Radio station run by Argentine psychiatric patients marks 30 years on the air

By Javier Castro Bugarin

Buenos Aires, Aug 3 (EFE).- Argentina’s La Colifata, the world’s first radio station to broadcast from inside a psychiatric hospital, is celebrating its 30th anniversary on Tuesday.

Over the course of the past three decades, that station founded by psychologist Alfredo Olivera has played a key role in the recovery of hundreds of patients with mental health disorders.

But its initiatives now extend beyond the broadcast booth and include charitable actions and efforts to promote the socioeconomic inclusion of vulnerable members of the population.

“We begin with people confined to psychiatric hospitals with no social connections … later we’re talking about people who not only have recovered but are able to help solve the problems of other people and the world from an ethical standpoint,” Olivera told Efe via video-conference.

The origins of the station date back to Aug. 3, 1991, when a group of patients at Buenos Aires’ Hospital Borda, Argentina’s largest mental health facility, took part in a radio show aired by a community FM station.

After that initial broadcast, the station received numerous calls from listeners intrigued by what went on inside a psychiatric hospital. How well were Borda’s patients being treated? What thoughts did they have about the “outside world”?

The therapeutic effect of their radio work became increasingly evident over the years, both during their time inside the institution and after they were discharged.

The annual readmission rate for patients who remained involved with La Colifata (slang for “crazy person”) was less than 10 percent in 2010, a figure that contrasted sharply with an overall readmission rate of 40 percent that year for Hospital Borda as a whole.

A recipient of more than 50 awards, La Colifata is celebrating its 30th anniversary as both a fixture on the radio (found at 100.3 on the FM dial) and a legally constituted non-profit organization.

Its activities today, however, extend well beyond the walls of the radio station and include tours of Buenos Aires neighborhoods as part of its latest initiative: the Colifata “mobile store,” a two-wheeled vehicle used to distribute food donated by the hospital’s patients, who decide which institutions or groups will benefit.

Among those helping to distribute packets of crackers is Fernando Aquino, a La Colifata contributor for more than 20 years who says the radio station has allowed him to get outside, start living again and put his illness behind him.

“When we go on television, when we go on the radio, when we go to the provinces to do the mobile La Colifata, what we’re showing is that you can leave the psychiatric hospital, that the illness is curable,” Aquino told Efe.

One of his fellow collaborators, Julio Cesar, AKA “Creative Messiah,” said the radio station has allowed him to expand his horizons and break down physical and mental barriers.

He added that the donations provided through the “mobile store” also “shatter the myth of the crazy person” looking for handouts.

Besides the purely charitable aspect, the mobile store also will serve as a platform for society’s most marginalized groups to sell their own products, thereby promoting the development of regional economies and social inclusion. EFE


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