The Open Disclosure Foundation (ODF) was established in 2002 by Andile Carelse, a kwaito artist, who openly revealed in 2001 her painful past of being sexually abused as a child. She created the Foundation to provide survivors of abuse with a sustainable programme aimed at assisting them in the path of healing.
In 2001 while Carelse was working as a radio personality at YFM, she came face-to-face with a past that she had never spoken about, when a girl called onto the station threatening to end her life because she had been abused.
Most people will remember that in the same year South Africans were devastated by the news of a brutal rape of a nine-month-old child, who came to be known as baby Tshepang. Carelse explains that she saw the girl’s account of her harsh past, coupled with the violent rape of this small infant child, as an urgent outcry in the country.
Like most of the women in a similar situation, Carelse found herself at a very crucial crossroad: wanting to speak out against the injustice of abuse, with strong reference to her individual experience, but not knowing who to talk to.
She notes that while grappling with her own past, she kept on waiting for someone in government to say something about sexual abuse, but no-one spoke up. As the country’s leaders remained silent, Carelse came to the distressing realisation that, “We may not have leadership that understands,” and that she would have to push this subject into the spotlight.
Although Carelse had never dreamt of starting up an organisation, when she started talking publicly about her own history of childhood sexual abuse on YFM, she was overwhelmed by the number of people who came forward with similar stories. Through various consultations with experts in this field, she began the Open Disclosure Foundation.
Challenged to Act
The Foundation is geared towards providing a safe and caring environment where victims and survivors of sexual abuse can begin their healing process – with disclosure at the forefront of this process. Although disclosure is the first step for healing, Carelse acknowledges that the process does not stop there.
It is an unfortunate reality that most survivors of sexual abuse live for years with the effects of this violation, and although they may be outwardly able to cope with the demands of daily living, the effects can be so pervasive that they permeate all aspects of their lives.
Compelled by this understanding of the after effects of abuse, through the emPowa! Programme, ODF seeks to provide women who have experienced abuse with a sustainable solution to economic independence through the provision of small micro finance or small business packages which are mentored by the organisation.
It is through this programme that the Foundation aims to meet its goal of creating a transitional facility aimed at restoring the independence of abused individuals.
Carelse notes that the Foundation is currently engaged with various donors about the strong possibility of opening a bakery that will further the organisation’s empowerment plan and to sustain the organisation financially.
What Doesn’t Kill You…
Like most NGOs, the Foundation has had to contend with the challenge of obtaining funds from donors who have a myriad of ‘similar’ organisations to pick and chose from – the ensuing result of which leads to a number organisations being neglected for the privileged few. Carelse bemoans that, “Donors want clean poverty.”
Currently, ODF commands a modest annual budget of R500 000. Carelse notes that the organisation has survived for the past ten months without any financial contribution from their main sponsor, the Department of Social Development. She explains that the Foundation is still waiting for funding that was promised in February 2007, but is yet to be transferred to the organisation.
In light of these developments, the Foundation finds itself embarking on the path that a few NGOs have taken - that of incorporating business to sustain the organisation’s development work. Through the bakery programme, Carelse foresees the organisation continuing to provide quality service to survivors of sexual abuse.
…Makes you Stronger
Although Carelse acknowledges that sexual abuse doesn’t only affect women in Gauteng, she resolves that, “We are not going to take something half baked…we are going to finish the model in Gauteng and take it to the rest of South Africa.”
The current model includes the emPowa Programme and:
A Walk in Centre - The Foundation operates a fully staffed walk in counselling facility in the Central Business District of Johannesburg.
Therapy for Caregivers - This service offers touch therapy and massage to community health workers and caregivers who work amongst the poorest of the poor.
School Tours - The Foundation takes a group of celebrities to local schools to stimulate discussion around issues of violence, abuse, sexuality and peer pressure.
Refugee Assistance Programme - This programme provides support primarily to refugee women who are at high risk of becoming victims of sexual violence.
Advocacy and Social Transformation - This programme looks at issues surrounding legislation and the education of communities about legal issues that affect them and how they can take part in the law making process. The Foundations Media Desk responds to issues related to and as a consequence of sexual violence as they happen.
Self Defence Classes - The Foundation, in association with top Martial Arts instructors provides basic and advanced self defence skills for our clients to further empower them against violence.
As a means of overcoming the current spatial boundaries, Carelse highlights the future introduction of online counselling services offered by the organisation. Survivors of abuse all over South Africa will be able to book and participate in sessions at their own convenience.
Although Carelse acknowledge that, “Our biggest challenge is getting money to sustain the model.” She is confident that the Foundation will find ways of means to sustain itself into the future, highlighting the bakery programme as a case in point.
Ultimately, Carelse foresees the Foundation continuing to spur more South Africans to engage in dialogue centred on issues of sexual abuse in the country.