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High on a hill in Pottawattamie County, there's a farm like no other in the world. It is in production night and day year-round. The feed comes in via satellite. And this operation is in the unusual position of importing as much as it exports. What's more, this farm is not concerned with profits. The people of McClelland, Iowa, are hearing voices. The sounds seem to be coming from a strange-looking farm on a hill. Indeed they are. The sounds, voices, and images from 80 languages and as many lands are collected here and distributed globally by a nonprofit educational organization called SCOLA, or satellite communications for learning.
Frances: We have our mission, to help people learn more about one another. We do that by making the television or the educational products of these countries available to the other countries.
Morgan: SCOLA broadcasts television shows, including news reports, entertainment shows, and children's shows by satellite and the Internet to colleges and communities that pay for the service. The play schedule looks like a geography lesson with programs listed by the country of origin.
Ready to go to Korea live on channel 2 at 3:00. And the Netherlands just finished and Spain just finished a little while ago.
Frances: As far as I know, SCOLA is the only kind of operation like it anywhere in the world. We're a nonprofit educational organization. We import large quantities of programming, and they import from a large variety of places. The commercial operations maybe do 20 countries. We do 80. And we will add more as soon as we add other channels. We also distribute our program via the Internet. People don't do that. Nobody streams all their programming. It's too hard to do. It costs too much. We put our resources into doing that. As you can tell, we do spend our money very wisely here. This building used to be the poor farm. It's not just for the name's sake that we moved in here.
Lee: This is to give anyone who wants…who's got the time and the leisure and the openness to enjoy a vision of the whole world.
Morgan: Lee Lubbers, a priest who prefers not to be called "Father," does accept the title of SCOLA's founding father. In 1981 he started a foreign language cable television system on Creighton University's Omaha campus. The service changed its name to SCOLA and expanded into satellite technology in 1984. In 1993 SCOLA outgrew its location and moved across state lines to rural Iowa. Today Lubbers is partially retired. While this is not a church-based organization, SCOLA does have what could be described as a spiritual direction, to create harmony and understanding in the world.
Lee: If you want to really learn about a country, the only way is to go there and live. But if you want a nice perspective of all of them and the togetherness that is possible, to watch television is not the real thing, but it is the next best thing to be had.
Morgan: SCOLA accepts programming on controversial topics, including those originating from the Arab language channel Al Jazeera. But SCOLA takes a hands-off policy on censorship, so even content that some people might see as politically slanted will be shown as is.
Frances: You know, we don't edit programming. You have to really be careful with that. Once you edit, you set yourself up as being the judge of that culture. We try to represent everybody we can. We represent both sides. We represent the world.
Morgan: Another way that SCOLA has made the world seem smaller is by bringing a television crew from China's Yellow River Valley television to Iowa.
[broadcaster speaking in Chinese]
The Chinese broadcasters operate a studio right on the SCOLA farm, and they live on the premises. They record daily segments that introduce programs from China to North American audiences. And not only do they learn about Iowa first-hand, Iowans learn from them. The Chinese television crew has offered free Chinese language lessons to students in area grade schools and high schools.
Wayne: It's diversified. The people have accepted them a hundred percent.
Morgan: Wayne Bryant was instrumental in helping SCOLA relocate to McClelland. Later he became a SCOLA board member. He says he appreciates having the chance to meet people from foreign lands and thinks it has enriched his community.
Wayne: And we do have local people out here working in SCOLA. And, for example, we have some from Omaha, some from Council Bluffs, some from Underwood. It's been an asset a hundred percent.
Morgan: In order to collect television shows and arrange for copyrights, transportation, and other everyday transactions, you'd imagine that it would take hundreds of linguists. But most SCOLA employees just speak English. Despite this, SCOLA president Frances Lajba says that communication in a foreign language has never been a barrier for their business.
Frances: We've never had a language problem here that I know of. If you want to communicate with somebody, you can communicate with them. You just have to try. If anything, technology can break down that barrier or just, you know, the attitude that you want to communicate can break down that barrier. So I don't acknowledge the presence of a language barrier. It's never impaired us from doing anything.
We have Afghanistan, Belarus, Bosnia, Bulgaria. Down here we've got Lithuania. Myanmar, it used to be known as Burma. Nigeria.
Frances: You can walk out of the McClelland where we just were having lunch. And you can come over here. And you can sit here in a place that actually is constantly maintaining contact with people all over the world and other countries in all these other languages. To me that's really something for Iowa to be proud of—that they have an organization like this here in Iowa.
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