Breaking the culture of silence
One would take this blue colored house located at the Duport Road on the outskirt of Monrovia as an ordinary one, but this is the Duport Road Sexual and Gender Based Violence Clinic, a home to many young women who are victims of sexual violence. The Duport Road Sexual and Gender Based Violence Clinic was founded in July 2008, and one of the brains behind this refuge is Madame Oritha Brooks, a nurse, counselor and social worker. She might not be your typical strong and ideal woman, but if you live in a society where sexual violence is the order of the day, where people are uneducated about risks of sexual violence, where sexual violence is used as a weapon to prove superiority and make charms, where, according to a World Health Organization report, in 6 out 15 counties in Liberia, 75 percent of women interviewed claimed to have been raped, and where the culture of silence is still rampant because of marginalization, you will agree and realize that Madame Brooks is more than just a strong woman.
In the first six months of 2009, the Duport Road SGBV rape statistics indicate that 700 women and children were admitted as victims of sexual assault. The majority, about 40 percent, were girls between 13 and 18 years old, followed closely by girls between 5 and 12. A staggering 77 percent were under the age of 5. What painful ordeal for these young girls. These are girls who could have become right activists, lawyers, doctors, and teachers but have seen their hope of reaching such heights dumped because they were raped, got pregnant and have to live with this trauma the rest of their lives. What a wicked society we live in. But Madame Brooks has come to say, in spite of all these, there is still light at the end of the tunnel.
Very few women can offer hope and a future in such situation, and Madame Brooks is one of the few. Madame Brooks is very open, understanding, receptive and hard working. She offers to talk to me right after a counseling session, and although she looks tired she still manages a smile. In the clinic waiting room, young teenage girls sit silently as they await their turn for counseling. “Most of these girls are traumatized”, she tells me. Hers is a very humble background. Madame Brooks was born in Maryland County in Liberia, a county noted for its seaport and nice beaches and home to Liberia’s longest serving president, William V.S. Tubman. Her graduation from high school was delayed because of the civil crisis but that did not stop her from pursuing her education. She finally graduated from the D-Tweh High School in Monrovia as one of the few female students. Although women were not given much opportunity during her youth, Madame Brooks struggled to get an education, not to benefit herself and her family but to serve humanity. “I did nursing after high school because I felt Liberia needed trained nurses, and I wanted to help people in need of health care”, she told me. After a while, Madame Brooks decide it was time to cater to the emotional need of people and entered the field of social work. “There were many young people, especially young women who needed emotional treatment in Liberia” she said. After studying social work, Madame Brooks provided counseling services and worked for several non-governmental organizations in Liberia.
Hers is a journey of humanitarian service to the people of Liberia. “I love working directly with young women knowing I can change their life from worse to better, giving them a future they never dreamt of”, she said with a smile. A married mother of three young children, Madame Brooks says she spends her life working to make sure Liberia is a safe place for every young woman. To many young women in Liberia, Madame Brooks is like the mother they never had and who is always there for them no matter the situation. “These young women call me mother”, she says. Madame Brooks is known for her work as a counselor for young women whose future and dreams have been robbed by family members, friends, strangers and loved ones through sexual violence. Although people in government are yet to recognize Madame Brook’s work, she is known by many ordinary Liberians because of who she has and how she continues to help the women of Liberia.
Madame Brooks is also an activist for women’s rights, fighting day and night to end violence against women despite many challenges and threats from people. “Sometimes I do not sleep at night because I am awake thinking of plans to make our advocacy successful”, she tells me. I couldn’t help but put my pen and pad aside and give Madame Brooks a warm hug of thanks. It is because of her that many young women still cling to a future despite their past. It is because of this strong woman the culture of silence is now slowly ending and people are coming out to speak of their ordeal. I feel so privileged to talk with this woman in whom so many young women confide daily. To me she is a role model; to many, she is an inspiration; to some, she is a mother; because of her, Liberia is proud. I can’t help but wonder how life would be for young women if it weren’t for her hard work and determination. I can’t hold back tears of gratitude and relief as I write this profile of such a strong woman and I owe a lot to WorldPulse for allowing me the opportunity to interact, appreciate and write about this woman of substance. She will always be remembered and will always have a special place in my heart and that of other young women, not only in Liberia but also worldwide. The world never knew her before, but it has known her now thanks to WorldPulse.
This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future, which is providing rigorous web 2.0 and new media training for 30 emerging women leaders. We are speaking out for social change from some of the most unheard regions of the world.