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RX Radio faces a funding crisis to keep civil movement by the kids, and for the kids, on air

Daily Maverick logo Daily Maverick 2022/12/06 Tamsin Metelerkamp

A radio station based at the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital in Cape Town provides a space for children living with chronic illnesses to share their experiences, and even drive change. The station faces a funding crisis, and young presenters are speaking out about what the platform has meant to them.

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RX Radio is unique among radio stations for a number of reasons: it operates from within a hospital, focuses largely on health issues, and is powered by and for children. 

The station, based at Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital in Cape Town, is more than just a fun opportunity for kids to take the reins on air. Station manager Noluyolo Ngomani describes it as a “civil movement that’s rooted in advocacy… It’s rooted in children’s rights; rooted in children talking about whatever it is that’s bothering them.”

[caption id="attachment_1489007" align="alignnone" width="720"] © Provided by Daily Maverick The power of the mic afforded to young RX Radio presenters has allowed them - as the first-hand receivers of care - to voice issues that concern them in terms of hospital policy, according to Noluyolo Ngomani, station manager at RX Radio. (Photo: Tamsin Metelerkamp)[/caption]

RX Radio was founded in 2016 with the aim of providing the child presenters — mostly patients of Red Cross Hospital with chronic conditions — with a space to talk about issues that are important to them. Today, about 80% of the presenters are hospital patients, while the other 20% are friends and siblings of patients. 

“We have 135 [young presenters] that we’ve trained. We take them through a week of basic training where they learn radio skills, as well as life skills, and through that week they tell their story of whatever they want to tell,” said Chris Booth, a content producer at RX Radio. 

“Often, children talk about their [health] conditions that they have, and their experiences in hospital.” 

Since 2016, the radio station has gone from being broadcast only in Red Cross Hospital, to being available in Paarl Hospital and Brooklyn Chest Hospital as well. It can also be listened to on the internet.  

More recently, RX Radio received its low-power FM licence, meaning it can be picked up in the areas around Red Cross Hospital on 97.0 FM. 

Despite its success over the years, the radio station faces a funding crisis, according to Ngomani. As is the case with many other nonprofits, it has struggled due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the fundraising sector. 

“We haven’t managed to raise funds for next year, 2023,” said Ngomani. “We’ve gotten a lot of rejection because sometimes there’s a misconception that [the station is] just this cute, feel-good type of a project that puts children behind the mic … but the station is more than that … it is a civil movement for children.” 

The station is working through BackaBuddy to raise R2.2-million by the end of 2022 as part of a “Save RX Radio” campaign. Maverick Citizen spoke to some of RX Radio’s young reporters and their parents about what the radio station has meant to them and the importance of keeping it on air.

[caption id="attachment_1489006" align="alignnone" width="720"] © Provided by Daily Maverick According to Lilah Davies (13), a presenter at RX Radio, being involved with the station has made her more empathetic and understanding of other people's opinions and lifestyle choices. (Photo: Tamsin Metelerkamp)[/caption]

By the children 

Lilah Davies (13), a reporter at RX Radio, first visited the station as a guest after she launched an anti-bullying campaign at her school. She has been involved as a presenter for about a year, and enjoys addressing the topics of mental health and “fashion, design and singing”. 

“I don’t have any disabilities or chronic illnesses, but I think being around people who do, especially people who are my age … really taught me how to be more empathetic, how to be more understanding,” she said. 

“I think that RX Radio definitely gives children the right to express themselves, and to have their own voices to speak out to our community and to our country.” 

This is particularly important for children facing illnesses and disabilities, she added, as these individuals are too often pushed aside in society. 

Another RX Radio reporter, Sebastian Crowson (14), presents a radio show called Comedy with a Twist. It involves telling jokes and playing a selection of songs. 

“I like to make some of the people in the hospital laugh who’ve been going through a very hard time,” he told Maverick Citizen

“To start something like RX Radio again is a challenge, and because RX Radio is a fantastic space where children can use their voices, they can say what they want to say … just to see it go would be a shame.” 

Crowson has a genetic condition called neurofibromatosis, a tumour disorder that has led to him needing care such as physiotherapy and vision therapy. RX Radio has been a source of community and positivity for him over the years, according to Alison Wills, his mother. 

“The [Red Cross] hospital provides a fantastic medical facility, but what RX Radio does is that other side of care, which is the mental health aspect and the confidence and that understanding that you can do anything — that you don’t need to be held back by difficulties,” she said.

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[caption id="attachment_1489005" align="alignnone" width="720"] © Provided by Daily Maverick Of all the people Imaad Gopaul (10) has interviewed as an RX Radio presenter, his favourite was his doctor at Red Cross War Memorial Children's Hospital. (Photo: Tamsin Metelerkamp)[/caption]

For Imaad Gopaul (10), a highlight of his RX Radio career has been interviewing his cardiologist and learning more about his condition. He said the station was important as it kept children at the hospital busy and allowed them to hear from others. 

“I've definitely seen [Imaad] gain confidence, seen his people skills become much better,” said Nuraan Gopaul, his mother, on the value of RX Radio. 

“With kids with different forms of conditions or different illnesses, I don’t think there’s a platform for them to speak about their condition, and RX Radio provides them with a platform.”

[caption id="attachment_1489004" align="alignnone" width="720"] © Provided by Daily Maverick Being involved in RX Radio not only has a significant therapeutic element to it, but also allows children to build their confidence, according to Azande Sidyiyo, content producer at RX Radio. (Photo: Tamsin Metelerkamp)[/caption]

For the children 

Many children have found RX Radio therapeutic and a source of confidence, according to Azande Sidyiyo, a content producer at the station. This comes with the ability to speak openly about their illnesses. 

“From the wards, the children feel the same too — the access to the space and the availability of the voices of other kids allows them to better understand what [they’re] going through, and understand that they’re not alone,” said Sidyiyo. 

The radio station has driven change within the hospital itself. Reporters shared their views on how the pain that inevitably forms part of many hospital procedures should be handled among young patients. As a result, the facility’s pain management team established new protocols. 

“The power of the mic has allowed the children to vocalise issues that concern them in terms of the [hospital] policy, as the people who are first-hand receivers of the service,” said Ngomani.  

“In terms of the communication between the healthcare workers and the children, there’s a levelling of the field. Now, they are part of intergenerational dialogue.” DM/MC

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