Engaging the process

A group of children in Lavender Hill, Cape Town, are engaging with legislation and community activism to improve their lives.

Their platform is the ‘Children and Governance’ programme initiated earlier this year by the NGO, Resources Aimed at the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect (RAPCAN).

Shane Lentoor, RAPCAN’s community liaison officer, says this programme aims to take “children’s voices to another level”. It links children at various schools - and some participants who are in their early 20s—to resources in their neighbourhoods.

“We are creating a platform where young people can speak about what concerns them. We are listening to them so that we can help them access services in their communities,” says Lentoor.

He says the programme builds leadership via encouraging young people to take responsibility for changing their circumstances.
“We speak to them about governance and that opens up their thinking. We also speak about laws that guide and protect children,” says Lentoor.

“We find that a lot of young people want to be part of society’s structures. They know that everything is not okay and they have identified problems that they want to address. Now we need to help them to take the right steps in solving their problems.”

Practically, if the programme’s participants need a recreational park in Lavender Hill they could lobby the local ward councillors to build it. Or if they wanted to organise anti-drugs awareness programmes they could find out who the relevant NGOs are in their suburb and partner with them to make it happen.

Lavender Hill is not an easy place to call home as residents face harsh socio-economic challenges. The ‘Children and Governance’ programme is also about “empowering children as citizens,” says RAPCAN’s executive director Christina Nomdo.

“We want to be support agents and also show children a reality where they are not powerless and can make a difference. You cannot run this programme without an enabling environment so we will approach schools and communities so that when children talk about their needs they are heard,” says Nomdo.

Greg Philander, an advisory board member on the Greater Retreat Youth Forum, says they have previously not focused on legislative issues. The forum’s 18 member organisations provide youth services or are sports, religious, arts and culture activity-driven.

“RAPCAN has the expertise on child legislation and that can enhance our forum. They understand children’s rights and lobbying and we can also learn from that. We want to use this as a platform to improve programmes at schools,” says Philander.

“Governance is important because it is about sustainability. Children can be part of legislative processes. We have disregarded children’s voices. We can now ask them what they need and work with local government to get these services.”

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