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Daughter of SIERRALEONE

Published:
30/08/2017
Author:
Think Local

Watching Aminata Conteh-Biger talk about her charity, the Aminata Maternal Foundation, is riveting. 
She's extremely passionate and animated - in awe of the doctors and nurses that carry out complex fistula surgeries in her birthplace of Sierra Leone. 
Fistula is a medical condition usually caused by violent rape or prolonged labour, leaving women incontinent. The surgery takes just 45 minutes, "but saves girls from a lifetime of pain and shame," Aminata reveals. 
One of the first refugees to be accepted from Sierra Leone, Aminata arrived in Australia in 2000, broken and traumatised from being kidnapped in her hometown of Freetown by rebels during the civil war. 

Kept as a sex slave, she was raped numerous times and, on her release, fled to Australia and enrolled in high school. 
Her confidence grew and she fell in love, meeting her now husband, Antoine, at the Sydney Opera House. 
It was only after she gave birth to their first child, Sarafina, in 2012, that Aminata discovered her calling - to help young women in Sierra Leone which, according to UNICEF, is the worst place in the world to give birth. 
"Women in Sierra Leone who go through child birth are 200 times more likely to die than those in Australia," she says. 

In the poverty-stricken country, one in 17 women die from pregnancy-related issues - and one in five children die before they're five-years-old. Also, it's estimated two million women are affected by fistula. 
Heartbreakingly, due to the smell and regular infections, they're often shunned by society. 
Even though Aminata gave birth in Australia, she describes her experience as "traumatic".
"They kept telling me to push but nothing was happening. I had seven doctors and specialists around the bed helping me - if I was in Sierra Leone, myself and Sarafina would not have survived. I'd have been one of those statistics," she reveals. 

Aminata founded her non-profit organisation, the Aminata Maternal Foundation, to help women in Sierra Leone give birth and assist in doctors carrying out fistula surgeries. 
In the last 12 months, Aminata has raised more than $110,000 for the foundation. 
"Most of the events and our network are based on the Northern Beaches including local schools." 
"The money given is life changing for these girls," says the former retail worker, who also has a three-year-old son, Matisse. 
"The surgery only takes 45 minutes but it saves them from a lifetime of pain and shame." 

Over the past five years, Aminata's story has been an intrinsic part of Ros Horin's renowned theatre production, The Baukham Hills African Ladies Troupe, which has been made into a documentary. 
Heartfelt and ultimately uplifting, it celebrates the remarkable resilience and spirit of four African-Australian women who fled violence and sexual abuse in their homelands. 
The documentary will be screened, along with a Q&A with Ros and Aminata, at the North Sydney Centre on August 25 from 7pm to 9pm. Tickets are $15. For more details or to donate, visit aminatamaternalfoundation.org 

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