Taking over the reigns

Stepping into the leadership role of an organisation with a twenty-year track record might seem overwhelming but it could also mean that one inherits an established foundation for success.

Christina Nomdo faced this scenario when she was appointed executive director of the Cape Town-based NGO, Resources Aimed at the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect (RAPCAN), in January 2009.

Only a few months on, Nomdo is fully immersed in the lingua franca of children’s legislation and talks about RAPCAN’s projects like she’s been at it for years.

“It’s a hallmark for RAPCAN to survive for 20 years in South Africa. Because of funding crises, not many NGOs reach this stage,” says Nomdo.

“The responsibility is on leadership to develop niche areas. That’s the orientation that I have come with. I look at the strength of the individuals and programmes that we have. All our programmes are evidence-based and we stay connected to where the field is. We challenge ourselves to create new interventions.”

RAPCAN focuses on “developing child abuse prevention strategies to combat patterns of abuse”. It is an advocacy group for child rights, works in communities to help children deal with a range of problems and is based at courts to prepare children to testify against alleged sexual perpetrators.

Nomdo says RAPCAN’s work this year has been supported by donors such as Save the Children Sweden, the Western Cape Department of Social Development, World Childhood Foundation, Open Society Foundation, Ford Foundation, Norwegian Centre for Human Rights, National Lottery, SASOL, Western Cape Department of Community Safety and Rockerfeller Brothers Fund.

She also salutes the NGOs past leaders—Shifra Jacobson, Dianna Scott, Carol Bower and Cheryl Frank—that have “shepherded us through the evolution of the organisation and we’ve been adaptable”.

RAPCAN’s direct service delivery programmes are presently based mostly in Lavender Hill, a low income suburb in Cape Town. It also participates in national debates on children’s legislation and offers training to other NGOs beyond South Africa.

“Our vision is to strongly include the participation of children. We would like to see children’s voices come out clearly in every RAPCAN programme,” says Nomdo of their vision.

She says that RAPCAN is unique because it offers direct services while being involved in lobbying, research, training and information production. It is also geared towards “building practical models for [service] implementation”.

“It’s our strength that we can work in different contexts. We learn about best practice through our direct service delivery and determine out how we want practice to change and so we can develop programmes,” elaborates Nomdo.

“If law reform is needed we will make submissions in Parliament, based on our experience and ideology.”

As their work is holistic, the research, service delivery and lobbying components inform each other. Working in schools, for example, would inform new programmes that RAPCAN might develop for school learners.

RAPCAN’s driving force is to keep children free from harm, says Nomdo.

“Past messages around children’s rights were that the child should tell someone what happened. But our experience is that children aren’t believed when they talk about abuse. Police, parents and educators don’t believe them. We need to be strategic and talk to adults about realising children’s rights,” says Nomdo.

“We talk about the child’s rights to equality, dignity, privacy and citizenship. People don’t see children as equal citizens and we want to challenge that in society.”

For more information about RAPCAN log on to www.rapcan.org.za or telephone 021-712-2330.

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