To understand healing as Rosana Schaack, Executive Director of THINK, sees it in her country of Liberia, it helps to think like a nurse. While I don’t have this qualification, I have garnered insights from Rosana as well as my own sister, both nurses who are in part galvanized by their own experiences with illness at a young age to work to heal others.
While a doctor often has a specialty, and might approach a patient’s malady through that specific lens, a nurse must think both specifically and broadly in order to appreciate the depth and breadth of an illness. In doing so, nurses care for the whole person: physical, psychological, emotional.
This is a perspective not lost on Rosana, whose dedicated work with women and girls cannot be adequately conveyed in a single blog entry. Her nurse’s perspective helps provide a glimpse inside the work of an extraordinary woman leader, healing her country of violence against women from the inside out, one woman and girl at a time.
Before, during and after the war, Rosana was part of a group of women, largely comprised of health professionals, who worked to sew together the narratives and surveyed responses of Liberian women’s experiences with sexual violence in a book, One Pain Touches All, which was published after the war. One image in particular stands out from this book: that of a woman using 10 arms to manage her various responsibilities (pictured, right). Just as a good nurse looks at a person’s health from many different angles, a Liberian woman balances a plethora of responsibilities – in the case of Rosana, this has been a potent combination. As both a woman and nurse, she has created and strengthened an organization that avoids band-aid solutions, and which seeks long-term healing for the women of Liberia.
THINK accomplishes this through four main centers of activity: (1) the THINK Main Office; (2) the THINK Rehabilitation Center; (3) the THINK Safe House/Juvenile Transit Center; and, (4) THINK- GBV (DuPort Road Clinic).
THINK’s Main Office is the headquarters for its programming, including addressing sexual and gender based violence; rehabilitating and reintegrating sexual violence survivors, including former girl combatants; and advocacy around harmful traditional practices. However, much of the actual programming occurs in THINK’s other centers and outside in the communities surrounding Monrovia. For example, I had the opportunity to visit Peace Island, a settlement established after the war for grassroots outreach to men and boys in the community. The next day, we traveled to one of the most difficult areas to grow up in Monrovia: West Point, where Rosana led a workshop for young girls, ages 11 to 17, on sexual and reproductive rights (pictured, left).
The first stop for a survivor of sexual violence coming to THINK is transportation by a THINK staff member to the Safe House/Juvenile Transit Center at its confidential location. While they share a campus, the Safe House is for survivors of sexual violence, and the Juvenile Transit Center for survivors of human trafficking and, more recently, for at-risk youth. The centers includes girls ages 0-17 and boys ages 1-5 – they live separately and have unique programming tailored to their personal needs. Programming can include individual and group counseling, creative arts, physical activities and, when possible, counseling with families in order to provide for possible reunification. Youth intermingle and interact quite like a family, as I witnessed through an enlivened handball game and more than one dance performance. The youth here are dealing with more trauma and hardship than I can ever imagine, but they openly express gratitude and happiness for the three-to-nine month THINK haven – and their joy is contagious.
Another essential part of THINK is the Duport Road Clinic (THINK-GBV) where survivors of violence go if they need examination and treatment for sexual abuse. They are served by staff that includes the ever-energetic and dynamic Elizabeth Kekula – a Global Partnership delegate who is a nurse by training and the Supervisor for SGBV at the Clinic. Elizabeth examines and interviews survivors when they come to the clinic and also testifies in court for their cases.
Lastly, six of 20 spots in the Safe House are reserved for young women to go to the THINK Rehabilitation Center (pictured, below right). This center is home to young women healing from sexual violence crimes, as well as, in many cases, their infants. The main rehabilitation program is nine months long, a length of time that evolved from Rosana’s background in rehabilitating former girl combatants during demobilization after the war. In her rehabilitation work, Rosana realized that rehabilitation could not be achieved in a matter of days, and that it had to be done uniquely for girls in most cases – the critical difference in the experiences of women and men during the war was often the sexual violence component. The nine-month program includes basic education skills and vocational training, as well as spiritual and psychological counseling and creative and physical activities. After rehabilitation, THINK staff continue to find support for survivors through scholarships and other means, and often engage them into work at its four main centers.
It is important to note, as Rosana will be the first to say, that THINK is a success not only because of the staff of dedicated individuals, from counselors to female security guards and beyond, who make it all happen. One need only observe training, like the one I saw in West Point, to see that Rosana is paying it forward in order to ensure that THINK’s impact does not end with her. Rosana has expressed her intention this way: “My purpose in life is not just to live and die, but to leave something behind. Even if I drop and die today, my organization will not drop and die.” In the words of a sexual violence survivor who now works at the Safe House: “Rosana does not want THINK all for herself. She wants THINK for all of Liberia.”
The services that THINK provides are diverse but integrated, and while thinking like a nurse may be part of the key to THINK’s impact, the interconnected work of the other members of the Global Partnership Liberia delegation – such as that of advocates in the police force and court system – are also essential to the healing process for violence against women in Liberia. More on this work is to come!