondered what one radio can do for a rural developing-world community, here's the answer...Just in time for the holidays, the following heartwarming field report arrived from ETOW's mission partner, Educare Africa-Cameroon. This worthy ETOW partner organization, together with Covenant Baptist Church Tsinga-Yaoundé, carried out a joint mission trip to the far northern reaches of Cameroon in 2011.  As the report notes: "...[T]hese communities are extremely enclave, with no roads, schools, health facilities, [potable] water, rivers with no bridges, no access to communication networks...They are completely [cut] off from the rest of the world." The team visited many communities, hospitals, and prisons to share clothing, shoes, food..and an ETOW radio, which was placed with one of the teachers in the remote village of Doulek.

This moving report also describes the 2012 follow-up visit, and speaks for itself:


"...When the National Coordinator of Educare Africa–Cameroon, Mr. Sunjo Emmanuel, returned to Doulek, the community that got the radio came to him singing and dancing because the radio was a real blessing to them.  They shared the following testimonies.

    • More than 150 students came to the teacher who received the radio to listen to the end of course examination result. This was the only radio available and students trekked more than 30km to come and listen to their results.
  • [The community] also got news over the National Radio about what [the] Government was doing to assist people with disabilities. After follow-up, more than 300 people with disabilities have been registered with Government with about 37 from the beneficiary community in Doulek. All of these people have received various gifts [and forms of assistance] from [the] Government, and the teacher who himself is a disabled man has been made Sub Divisional secretary of people with disabilities. Thanks to access to information.
  • More than 3000 people [previously] died in these communities from Cholera, [but] through the donated radio from ETOW, these communities got access to public education on how to fight against Cholera.
  • More than 65 children gathered regularly to listen to Gospel messages using this radio.
  • The villages surrounding Doulek have benefitted from the information sent to them. Doulek has become ear of this region thanks to ETOW.  More communities need their own radios."

It's truly humbling to learn what just one radio can provide to a rural community. We at ETOW feel blessed that we are able to play a part in improving lives in communities like Doulek all over the world. And we are greatly indebted to so many who enable us to do so.

So, as we look back on 2012, we want to acknowledge the hard work, commitment, assistance, and generosity of all the people behind ETOW, and to express our deepest gratitude to them. Our mission succeeds thanks to our exceptional in-country partners, such as Educare Africa; thanks to the dedicated teachers and community leaders in the areas we serve; thanks to our steadfast friends in industry, such as Etón Corporation and Universal Radio; and last but definitely not least, to our generous donors, who share our conviction that radio--in its unique ability to provide critical information in economically challenged and physically remote areas--can empower children, families, and communities every single day.  As this report makes so clear, it can and does.

Thank you!  Happy holidays, and may peace reign throughout the listening world.

ETOW Honors World Radio Day in South Sudan Schools

Monday is World Radio Day, a celebration of the importance of the medium of radio throughout our world. Ears To Our World (ETOW) is celebrating by sending more radios to the world’s newest country: South Sudan. Our partner in that war-torn region, Project Education Sudan (PES), is a non-profit that builds primary and secondary schools and trains teachers in rural villages in South Sudan; ETOW’s radios, we’re pleased to state, taking a starring role in this teacher training program. There are currently four PES schools in an area of Southern Sudan so remote that resources often have to be flown in on chartered planes. ETOW radios are in all four, helping teachers bring both education and hope to a devastated population. There is currently no public telecommunications infrastructure in South Sudan, yet ETOW radios make diverse programming available to these teachers, via shortwave and FM broadcasts. In classrooms that lack not only electricity, but often paper and pencils, these rugged, self-powered worldband receivers offer a tremendous wealth of free teaching material.

Our shipment of forty five additional radios is heading there. Daniel Majok Gai, a member of the board of directors of PES as well as its South Sudan program director, tells us that the teachers in the new schools are using ETOW radios to listen to FM 95.5 news from 6–10 a.m. and from 3–10 p.m. and to South Sudan Mirriaya news on a daily basis.

Gai says that “the teachers use the radios to collect good stories and share them with the students.” From his observations, Gai adds, “These radios have created a wider benefit between teachers at PES school and those teaching from the government schools…living within the same community.” He believes the teachers working in the PES-supported schools have an enviable advantage over those in the government institutions.

Our goal this year is to offer greater benefit to more children and their communities by sending additional radios to South Sudan, and even more countries where radio--whether local or international--is a lifeline of information in the community.

Ears To Our World firmly believes that access to information is access to education and both are essential human rights.

Mission in Process: ETOW’s Radios Educate Despite Extremes

The self-powered world band radios that Ears To Our World distributes to remote, impoverished schools and communities around the world through its global partners are often subjected to extremes—not only climatic, in the form of relentlless tropical rains and scorching desert sand-storms, but also the political and economic, resulting in extremes of usage most technologies are just not built to withstand. To support ETOW's mission of providing the developing world with reliable access to information--e.g, educational programming, local and international news, emergency and health information--ETOW radios must be exceedingly rugged and maintainable in the field. Nevertheless, any technology experiencing this kind of usage must be expected to have a finite functionality: that’s the reason our commitment to ongoing partnership and follow-up support is so vital. When we place radios in schools and communities through our global partners, we do so as a collaborative effort among equals: to make a lasting impact in our served areas, our in-country NGO affiliates distribute the radios where they can do the greatest good. Additionally, our partner teachers and community leaders entrusted with ETOW's radios take responsibility for their care, monitoring each unit's function as a result of daily usage. ETOW maintains contact with these partners and provides assistance as needed and feasible.

