It’s not every day that you get the opportunity to sit down with someone who truly inspires you, but for me, last week I had one of those days. Rosie Schaack, head of THINK Women’s Empowerment Center (Touching Humanity In Need of Kindness) in Liberia, and a partner of the United Nations Foundation, came to our office in Washington, DC to chat with us about her work with teen girls who were victims of war.
In a country that has just recently come out of a 14-year civil war, and where 41.7 percent of the women have never received a formal education, it could seem easy to lose hope. That’s why organizations like THINK are so essential — they give young girls renewed hope and help them work towards their dreams and goals. The girls at THINK are just like you — they have hopes and dreams and do similar things throughout their day — chores, attend classes, and have “chuchu” time for girl talk, storytelling, and catching up with friends.
But they are different from you, too. Unlike most of us here in the United States, many of these girls experienced war and violence at a very young age, and some were recruited as child soldiers as early as age seven. At THINK, the girls are guided through behavior and interpersonal relationships training where they are given the mentorship and support they need to reach their full potential. They also receive vocational training to learn skills such as pastry-making, cosmetology and tailoring so that when they leave the center, they can support themselves and their children, if they have any.
Rosie shared a story of one of the first girls who joined THINK — also one of the most memorable graduates. This girl had been kidnapped by rebel soldiers and taken to war when she was only seven years old. By age nine, she was given her own weapon and the task of guarding the general of the rebel group. At 16, she had a child. When she returned to her community after the war, she and her baby were rejected. By the time Rosie and THINK found her, she was very tough and didn’t trust anyone. But after THINK’s nine-month program, she regained hope and became the top student in her class. Rosie said THINK’s success rate is almost perfect — girls are not forced into the program, so that they are voluntarily taking steps to change their lives.
Stories like these motivate Rosie and the other women at THINK to keep going every day. So far, they have helped change the lives of more than 260 girls. It inspires all of us here at Girl Up to continue to raise awareness and funds for the girls who need our help to build a bright future. Together with the United Nations we can make a reality. What inspires you to give back?