When strength met hope
My name is Aminata Conteh-Biger and I was born in Freetown, Sierra Leone in West Africa.
My country Sierra Leone endured 12 years of civil war and it was in January, 1999 during this wartime, when I was kidnaped by Revolutionary United Front (RUF) and was used as a sex slave and a human shield for several months. I was 18 years old.
I was taken away from the hands of my father. All my life my father had protected me, but for the first time in his life he was unable to. Instead I had to protect him by walking away and handing myself to the rebels, just so that they would not kill my father or rape me in front of him. I knew that would have literally stopped his heart. It is the most painful memory from my kidnapping.
‘Hell’ is the word I use to describe my time with the rebels who captured me. Till this day, I am still surprised as to how I survived. I rarely think about being held captive but when I do, I get a shock that I am alive, let alone living in Australia.
With the help of UNHCR, I arrived in Sydney in 2000 where I still live today; and am now married with two children, Sarafina and Matisse.
Living in Australia was a different challenge for me but I vowed to myself that I will start a new healthy and happy life, no matter what it takes.
Part of my vow was to wake up every day and feed my soul with gratitude.You see, I learned very early that for me to find peace, I must forgive all the men that raped me. Especially the seven men that raped me on my first day of being held captive. I was only able to find forgiveness through gratitude.
Gratitude is a daily practice for me. I remind myself every day: “Aminata, what you have now, is what you once hoped for.”
I fought so hard to survive, so the idea of me not living my very best expression of myself, is an insult to my very existence.
I always wanted to serve others, especially people that are helpless. So I started volunteering at the Australia for UNHCR. I have now been a UNHCR Special Representative for Australia for over 10 years. And I will continue to stand with refugees. My role as a UNHCR Special Representative for Australia is extremely important to me. I understand first-hand the role UNHCR plays in refugees lives because I am one of the luckiest refugees that benefited from them.
On the 9th June 2012, I gave birth to my daughter Sarafina. It was an extremely difficult experience. We almost lost her and injured her right hand. Through my birthing experience with Sarafina, I started to self-educate about maternal health. I was shocked and heartbroken that 1 in 17 mothers and babies die during childbirth in Sierra Leone compared with 1 in 20,000 who die in Australia. And the true fact is that, if I would have given birth in my homeland Sierra Leone, both myself and my daughter would have died.
My soul felt a sense of responsibility to do something about infant mortality in Sierra Leone. Every baby in the world deserves to be born healthy and in a stable environment, irrespective of their country of birth. Health should be available and affordable to every human being and not just for the privileged few. Infant mortality is preventable, so let's do something about it together. This is a basic human right; it is just that simple.
And so, the Aminata Maternal Foundation was born. With my incredible supportive Australian community I was able to establish the foundation and I am incredibly proud to say, since we started fundraising October 2016, The Aminata Maternal Foundation has helped over 4,000 mothers and babies in Sierra Leone and has worked with Fistula patients. Fistula strips women and young girls’ dignity away from them. No human being, and especially women do not deserve to lose their dignity with such conditions. It’s dehumanising and it should be stop and it can be stopped.
My ambition is to build a hospital in a rural area in Sierra Leone, that will help the communities to build a long lasting legacy of the people of Sierra Leone. I truly believe that with the help of my Australian community, we can make this dream a reality.
I want people to know that this is preventable and achievable. There is a huge problem in maternal health but we also have a solution for the problem.