One of our projects at Tides, Women’s Rights International (WRI), works with women in conflict situations to document human rights violations. The director, Shana Swiss lived in Monrovia for many years during the 90’s and worked closely with Rosana Schaack (“Rosie”). I spoke to Shana before I left and she put me in touch with Rosie. I had a chance to meet Rosie on Monday.
With WRI, Rosie worked with Shana and others to document the war experiences of women from 1990 – 1994 in the greater Monrovia area. In 1996, Rosie moved to Cote d’Ivoire where she surveyed Liberian refugees from other counties. Last year, more than 15 years after the first civil war, Shana, Rosie and others presented their findings at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission(TRC) in Liberia. The TRC was mandated by the government to report on the human rights violations that occurred in Liberia from 1979 to 2003.
Currently Rosie is the Executive Director of THINK (Touching Humanity In Need of Kindness) Home, a rehabilitation center for women/girls (I think of them as girls because they vary in age from 15 to 24) who are victims of sexual assault and abuse. The program is for 9 months, and provides food, education and shelter for these students (and their children). In the morning, the women learn English, math science and in the afternoon they can learn either tailoring, cosmetology, or baking. To date, 212 women have graduated.
The first few groups of women were either child soldiers in the war, or were rape victims of the war. Many of the female combatants were victimized sexually and used as sex slaves. Of the current set of women, 8 are from trafficking, 10 are survivors of sexual assault, and 4 come from a safe home. Some of them were taken from their home with a promise for a better life, and sold into trafficking. THINK also operates a safe house for survivors and victims of sexual and gender-based violence.
On Tuesday, I had the chance to visit the THINK Rehabilitation Home and spend some time with the students, teachers and counselors. I arrived at THINK Home a little after 4. Rosie had told me she would not be there but she let them know I was coming. Everyone was very warm and welcoming. All the students were in one of the three vocational skills classes and the little kids were playing. I took a tour of the home, saw where the women slept, the child care center while the women were in school, the kitchen, etc.
I visited all three of the classes. The pastry class was baking banana bread and offered me some when it was done – delicious! I spent most of my time in the cosmetology class since it was being held outside. The students were learning what was needed to do someone’s hair (hair spray, styling gel). They asked if they could work with my hair. The students stood around and watched as the teacher worked on my hair.
There are counselors who are on site during the day as well, and one stays with them every night. They rotate every 3 days. I cannot even imagine or relate to what these women have been through. In addition to being victims of physical and sexual abuse, they are blamed and stigmatized for what has happened to them. I watched them laugh with each other, smile, learn and study and in between take care of their baby or child if necessary. I admire their courage, strength and determination and am so glad that they found a place like THINK Home. The women who teach and counsel are very loving and together with Rosie have made a home for these women and for their children, and have provided them hope.
Meenakshi Abbi, Tides Program Manager for Policy, Strategy, & Global Initiatives, spent December 2009 volunteering in Liberia with the International Rescue Committee. This post was originally published on her blog, Yatri.