The Story Of How A Physical Challenged Woman Accepts Her Disability And Pushes For The Better
By Leila B. Gbati- PwD Reporting Fellow
Discrimination, mockery, abandonment and laughter against people with disabilities appear to be the order of the day in Liberia and other parts of the world.
The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) Initial report submitted by Liberia under article 35 of the Convention in 2019 states that PwD were discriminated against in Liberia and to the end, Liberia had to adopt policies and legal frameworks to ensure the rights of PwDs are respected and protected.
Born a healthy and physically fit child, Madam Rosana G.D.H Schaack’s leg got damaged at an early age due to polio.
A condition she has since accepted, not allowing herself to be consumed by self-pity. And today, she has climbed life’s ladder by becoming a member of Liberia’s Legislature—a position she has been occupying for several years now.
Early education of Rep. Schaack
Madam Schaack began her early childhood education with support from her family that mentored her, later graduating from high school. She then later enrolled at the Mother Patern College of Health Sciences in Monrovia, where she received a Bachelor’s of Science Degree in Nursing.
She was given an Honorary Doctorate Degree for Humane Letter based of her human rights impact in Liberia.
A Concrete Fellow of the United States Department of State, she has also won several awards in and out of Liberia.
Giving back to society
After acquiring education and looking at the many challenges she went through as a physically challenged woman, she decided to give back to society by protecting the rights of women and girls.
Being a woman of substance, she has over the years become a mentor and a role model for women and girls across Liberia.
In an interview with this reporter, Rep. Schaack disclosed that she is the founder of Touching Humanity In Need of Kindness or THINK- an institution that continues to be an unstoppable force for girls and women in Liberia.
Through THINK, the outstanding female Lawmaker is making huge strives–she runs a safe home, transit center, and a one-stop clinic for girls and women, offering services and programs that provide shelter, safety, medical care, counseling, vocational training and life skills for girls and women.
Not just those, but she also has a scholarship program for young people form elementary to senior high, including at the college level. This, according to her, is for people to reach their full potential by earning an education.
Rep. Rosana G.D.H Schaack, with residents at the THINK safe home in Liberia (image used with permission)
Her impact in fighting against discrimination and promoting gender equality is is visible not only in her Rivercess constituency but also nationally.
She says her dedication does not stop there, but the female Lawmaker through her organization, THINK and her partners, they adopted a “multi-faceted advocacy approach” , which include partnering with government ministries, meeting with senators, engaging with existing networks, training adolescent girls and youth activists as well as using the media to raise community awareness.
For many years, she has been working on adolescent girls’ health for many years and was actively participating in many established networks and partnerships.
Her organization actively participated as members of the Child Protection Network and collaborated with UNICEF Liberia and the Liberian Ministry of Gender and Development on their advocacy initiative.
Representative Schaack along with others also built the capacity of the Children Parliament, the highest advocacy and representative body for children in Liberia- together; they trained over 70 adolescent girls and youth activists, including those from the Children Parliament as well as local girls clubs, on children rights.
At the end of their training advocacy tools were provided to the trainees to advocate on their own behalf.
The big one which lifted her to the Capitol Building
But over the years, all have not been rosy. Madam Schaack has gone her own difficulties, though she has not allowed herself to be looked at with pity.
She has developed the tenacity to persist in achieving her goals by making things work the way she planned it to be through her hard works.
Based on her advocacy and that of some of her partners, the Liberian Senate passed the Children’s Act on September 15, 2011. The Act became one of the most comprehensive pieces of children’s rights legislation enacted in Africa, representing a monumental step forward for adolescent girls in Liberia.
Before contesting the Legislative seat, she was known for making gains in touching lives.
Then female rights advocate from Rivercess decided to make more achievements by getting into politics to enable her to be at the decision making table- a place she promised to be the voices of women and girls, PwDs and less fortunate people in the society.
In an interview, this physically challenged female Legislator says by being a Lawmaker seated at the front she has been engaged in advocacies at a higher level, so that policies and laws that they (lawmakers) make can reflect on women and girls, PwDs and less fortunate people and give them a better life.
Rosana Schaack contested the seat in the 2017 Presidential and Legislative Elections and won in District # One, Rivercess County, becoming the first woman ever to represent her district.
She says being a disabled, it was yet another challenge for her to make her way into politics and she have taken that as a challenge to be able to encourage others.
