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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.

Comments

vivian's picture

well done

You have changed your title........... This is equally nice. Your piece is inspiring and well composed.

Vivian

''Every woman have a story at every stage of Life''

Potter's picture

The Culture of Silence Has Met Its Match

...in both Madame Oritha and in you. Madame Oritha was a great choice for an interview. Liberia has years of healing of do to recover from the war. Because of advocates like her, the women traumatized by the visciousness of sexual violence have found a defender. Thank you for this profile. May it inspire many other women in West Africa to take up the cause.

Laura Golakeh's picture

Thanks

Thanks. Interveiwing her was a milestone for me.

"Our time has finally come"

laurabstull's picture

Inspiring

The new title is just as great as the last one!

The piece has turned out beautifully, you chose an incredible figure to interview and your enthusiasm and passion for unveiling the sexual violence in Liberia is unmistakeable. Your words are so descriptive, just bursting at the seams! I particularly love this part: "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 so appreciate the issue you have chosen to address in this article. Women worldwide are forced to withstand and process the trauma of sexual violence in silence. Thanks to women like you and Madame Oritha and organizations like WorldPulse, women can build a community of support and awareness.

I'm so excited to be working with you throughout this process and I can't wait for the next assignment!

Hope this finds you well,
Laura

Laura Golakeh's picture

HI

THANKS LAURA.HOPE WE WORK TOGETHER MORE CLOSELY THE NEXT TIME.

"Our time has finally come"

MBogue's picture

Great job!

Laura,

Thank you for sharing such an inspiring profile with us! The inspiration you drew from Madame Brooks was almost palpable that you made me feel inspired by her as well! This line was particularly moving: "I couldn’t help but put my pen and pad aside and give Madame Brooks a warm hug of thanks." You can tell that you genuinely learned from this assignment, which makes the reader grateful to share in it and care because you care.

You chose a wonderful woman for your assignment and effectively showed your reader why she is such a leader in your community. You painted a clear and comprehensive picture of the extent of sexual assault and backed it up with strong statistics so that your reader not only learned a lot, but was also able to understand why Madame Brooks is such an important figure and model for change. Thank you for teaching us about this issue and inspiring us with Madame Brooks' story. Great job and keep up the good work!

Maura

Judy K's picture

No more silence!!!

Laura -- Your article is fantastic! You were able to move me from a feeling overwhelmed by the statistics you present on sexual assault in Liberia to one of hope. That's where empowerment begins - with a vision that something more is possible, even in the face of such horrors. Breaking the silence is a very important step in this process. Thanks!!!

I look forward to hearing more from you soon.

Happy New Year,

Judy Kugelmass

Judy Kugelmass

Laura Golakeh's picture

Happy New Year

Thanks Judy.

"Our time has finally come"

Vera Salter's picture

Module 1

Laura, Thank you for your inspirational article. I look forward to reading more of your work. Vera Salter

Laura Golakeh's picture

Hi

Thanks Vera.

"Our time has finally come"

Rachael Maddock-Hughes's picture

Great combination

Hi Laura,

What a fantastic job. You have integrated narrative, statistics, quotes, for an amazingly inspirational piece. I would love to know a little more about the specific advocacy work that Madame Brooks organization carries out. Do they advocate at the parliamentary level? Or locally?

One last quick question about your statistics. When you state "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", I don't understand the percentages. You say 40% of victims were between the ages of 13 and 18, and then 77% were under five. Could you clarify that?

Great job, and keep up the good work!

Kind regards,

Rachael

"In every human heart there are a few passions that last a lifetime. They're with us from the moment we're born, and nothing can dilute their intensity." Rob Brezny

Laura Golakeh's picture

Thanks

I mean locally. About the statistic it was a numerical error.It was actually 17%. Will rectify it.

"Our time has finally come"

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