My name is Rosana Schaack and I am the Executive Director of the NGO Touching Humanity In Need of Kindness (THINK- www.thinkliberia.com), Inc. I got my vision to work with women and girls from participating in a survey of the war experiences of women and girls during the Liberian civil war. In 1994, Dr. Shana Swiss, an American doctor, came to Liberia to gather this information for the organization she worked with called Women’s Rights International. After hearing the awful stories from women and girls in displaced people’s camps, communities around Monrovia, Market Women and high school girls in and out of school, I felt compelled to do something to restore hope and advocate for the rights of women, girls and children who were child soldiers and were both perpetrators and victims of the civil war. I first worked as Project Coordinator for Calvary Chapel Liberia doing rehabilitation for child soldiers. When that project was over, I felt there was a need to continue working with the former combatants and got two younger women in my church to join me in starting THINK and developing the programs as we went along. Monitoring and Evaluation of what we did included a questionnaire and focus group discussions with five categories of women and girls. During the focus group discussions, we found out that women and girls were willing to talk about their experiences. We developed survey questions that were culturally acceptable and conducted the survey in Monrovia and then when the fighting forced us to run to Ivory Coast for refuge, we regrouped and were able to access women and girls from Greater Liberia and from Monrovia that had fled as refugees prior to our entering. The findings of the two sets of surveys (1994 – 1997), were presented to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2008.
There were two stories in particular that prompted me to do something to provide rehabilitation of child soldiers and women and girls affected by the civil war in Liberia. One was from a young woman that joined one of our focus group discussions in a market and the other was from a 18 year old girls in Ivory Coast that had been taken from a check point line from her grandmother and taken to live with the rebel fighters for three years. She was forced to cook human flesh, watch killings and other horrific things. She was rescued by West African Peacekeepers and helped to cross the border from Liberia into Ivory Coast.
THINK was founded by three Liberian women to advocate for the rights and well-being of women and children in Liberia and opened a Rehabilitation Home for girls and young women associated with the fighting forces in October, 2003. The THINK Rehabilitation and Empowerment Home now caters to war affected adolescent girls and young women with various social problems such as victims of trafficking, survivors of gender based violence, commercial sex workers and girls separated from their families because of war. The home provides shelter, protection, medical care, psychosocial support and counseling, academic classes using the Accelerated Learning Program (ALP) curriculum, vocational skills training (Pastry making, food preservation and catering, Tailoring, and Cosmetology), life skills training including Reproductive Health, awareness about HIV/AIDS, prevention and response to GBV, conflict resolution and peace building, parenting and child care for under-five children of 10 of the girls. The home accommodates 25 girls and 10 of their under-five children. Each cycle of girls stay in the home for nine months.The impactful thing about THINK Liberia is the fact that our success is visible in the transformation in the lives of our beneficiaries. I attribute this impact to the fact that I was able to plan interventions that would help women and girls because I had first hand information and interaction with the target population and knew the culture and traditions so that our approach would be culturally accepted. Being available to the beneficiaries and involving the communities in some of the interventions are helpful as well. THINK is involved with advocacy and activism on Human Rights, especially Women and Children's Rights. THINK is a lead local NGO in the prevention and response efforts of sexual and gender based violence in Liberia.I am the 2010 recipient of the Distinguished Leadership Award For Internationals (DLAI) from the University of MN. I am a member of the Vital Voices Global Partnership in fighting Violence Against Women and Girls. I received the 2012 Vital Voices Human Rights Award. Through THINK I have been providing prevention education in communities in Monrovia and in rural parts of Rivercess County. Our organization also provide sexual violence clinics and most recently we are providing a UNICEF-sponsored program of psychosocial activities with children affected by Ebola. I’m not a big talker. I’d rather do and as I communicate, live with and listen to the conflict-affected women in our country, they become aware of their power and I do my best to support and validate the best of each one of them.
Take action! This post was submitted in response to The Path to Participation Initiative from World Pulse and No Ceilings.