Fortunately, the Etón Grundig self-powered, hand-crank worldband radios with which ETOW works have been functioning superbly in the field, in places as diverse as Belize, Chile, Romania, Mongolia, South Sudan, and Cameroon. Thus far, these units have proven more than equal to the challenge: with care, these radios can last up to up to three years in the field, exceeding our expectations for the product. In areas where conditions are extreme, the radios do wear more rapidly, but we have learned that only tens in hundreds break within the first year of use, a remarkable finding and a testament to the committed care of the units by our partner-users.

Even a more significant finding, however, is the validation of our organizational model. ETOW recently had the opportunity to examine the sole radio returned to us from a remote area of Cameroon where our partner, NGO EduCare-Africa, had assigned it for use as a teaching tool in a local school. While the radio still received signals after three years of use, it no longer charged by hand crank; ETOW requested its return for analysis. Pavla Zakova-Laney, Founder, President, Executive Director, and full-time volunteer of EduCare, promptly responded with the radio's return. In the meantime, as per our agreement, she offered the teacher partner a replacement radio. So, although the original radio experienced an internal component failure, it was apparently otherwise well-cared for, as the teacher partner had agreed upon placement; our NGO partner was informed of the problem, and served as on-site intermediary; and ETOW was able to address the problem by replacing the unit. Clearly, ETOW’s model of collaboration and follow-through works.

“We recognize that success in humanitarian aid requires providing consistent and reliable support over time,” explains Thomas Witherspoon, ETOW’s founder and director, “so we commit to our teachers and partners that we will do our best to replace or repair radios when they eventually reach the end of their useful life.”

ETOW’s experience in Cameroon is, in our view, a clear success story. According to Zakova-Laney, there are currently seven ETOW radios serving communities in Cameroon, being used in secondary/high schools. And although they are located in remote areas, EduCare estimates that nearly 2,700 students and teachers have directly benefitted from these seven devices. That number increases dramatically as news and other information is disseminated to students' families at home and to communities at large.

But upon further examination, EduCare’s feedback is not all that surprising. In the areas ETOW serves, even one radio can produce a remarkably broad positive impact. “Every school [that received a radio] greatly appreciated it, and promised it would be used well and handled with care,” explained Zakova-Laney. In developing areas, each radio is an invaluable resource because it can affect so many lives. Even the single returned FR200 with the broken crank, in otherwise good condition despite extensive use, reinforces what we’ve believed from the beginning: radio is the best method to reach the greatest number of people where the need is greatest in the developing world. It is economical, uncomplicated, broadcasts are unhindered by boundaries and politics--and, as we’ve seen, as tough as it needs to be.

We’re proud of the continuing role we play in support of invaluable programs like EduCare-Africa's, helping our partners achieve their goals of expanding opportunities and improving lives through education. So, exactly how important is our role? Zakova-Laney: “I believe that as long as there will be remote places without electricity and...a means of communication, these radios will be very helpful, bringing news, useful information and educational programs—and [they will be] appreciated tremendously.”

ETOW extends our appreciation to our generous supporters who enable us to do what we do. Thank you all.



ETOW to Present at the Inaugural IEEE Global Humanitarian Technology Conference

Great news:  Ears To Our World has been invited to make a presentation about the work we do, and how it addresses humanitarian needs in the developing world, at the first-ever IEEE Global Humanitarian Technology Conference.  The IEEE (The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) is the world’s largest professional association dedicated to advancing technological innovation and excellence for the benefit of humanity. ETOW founder, Thomas Witherspoon, and board member Ed Harris recently answered a “Call for Papers” from the organizers of this prestigious forum, coauthoring and submitting a paper entitled “Avoiding the 30-Pound Paperweight: Success Via Contextually Appropriate Technologies.” We’re delighted to announce that the paper--which details how to successfully incorporate into humanitarian efforts the “human vector” (the real-world needs and input of the people served) with the “technological vector” (the tools currently available)--was accepted.  Thomas will present the paper, and explain how ETOW exemplifies this approach, to conference attendees, including technologists, representatives from NGOs, governments, academe, funders, and industry.

This is a tremendous opportunity to promote our work to an influential audience, and an incredible honor for ETOW, but it’s more: it’s also an affirmation by this internationally respected body that our mission and our methods converge in a realistic way that can make a real difference in the lives of those we serve.

The inaugural Global Humanitarian Technology Conference will be held from October 31 to November 1, 2011, at the Renaissance Hotel in Seattle, Washington. For more information, visit www.ieeeghtc.org.

Copyright © 2013 Ears To Our World