Leonor Stjepic - RAFT
Hundreds of thousands of people around the world are affected by skin disfiguring illnesses and damage created by burns, wounds, limb amputations and skin cancer. The Restoration of Appearance and Function Trust (RAFT), an independent registered charity funds pioneering research into practical and affordable ways to save and repair skin.
Says Leonor, “I feel immensely privileged to have the opportunity to make a difference. However difficult or frustrating my day may be, the satisfaction I get from knowing that, in a very small way, I have improved someone’s life is huge. Even as a young child I wanted to help others.
“My immediate family were political refugees from Spain after the Spanish Civil War. I was very fortunate to benefit from living in a democracy and, despite my family having very little money, benefitting from a good education.
“Like many children of refugees and immigrants, the value of education as a route out of poverty was drummed into my cousins and me. I was the first woman in my family to have a career and put it down to the drive and determination of my family to make a better life for us. Knowing how fortunate I was and how much I received from others, made me determined to give something back.”
Leonor has been Chief Executive of RAFT since October 2007, having worked professionally in the charity sector since 1995. She has been involved with charities for 25 years since helping to set up the Amnesty Working Group for Children at the age of 19.
“Being the CEO of a small organization is like running a business” says Leonor “The need to be flexible, stretching money to go that little bit further and always looking for ways and opportunities to improve what the organization can deliver is of the utmost importance. Being adaptable, ready for any challenge and grounded is a necessity.
“Not being part of the NHS or receiving Government funding means all of our funds come from donations. I am lucky in that I have a fantastic team of fundraisers. They are creative and always looking for new ways to fundraise. We involve all the staff and volunteers in coming up with ideas, as everyone’s input is valuable to us”
The research at the RAFT laboratories also extends into areas the public are completely unaware of. RAFT initiated work into the effectiveness of sunscreens in protecting against UVA and free radical damage to skin, which has contributed to the change in EU and US legislation with respect to claims made in relation to sunscreen UVA protection. Research carried out by RAFT into how sun cream should be applied is now part of the Cancer Research UK SunSmart Campaign, which is the UK’s National Skin Cancer Prevention Campaign.
RAFT has also once again partnered with leading tanning company Fake Bake UK Ltd and their Save Your Skin Campaign which makes more people aware of how to tan safely and protect your skin, so their work is invaluable in prevention as well as the cure.
“My uncle – Agustin Roa – was the biggest influence in my life,” says Leonor. “He had to flee from Spain at the end of the Spanish Civil War and ended up in an internment camp in France. When World War II broke out, he escaped and joined the French Resistance. He was captured and put into a concentration camp in North Africa, from which he was liberated by the British; joined the British Army and went back to fight in North Africa.
“What my uncle taught me was: You are not inferior or superior to anyone. You must always keep learning new skills and new things. And no matter how bad things seem they will get better.
“I like to think that I am a compassionate person. In my line of work you have to be. The important thing is to remember not to allow your emotions to get in the way of doing what you need to do. However, I am not superwoman and I do get upset by some of the stories I hear. I cope with it by taking a long walk. So if you ever come across a strange woman wandering around Hampstead Heath with two black Labradors– that will be me!”
The general public funds the majority of projects that RAFT undertakes and so they need your help. You can give a donation by post, through their website www.raft.ac.uk or by text by writing RAFT01 in the message and the amount then texting it to 70070.
Or you could hold a fundraising event for RAFT. Download their free fundraising ideas pack here.
You can also find other ways to help like shopping by clicking here or sending a charity card by post.