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06 May 2015

"Our self-confidence is growing" – Theresa Dunbar, medica mondiale Liberia

Theresa Dunbar has been working for medica mondiale Liberia since 2008. She began as a community counsellor and now she is a District counsellor, assisting other community counsellors in their work. In remote villages, the counsellors are the first point of contact for women and girls who have been affected by violence. Theresa Dunbar is responsible for three districts in Sinoe, a region in south-eastern Liberia.

Before I came to medica mondiale Liberia I never thought about violence or women's rights. It was only during my first training course to become a community counsellor that I began to think about the suffering we had to go through as children or the suffering our parents had to endure. My mother was "bought" by a man even before she was born. He provided financial assistance for my grandmother and her illegitimate daughter – my mother – and for this he was allowed to marry her as a young girl. There were various types of violence carried out against women and children at home and within our community, but we saw this simply as a normal part of our way of life. My work with medica mondiale and the training courses they provided gave me an insight into the real nature of violence and how it can be dealt with. Afterwards I began to raise awareness of the rights of women and girls in my family and among other members of my community.

When I come into a new community as district counsellor, I first approach the clan and village chiefs and the parish leaders to inform them that we would like to meet the community people. If they agree, our psychosocial, legal and health teams can then present their work. And we can also report on our political work. We want people to say, “Yes, please come into our community". After the introductory meeting, we request the community to select five women who would be suitable candidates for our support groups. These women are then trained by medica mondiale Liberia just as I was back then. I remain available to assist these women after they finish their training. I visit them regularly and continue to increase their awareness of our work. Even some of the men try to help. They report on cases of violence and say, "Please visit this house when you come” or “Please go to that location".

As a passionate defender of the rights of women and girls, I hope to see women being strengthened and helped to gain independence in Liberia and in all the communities where I work. There is so much we can do ourselves – our self-confidence is growing and it will hopefully continue to grow. The rights of women and girls can only be upheld if we raise our voices and name the violence that is occurring.