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How do you see refugees?

I am constantly in awe of how clever people are. One of my favourite genres is, of course, writing. Thank you, Brian Bilston. Please read the page below about refugees. THEN – read it again starting from the bottom of the page…

The Dream Team

Today was our first full day at the Aberdeen Women’s Clinic in Freetown. The breadth and calibre of work here is overwhelming, but the gamut of circumstances that puts these women and girls in such precarious positions is equally infuriating.

For example, we met 28 girls, aged 12 – 17, who are pregnant, many as a result of being quarantined during the Ebola crisis and the majority through abuse. Added to this, almost all the girls were orphaned as a consequence of the epidemic.

Known as the Dream Team, these teenagers are taught how to take care of themselves, about personal hygiene, nutrition, prenatal care and post-natal care. How do you become a parent when you have barely had one yourself?

A Dream Team lesson with Aminata.jpgAmi %26 a fistula patient.jpgAmi %26 Panny meet The Dream Team.jpgAs we grow up.jpgAWC young patients.jpgDare to Believe.jpgDream Team baby 1.jpgDream Team craft class 2.jpgDream Team dare to believe.jpgDream Team mother %26 baby.jpgGirl in green.jpgMembers of The Dream Team.jpgYoung fistula patients %26 dream team.jpg

The project manager, another Aminata, was worthy of an Academy Award. The vitality, enthusiasm, and aspiration she instilled in these youngsters, who have more than enough reason to disengage in life, appeared awestruck. They told stories through song, shared their personal experiences to reduce isolation, and talked about their dreams.

Towards the end, they had a 15-minute nap to dream about the future they might one day have as a lawyer, a doctor, a teacher or a midwife, and that being a teenage mother was not the end of everything for them. It may sound clichéd but if these beliefs enable these girls to lift themselves out of abject poverty, then dreaming must surely be the best medicine in the world.

Also posted in Dignity, Marginalised People

The Aminata Maternal Foundation in Sierra Leone

Nine years ago, I could never have conceived travelling to Freetown in Sierra Leone with Aminata Conteh-Biger.

With us are the Aminata Maternal Foundation Chair Penny Gerstle and SBS Dateline journalist and filmmaker Amos Roberts, who is filming a documentary about Aminata and the foundation, which is due to air in Australia in mid-November.

The Aminata Maternal Foundation was launched at a small party in North Sydney on October 15th. Maternal mortality in Sierra Leone is among the worst in the world. A woman in this tiny West-African country is four times more likely to die in childbirth than a woman in Afghanistan.

Yesterday, we had the privilege of meeting Freedom from Fistula Foundation staff member Lois Boyle, who oversees the funding of the Aberdeen Women’s Clinic in the Sierra Leonean capital. Our first project will be to fund a project through the centre to support a group of teenagers who are pregnant, many as a result of being quarantined during the Ebola crisis.

The clinic delivers over two hundred babies a month, attends to 12,000 children a year in the outpatient clinic and perform 1,000 fistula operations. The clinic has a well-earned reputation for managing obstructive labour. The cost of surgery would be a whopping $900, so the service would be out of reach for 99 percent of women. The Aberdeen Women’s Clinic provide the surgery free.


Our visit has two purposes.

The first is the film the documentary. Much of it is related to Aminata’s background as a former refugee from Sierra Leone. Aminata was resettled to Australia by UNHCR after she had been captured by rebels during the civil war and kept as a slave wife.

Today, Aminata and her husband Antoine have two young children Sarafina, 4 and Matisse, 3. It was due to complications during Sarafina’s birth that prompted Aminata to act. Both she and Sarafina nearly lost their lives and had Aminata given birth in Sierra Leone both she and Sarafina would have likely died.

We are also here to meet some of the women who have suffered complications during pregnancy, birthing or post-birthing and to learn about the reality of the situation here and what practical support we can provide to help reduce maternal mortality.


Also posted in Dignity, Marginalised People

The Baulkham Hills African Ladies Troupe World Premier

 If you truly want to understand the plight of women in war, I encourage you to go and see firsthand the genius of director Ros Horin, who has written, produced and directed this eye-opening documentary about her play of the same name.

The candid way Ros explains her frustration and ineptitude to help woman such as these is something we can all relate to but she has succeeded where we have only thought about it. A stark show about brutality, rape and the strength of women – many congratulations to Ros and the four breathtakingly strong women who put it all on the line to be heard – I cannot think of a greater example of dignity.

 The Baulkham Hills African Ladies Troupe World Premier

We are premiering at the Sydney Film Festival!

We are very excited and honoured to announce that The Baulkham Hills African Ladies Troupe is making its debut at the upcoming Sydney Film Festival on June 9th at the Event Cinema George Street.

