Global Partnership to End Violence Against Women
Global Leadership Awards
As Liberia recovers from nearly 15 years of conflict, the country’s boy soldiers have received global attention. Too often neglected, however, are the challenges of rehabilitating Liberia’s thousands of girl soldiers, who were forced to become fighters, sex slaves, or militants’ “wives.”
Rosana Schaack met one girl soldier who had been taken when she was seven and a half years old, and made a servant for a general. At age nine, the girl had been given her first weapon. As Rosana describes, “She fought in our war for 13 of the 14 years...from age seven and a half to almost 22.”
Rosana knew that this young woman, and others like her, needed therapy, compassion and care if she were to rebuild her life — and if Liberia was to reclaim its future. Rosana felt a responsibility to act; as she says, “I’m not a big talker. I’d rather do.”
Rosana is no stranger to war herself. She was separated from her adopted American family in 1990 when Liberia forced expatriates to leave the country; as she explains, “I had always had shelter and a well-provided-for life, but when the war came, all of that was stripped away and we found ourselves lacking everything.”
Rosana began to document war experiences and support Liberian women and girls. When fighting broke out in 1996, Rosana fled to the Ivory Coast, where she documented the violence and trauma experienced by women and girls she met in the displacement camps.
As the war ended in 2003, Rosana founded a nonprofit organization, Touching Humanity in Need of Kindness (THINK, Inc.), to aid Liberia’s healing process. She focused THINK’s efforts on the former girl soldiers and “war wives,” offering shelter, medical care, counseling, academic classes, vocational learning and life-skills training.
THINK’s Rehabilitation Homes accommodate 25 girls for nine months. In Rosana’s words, “We’re trying to help them to redirect their lives, to empower them, build their self-esteem, teaching them how to read and write. Knowledge is power for a female.”
THINK has expanded to support survivors of rape and domestic violence and to assist women still displaced by the war. Rosana’s efforts are driven by her unyielding hope.
“I like to help people find their inner strength,” she says. “My purpose in life is not just to live and die, but to leave something behind. To encourage others to find their inner strength to make others’ lives better.”