According to her, the National Commission on Disability (NCD) Act November 23, 2005 provides for the holding of three seats in the Liberian Legislature for PwDs, even though the provision in the act has not been fully implemented.
She has said that a person who is living with disability should not be limited by his/her condition, remembering that anything they aspire to do in their lives is left with them, but how much time and efforts they put into it is what matters.
She furthered that nothing comes and falls in a person’s lap easily, but people have to work towards achieving their goals which has been her motivation.
“Do not be limited by your disability,” Madam Schaack says.
“It was challenging on two fronts, I represent my people from my origin, but I didn’t grow up there and because being a female and educated sets me in another class according to my people, they saw me as a strong woman and before contesting in District one, Rivercess County, I had work there under an NGO call Calvary Chapel Liberia,”the physically challenged Liberian Lawmaker explains.
“Where I served as project Coordinator for a project from USAID through UNICEF called “Support the Work of Affected Youth” and this project took me to the district where I’m now a representative,” Rep. Schaack adds.
Draws strength from her people’s confidence in her
The people she represents at the House of Representatives first saw the level of work she did while serving at Cavalry Chapel and the interaction she had with them gave her the strengthen and courage to get involved in politics.
She has told this Reporter that to navigate her way through a male dominant political field was a major challenge, but because of her level of exposure in and out of Liberia and her education not looking at her disability the community helped her to be successful.
During her campaign, Rep. Schaack says one of her opponents mentioned that the Capitol Building wasn’t made for “crippled people”. And after hearing that, it gave her the push of strength, stressing that even though she can’t walk as normal (persons without disability) would do, her brain is not damaged.
She also says that her male contender’s statement helped her to be a beacon of hope for PwDs who are begging in the streets.
She is never too busy and can make herself available listening PwDs and seeing how she can help in her weak ways.
Although being a Lawmaker comes with its own challenges, Rep. Schaack believes that she is doing her best to meet up with the expectations of her people and she is available and listens to them.
She explains that at the House of Representatives, they have a specialized committee that is headed by the Speaker which she is working with to look into the issues on the National Commission on Disability, in order improve the conditions of PwDs in Liberia.
She says legislation has been proposed by them on the elderly which the small committee is currently working on to change the old language of “old folks” which she said does not sound nice to “elderly or senior citizens”.
The female Liberian Lawmaker also holds membership on other Committees at the House of Representatives.
Madam Schaack chair the Women Legislative Caucus-Gender Equality, Child Development and Social Services.
The Lawmaker is also a committee member on Lands, Mines, Energy, Natural Resources and Environment including Rules, Order and Administration.
Since she became a lawmaker, she has proffered several proposed legislations which are in the interest of PwDs.
She and other colleagues are also working to see how they can do a mapping of PwDs in order to know what their expertise and skills are and to work with the National Commission on Disability (NCD), in order create employment for them.
DuringPresident George Weah’s visit to Rivercess County recently, he says she identified that some of the housing units that will be built in her District should be set aside for PwDs. This, she says, will give PwDshope that they are included in decision by the government and they are part of the developmental agenda of the President.
She hopes to leave a legacy of significant impact and not to just live and die, but how she can be a help to somebody when she shall have left the Legislature.
One of her achievements, Rep. Schaack points out is her mentorship for women and girls and PwDs, which can help them move out of their “rejection, self-judgment” and limiting themselves- finding a mean to push themselves forward.
She has used her disability to encourage other PwDs that they should “dream their dream, but work towards achieving them.”
She wants them be industrious and be people that somebody will look up- if they have a partner that partner will value them because they are helping to contribute to their daily lives and also to the decisions in the communities they reside in.
“You know, we the older ones have to mentor the younger ones and through our examples. We should not say do what I say and don’t do what I do, no, if we say this is wrong it is wrong. Let me be that example that the girls can look up to and call me at any time and I will response when I can and just be that listening ear for them,” the Rivercess County Lawmaker says.
The female lawmaker’s biggest advocacy right now is to get more women into political participation whether disabled, normal or old.
“The voices of women need to be heard because women are about half of the population therefore, they need to be half in the Senate and House Representatives,”she says.
Rep. Schaack is encouraging PwDs (whether visual-impaired, hearing impairment, physical-impaired) to accept their conditions as they are; but they should also put ideas together to see how they can be able to improve their situation.
Publication of this article was made possible with support from Internews Inclusive Media Project