For those who missed the film screening at the Chauvel please join us for the official world premier of this moving documentary and Q+A with the women and Ros after the screening. Be sure to grab your tickets as the film will only have the one showing.

It is a public event open to all audiences. Therefore, if you have already seen the film, please encourage friends and family to join us as it will be a wonderful evening that offers the unique chance to hear the women share their experiences in the Q&A.


Official Premier – The Baulkham Hills African Ladies Troupe
Thursday June 9th, 6:00pm
Event Cinemas George Street 9
525 George Street, 2000
Tickets required

Buy tickets
About the film:
The film follows the story of four inspirational African women, now living in Australia, who, under the guidance of theatre director Ros Horin, collaborate to let their life stories be transformed into an extraordinary  theatrical experience.
This film charts their personal journeys from trauma to healing and public triumphs, as the Troupe’s show moves from a stage in western Sydney out to the world. It tells an inspirational story of courage and resilience, that reveals the transformative power of story-telling through the arts.
Also posted in Dignity, Genocide, Marginalised People, Movies, Philanthropy, Refugees

Meet Khalid – a refugee from Darfur

On the Chad Sudan border, there exists an inhospitable place that reaches 40 degrees Celsius most days with winds over 100 kilometres an hour, 180,000 refugees from Darfur in Western Sudan rot in 12 refugees camps. Persecuted by their Government and paid militia known as Janjaweed, which means the devil came on horseback, most have lost numerous family members and some walked 800 kilometres across the dessert to safety. Their only crime, they are African not Arab. Most people here arrived around the turn of the century – these days, 16 years is the average stay in a camp.

I was privileged to visit four of the most northern camps back in 2009. The people I met humbled me with their stories but one, in particular, stood out from the crowd.

Meet Khalid (His name has been changed for protection purposes).

Kounoungou Crop Maureen %26 Mohammed UNHCR M Collins-c41.jpgKounoungou Mohammed President of the Journalists Club-c95.JPGKounoungou Mohammed Using My Camera UNHCR M Collins-c10.jpg

When I met Khalid, he was 19 years old and in terms of UNHCR policy, he did not meet any of their criteria for resettlement. He had been at the camp since he was 12. Despite little to no education, he spoke four languages and yearned to become a journalist.

While I was there, Khalid and I spent a day together. I asked this ambitious young man to show me his world. I met many of his friends, some had been there as long as if not longer than Khalid. A few months earlier, there had been some excitement in the camp as UNHCR had begun resettling refugees to the United States. None of these young men felt that way. They knew the truth and had two choices: stay in the camp with no progress or prospects until UNHCR deemed it safe for them to return home or join the Janjaweed and rape, kill and maim their own people.

In a two-hour masterclass, I showed Khalid how to use my Canon 1DX SLR Camera. He picked it up quickly and was soon moving settings to accommodate landscape and portraiture. The speed with which he absorbed information was astounding, and I couldn’t help but feel sad at the thought of such a talent rotting there in hell on earth.

At the end of the day, Khalid asked if he could use his refugee card to cross country borders. I showed him my passport and explained about visas. I knew then that he was close to running, and who could blame him, he had his whole life in front of him and no way out.

Today, seven years on, Khalid remains in the camp. He is a teacher now and has some sense of self-esteem but he still hopes that, one day, he may become a photo-journalist, reporting on events in his country that has seen much of the population marginalised purely based on race.

Also posted in Dignity, Genocide, Marginalised People, NGOs, Photography, Refugees

Visiting the King

Today, Lena and I escaped the big smoke courtesy of our driver Amos and a Toyota 4-wheel drive. We headed a few hours south to the seat of the old king. Driving through the countryside was heaven; lush, hilly, immaculately clean, and picturesque.

We visited the former king’s palace. The last king was deposed back in 1959 and mayhem followed. One palace was an old thatched building from the 1800s. It actually consisted of three buildings; one where the king lived, a smaller one where the women prepared food and a final house for his beer!

There was a second 1930s structure, which was built for the last king’s father in the 1930s.

The ones that we visited are reconstructions as the real ones, like everything else, were destroyed in the 1994 genocide.

Beer House 6x4.jpgMilk to Butter.jpgPalace Roof 6x4.jpgPatterned Wall 6x4.jpgVillage Scene.jpg


It is not that long since terrorism was a daily occurrence in the first world. A harsh reminder that nothing is ever as it seems and no one can be trusted. A must if you care at all about the state of the world.

Quote of the Day

‘Sometimes even to live is an act of courage.’

Lucius Annaeus Seneca


dignitythe state or quality of being worthy of honour

Quote of the Day

“Remember: silence helps the killer, never his victims.”