Radio Revakids: Workshops ease rehabilitation


Ill and injured children at UZ Ghent create a radio programme that’s broadcast across the city and online

A perfect match

The excitement and tension is tangible at the heart of the children’s rehabilitation centre at the university hospital Ghent. Over the past eight weeks, 10 kids and adolescents visiting the centre to recover from serious injury and illness have been learning how to make radio. Guided by mentors with professional experience in media, they’ve been following all kinds of workshops to learn radio skills.

The hour-long programme Radio Revakids is the result of a unique pilot project by the hospital and the REC Radiocentrum. They recorded it last week and it soon went out on air, on the Ghent city radio station and – even more nerve-racking – in every hospital room.

“I think I underestimated the impact a little bit,” says 17-year old Astrid Ricquier, the oldest of the radio rookies. “It’s far bigger than I expected. Even on the fourth floor, people told me they would listen.”

She has every reason to be excited. After a spinal operation last October, a few things went wrong, resulting in a long rehabilitation process – not something you would usually look forward to. But now family, friends and fellow patients are gathered to hear their programme, which was also filmed, so the proud parents will be able to see their kids announcing songs, making jingles and interviewing people they look up to.

“By giving the kids such a unique experience, their self-confidence is growing, which is always one of the most important factors in a successful rehabilitation,” says occupational therapist Ilse Meerschaert.

It was Meerschaert who initiated the project by contacting the REC Radiocentrum. They set up a special project, providing a workshop based on a specific radio-related topic each Tuesday afternoon. “It was definitely a highlight for the kids,” rehabilitation doctor Ruth Van der Looven says. “We saw how elated they were when they came back from the project.”

Anyone can do it

The Ghent-based REC Radiocentrum organised master classes, workshops and coaching for anyone interested in radio, explains Pieter Blomme, the man responsible for education and media labs. “We train and advise people who want to step into the professional field. Recently we had a project training two new football commentators for Sporting Telenet. But people with no professional radio ambition at all are welcome.” Setting up a course for rehabilitating youngsters, though, was something they had never done before.

I think I underestimated the impact a little bit

- Astrid Ricquier

As a children’s rehabilitation centre, Meerschaert says they try to think a bit outside the hospital walls. “We did similar projects before, such as a circus. I just think it’s very important to refresh and try new things, especially when they are enabling you to approach the children in a more holistic, less analytical way. We try to work bottom-up, not only top-down.”

And then she shows us a quote hanging on one of the walls, which gets to the heart of why this radio project was so successful: “Youngsters become conscious of their possibilities in a natural way. Self-confidence and ‘feeling good in your own skin’ is a keystone in every rehabilitation process.”

“From the start I was convinced it would be ideal to integrate the radio workshops as an overall project bringing all rehabilitation disciplines together,” Meerschaert says. “Mastery and fluency of a language, social skills, creativity, motion… all those skills come together in radio-making.

“It was a perfect match, since the goals of rehabilitation are similar. We are helping kids with speech and language problems, whose neurocognitive functions are affected, but who are also mentally coping with their rehabilitation. All of a sudden they were ripped out of their day-to-day life.”

Making radio has a direct link with speech therapy, she emphasises. “But there’s so much more: You have to prepare, research, edit and work as a team. You need to formulate and defend your own ideas at a meeting, but also be able to make compromises. You need to stand on a stage, being comfortable with getting feedback. All of this takes a lot of concentration and energy from the kids, but it was definitely worth it.”

Fresh courage, new friends

Astrid especially liked her interview with actor and television personality Nathalie Meskens. “It gave me a boost when I had a difficult time,” she says. “A week earlier I couldn’t join the others in the project because I was too ill. Talking to Nathalie while I was in hospital gave me new courage.” 

They were just working on their skills without feeling like they were in therapy

- Pieter Blomme

Another big plus for Astrid was the social context. “During the radio project everyone chatted with everyone. Silke and Yana I only knew by name, from crossing each other in the hallway, but now I can say they really became my friends.”

“Often I felt the kids didn’t have the feeling they were being rehabilitated,” says Blomme. “They were just playfully working on their skills, without feeling like they were in therapy.” So Meerschaert hopes there will be a follow-up to the project. “We’re convinced it has an added value,” she says.

This week there will be extra training for the doctors, so they can keep on using some radio techniques within the hospital. But now – 26 February, four o’clock in the afternoon – it’s time to party. While the parents are listening to Radio Revakids, the kids, their doctors and mentors are eating crisps out of bowls made from vinyl records and dancing to Elvis Presley, Stromae and the Bee Gees – all music they programmed in their own show.

Photo courtesy of REC Radiocentrum

Ill and injured children at UZ Ghent create a radio programme that’s broadcast across the city and online.

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