The most interesting blog post you’ll ever read on ‘capacity development’

Andrés Bastidas Beltrán of Colombian member centre Corporación AVRE (Support to Victims of Sociopolitical Violence for Emotional Recovery) gave a presentation during the 2011 seminar of the Latin American region in Lima, Peru in September. Hosted by Peruvian member Centre of Psychosocial Attention (CAPS), last year’s regional seminar brought together professionals from 15 torture rehabilitation centres in the region to discuss issues such as public policy on torture documentation and different treatment methods.

As I started working at NGOs, a phrase kept popping up that, honestly, I didn’t quite understand at the time.

“Capacity development” or “building capacity” was among the new NGO-ese I had yet to become acquainted with. In this field – as any other – there is a whole new language to learn. This included “concept note”, “actors”, “stakeholders”, “facilitators”, “good governance”, among many others. However, as I started working at the IRCT, I heard this particular phrase a lot, and most often in context with our Non-State Actors project.

“Non-state actors” is also not a very helpful term, and it doesn’t get any better with the longer version: developing the capacity of IRCT member centres to deliver holistic torture rehabilitation services through south-south and south-north peer supervision and support.

But this is my attempt to explain this project, and why building capacity is so vital for the future of the global anti-torture movement.

We are a membership organisation comprised of more than 140 rehabilitation centres all over the world. We have members in Sudan and Peru, Australia and Nepal, Egypt and, most recently, Namibia – more than 70 countries. And as one might surmise, not all the centres have the same resources or expertise.

EATIP in Argentina has a lot of experience in supporting torture victims – medically, psychologically, and financially – through justice proceedings. They have done so with several victims who are providing witness testimony in cases from the former dictatorial regime. African Centre for Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture Victims in Uganda has been at the forefront at developing livelihood programmes – training women how to sew or weave, for example – as part of their rehabilitative care for female victims of sexual violence and torture. Other centres are stars at fundraising and understanding how to apply for grants from the European Union or philanthropic foundations.

These are all skills that are not evenly distributed across the 140 centres. Building capacity is simply trying to improve all the rehabilitation centres by having the centres teach each other. Our project is to facilitate that through exchanges, seminars and organising training. A doctor in Sri Lanka travels to an Indian centre to learn a new psycho-social treatment method. A partner in Cameroon meets with other Sub-Saharan African treatment centres to discuss fundraising options – to work together rather than in competition. A forensic specialist from Colombia might visit a centre in Mexico to explain the most up-to-date information on documenting torture in the proper fashion (according to the Istanbul Protocol), so that the information can be used to prosecute the perpetrators or apply for asylum cases.

Capacity development – despite the esoteric wording – is simply making organisations better through training, sharing information and expertise, and cooperating, so that all members of the IRCT benefit from the incredible wealth of knowledge in each of the rehabilitation centres that comprise that membership. Improving the centres means improving their ability to treat victims of torture, aid survivors in accessing justice, and prevent torture from happening in the first place.

Tessa works in the Communications Team at the IRCT. The Non-State Actors project (NSA) is funded by the European Commission.

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