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From Violence to Hope: Helping Adolescent Girls in Liberia

June 21, 2011

From the devastation of war, Rosana Schaack saw an opportunity. When Rosana participated in a survey of Liberia, a country in the midst of a 14-year-long civil war, she was touched by the war experiences of women and girls. Girls – some as young as seven – were taken from their families to become child soldiers. Many were victims of sexual violence and exploitation. Often unwelcome to return to their communities, many girls were left with little hope for the future, and found themselves financially reliant on abusive men.

Seeing the devastating effects of violence firsthand, Rosana felt an obligation to help. In 2003, she founded THINK (Touching Humanity in Need of Kindness), which is a partner of the United Nations Foundation. THINK is a 9-month-long residential program for girls age 14-24. The program offers the girls access to medical care – many receive their very first medical exam. There is also a counselor to help the girls cope with the emotional trauma of violence. 

Furthermore, THINK provides the girls with educational classes and vocational training. Since many of the girls are victims of sexual exploitation, Rosana said it is critical to provide them with the tools to be financially independent. The girls are taught livelihood skills like pastry making, tailoring, and cosmetology. Upon graduation, they receive tools to help jumpstart their careers, such as a sewing machine or cooking supplies.

Many of the young girls are already mothers. Every year, 10 of the 25 girls bring their babies with them to the program. Rosana said she believes this is one reason why the work of THINK is so important – it impacts two generations. The program empowers girls to take charge of their own lives, and provide a better future not only for themselves, but for their children. “When they leave the program, they look at themselves in a different light,” Rosana explained.

During a recent visit to the UN Foundation office, Rosana shared a few stories about the girls she has helped.  One of her first students was taken as a child soldier at seven years old. She was given her first weapon at nine, and began working as a bodyguard for a general. She became pregnant at 12, but her baby died because of lack of medical care. She became pregnant again at 16, but her baby’s father was killed in the war. Left with few options, she found herself at THINK with her young son. Now equipped with the tools to be financially independent, she is able to provide for her son, who is in the 5th grade.

That is just one story of the 261 girls that Rosana has helped to rehabilitate so far. Because of THINK, these girls have overcome their violent pasts and are on their way to attaining their dreams.