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Saving Lost Voices: VOA's Journey to West Africa

Journalist helps keep endangered languages alive

Washington, D.C., March 27, 2009 - Armed with cameras, computers and a solar charger, a Voice of America (VOA) broadcaster is traveling to remote areas of Sierra Leone and Guinea to help document the dying Krim, Bom and Mani languages.

"There may be only 60 or 70 people who speak the language," said Bart Childs, referring to Krim speakers in Sierra Leone.

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"This unique project allows VOA's audiences to get behind the scenes in Africa, and become involved with efforts to document, and possibly help preserve, a language," said Steve Redisch, VOA's Executive Editor. "It also allows us to explore new ways to deliver content to our audiences worldwide."

Based in Tei, Sierra Leone, Childs will report on a documentation project funded by the National Science Foundation and the University of London, among others. Speakers of Krim, Mani and Bom, farmers and fishermen, have little contact with the outside world.

There are roughly 2,400 languages - out of about 6,700 worldwide - that are considered endangered, according to UNESCO, which recently launched a website dedicated to the issue -

Experts say documenting a language - and producing material about a language - can help preserve it. Extinction of a language often means the loss of culture, traditions and knowledge about issues such as medicinal herbs and other practices.

The Voice of America, which first went on the air in 1942, is a multimedia international broadcasting service funded by the U.S. Government through the Broadcasting Board of Governors. VOA broadcasts approximately 1,500 hours of news, information, educational, and cultural programming every week to an estimated worldwide audience of more than 134 million people. Programs are produced in 45 languages.

For more information, call VOA Public Relations at (202) 203-4959, or e-mail