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Date: Fri, 1 Aug 97 11:21:16 CDT
From: rich@pencil (Rich Winkel)
Subject: Liberia's Women Pick Up the Pieces After War

/** headlines: 185.0 **/
** Topic: Liberia's Women Pick Up the Pieces After War **
** Written 11:32 PM Jul 31, 1997 by mmason in cdp:headlines **
/* Written 4:08 PM Jul 31, 1997 by newsdesk@igc.org in africa.news */
/* ---------- "IPS: LIBERIA-HUMAN RIGHTS: Picking" ---------- */

Liberia's Women Pick Up the Pieces After War

By Attes Johnson. InterPress Service. 31 July, 1997

MONROVIA, Jul 28 (IPS) - Liberian women, traumatised by rape and other human rights abuses during the civil war, are struggling to pick up the pieces of their lives.

Many of their stories of rape and torture during the war were locked away in the women's memories as they lived from day-to-day, trying to keep themselves and their families alive. But with the help of counselling programmes, the women are beginning to unlock the horrors that thousands of them endured during the civil war.

I do not like to talk about what I experienced during the war, neither do I want to think about it, said Lorpue Togabakoyah, a midwife from Southern Liberia who was raped during the war.

Many women met their nightmare(rape), while in search of food, and their husbands were hunted by armed men during the fighting, added Togabakoyah.

Each time I think about it and my children, I think it could have happened to my children and I want the ground to open under my feet, the mother of eight girls continued. The stories are many and sometimes tears drop when listening.

According to Jeremiah Walker, an executive member of the Inter Faith Council of Liberia (ICL), some 25,000 women of various ages were raped during the seven-year war.

Rape is one of the pathetic features in the civil war that has not been given the needed attention by the different ruling councils of state, and very little attention is given to this issue by the community of nations, said Walker, who is also the President of the Liberian Council of Churches.

Togabakoyah and thousands of other women hope that peace and stability will be maintained in the West African nation following the Jul. 19 polls which brought former warlord Charles Taylor to power.

Taylor invaded Liberia on Christmas Eve 1989 with a band of 150 men. His National Patriotic Front grew and was the largest militia before the peace accord which led to disarmanent.

Various local organisations are helping thousands of women and children to participate in the peaceful transition and development of the country.

Some of these groups include the Abused Women and Girls (AWAG) network, the Children Assistance Programme (CAP), and the National Women Commission of Liberia (NAWOCO). The United Nation's Children Fund (UNICEF) has been one of the primary international organisations assisting the women and children.

Since 1994, UNICEF has funded a number of programmes to provide widows and orphaned children with skills so that they will be self- reliant and productive.

Skills learned in these programmes include agriculture and food preservation, soap making, and tie and dye. At the end of the training, the women are given small loans to set up their own businesses.

A counselling service also is provided to help women deal with the trauma of rape, torture and with the lost of their husbands and children.

Statistics obtained from UNICEF show that 40,000 women have participated in the programmes to rehabilitate women and children. Of these, about 2000 have received direct counselling, and so far, 8000 women have been trained. UNICEF has financed eight training workshops.

This exercise has been helping these women in two ways -- helping them to cope with the trauma (of the war) and affording them the means to be self-independent and earn a livelihood, said John Sumo, the Assistant Project Officer for Education at UNICEF's offices in Liberia.

Walker said that the problems faced by women, young girls and boys pose a major challenge to Liberia. According to his estimates, there are 13,000 children among the ranks of soldiers belonging to the various rebel factions and more than 30,000 orphans.

...These youth, who have been victimised by the war, have learned to appreciate what they can do for themselves by actively participating in community development, through which they are able to establish a very firm foundation for themselves, Sumo said.