Category Archives: Refugees

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, Uncategorized

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, Uncategorized

Syrian Refugees and Deng Thiak Adut

 

The moment I start talking about refugees, most people’s eyes begin to glaze over. The rhetoric and beliefs about the topic here in Australia is so out of whack with reality it used to infuriate me. Instead of boiling away in a pit of anger, I decided to do something about it and this was one of the key reasons this blog came into being. My other intention was to help these marginalised people restore their dignity by having their story told. In order to truly heal from persecution a person needs to be heard. This is something I experienced over and over on my recent trip to Rwanda and if ever there was proof that it worked, Rwanda is it.

So two extraordinary things happened here in Australia this week. Firstly, the Abbott Government agreed to repatriate 12,000 Syrian refugees, and I congratulate them for it. In recent years, Australia has accepted a total of 13,750 per annum so this is a huge step forward in what appears to be a change of heart for our Prime Minister.

But for all those people who have doubts about refugees and their impact on the Australian community, this week’s stand out was the acknowledgement by Western Sydney University to recognise the success of Deng Thiak Adut and , believe me, his story gives a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘against all odds.

Decide for yourself.

Also posted in Dignity, Genocide, Marginalised People

The Baulkham Hills African Ladies Troupe

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Earlier this week, I was privileged to be invited to attend the opening night of The Baulkham Hills African Ladies Troupe, written and directed by Ros Horin in collaboration with Yarrie Bangura, Aminata Conteh-Biger, Yordanos Haile-Michael and Rosemary Kariuki-Fyfe; on whose lives it is based.

“Women have been the spoils of was for centuries. In some societies, rape is so commonplace that no words exist to even discuss it. It’s just how things are. And have always been,” says director Ros Horin.

This year the United Nations has declared that the abuse of women in war is a war crime and will be prosecuted. India has been in uproar over rape. And as Hilary Clinton declared, in her now famous speech, “women’s rights are human rights,” and they must be fully instituted this century. The tipping point is here.

It has taken an almost five year journey to the Opera House for Horin and these four extraordinary women survivors.

Horin says, “I felt strongly from the start, that I wanted to have the four women, whose stories are at the core of this work, to be in the show. It was extremely painful at times, as well as joyous, inspiring.

Many times, Horin asked the women if they wanted if they wanted to go on.

The answer was always the same. “if this work can help even one women’s life, give her the confidence and courage to break free, then it is worth doing.”

I have been fortunate to see rehearsals of the play as well as full performances at the Belvoir Street Theatre and then, this week, at the Opera House. To my mind, it has been worth doing for another reason. The dignity shown by these four women who have suffered crimes that we can barely imagine is truly inspirations but to see how they have grown throughout the evolution that brought us to Wednesday evening and how tall they now stand, is miraculous. A credit to the four women but also to Horin, who has nurtured them on their confronting but cathartic journeys.

I first met Horin through my work for Australia for UNHCR and introduced her to Aminata Conteh, as she was then. A former refugee from Sierra Leone, I have mentored this young woman for seven years. During that time she has married and has two young children. Aminata always tells me, “You have changed my life.” The truth is she has changed mine too.

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Also posted in Dignity, Marginalised People, NGOs

Bill, Bill and George

Whenever people ask me what my dream job is, I tell them that I want to work for Bill, Bill or George. Understandably, they look confused. Let me explain.

These three men, Bill Clinton, Bill Gates and George Clooney are each, in their own way, extraordinary men doing extraordinary work.

Bill Clinton has been candid that the biggest regret of his tenure as President was his failure to intervene in Rwanda. While that wrong can never be righted, in subsequent years, President Clinton has arguably done more to improve the plight of marginalised people than any other individual on earth. He has earned the nickname ‘The King of Giving’ tenfold. Through leveraging his extensive global network, he has achieved things that many said were impossible. Now, a child with Aids in Africa can be treated for US$90 a year rather than the first-world price of $9,000 annually.

Each year, the former President hosts the Clinton Global Initiative in New York, where he brings together leading philanthropists whose aim is to find innovative solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges. Subsequently, they commit to projects proposed throughout the conference, dealing with such issues as education, disease, economic inequality and refugees. CGI as it’s known amongst regulars, is graced by the likes of President Obama, Desmond Tutu, Angelina Jolie, Bono, and formally Nelson Mandela. Actress and UNHCR Global Ambassador Angelina Jolie gave one of the most moving speeches I have ever heard here back in 2007.

http://youtu.be/H00apInuAjgn

Bill No 2 and frequent CGI attendee along with wife Melinda are better known as the Gates’. Perhaps a more unlikely philanthropist than Bill No 1, Mr Gates has set a new global benchmark for personal giving and not just for geeks. There are many wealthy individuals who could learn a thing or two about the joy of generosity from the Microsoft founder and his capable wife. The couple runs the Gates Foundation, which is also supported by billionaire investor Warren Buffet. Each year, the Foundation contributes the equivalent of fifteen percent of the United States global health budget, which is mind-boggling! Imagine if all those other wealthy individuals found their inner philanthropist.

If you have been searching for answers to the world’s most controversial questions, such as, ‘Why do we want to save millions of people in Africa when we have a critical population issue?’ Then take a look at The Living Proof Project from Bill and Melinda Gates. They can answer all those tricky questions, provide proof of success and help eradicate a few pesky diseases such as Polio and Malaria in the interim!

To learn more about he Living Proof Project Click here

And finally George – ah! Big sigh – the ladies reading this will understand.

Perhaps the most unlikely of the three musketeers, Mr Clooney, is part of an entity known as Not on Our Watch – Click here. Initially set up by Hotel Rwanda star, Don Cheadle, he has since enlisted Ocean’s Eleven (Twelve and Thirteen) co-stars, George Clooney, Matt Damon and Brad Pitt along with producer Jerry Weintraub. Imagine the whiplash you’d get working in that office!

Not on Our WatchBook.jpg

Issue No 17, on sale now, of COLLECTIVE magazine, gives an overview of George’s advocacy to this and other projects such as the Satellite Sentinel Project in Darfur. If, however, you are seeking a more in-depth read then I highly recommend the book of the same name Not On Our Watch by Don Cheadle and John Prendergast (Published by Hyperion). Interestingly, at the time of publication, in 2007, Prendergast was a senior advisor to the International Crisis Group and a former official in the Clinton White House.

George Clooney Collective Issue 17.jpg

So back to George. Mr Clooney Jnr and his journalist father, Mr Clooney Snr or Nick, have made numerous trips to the Darfur region of Sudan. They have been responsible for divestment by various American investors in Sudanese oil and, more recently, through the satellite project, have garnered additional evidence against Al Bashir’s genocidal regime. Clooney is even credited for informing the American people that genocide was taking place in Darfur prior to the then sitting President George W Bush.

One of my personal favourite speeches from Mr Clooney was his acceptance speech at 2010 62nd Emmy Awards for the Bob Hope Humanitarian Award – To watch Click here

So while my three favourite men are awesome, in the words of George, there are many who could do much, much more…

Also posted in Celebrity, Dignity, Genocide, Marginalised People, NGOs, Philanthropy, Photography

Why Dignity?

Firstly, I want to thank you for taking the time to read my first blog post here on my new website. The last blog I wrote was seven years ago, ahead of a trip to Afghanistan to photograph children in an orphanage in the Panjshir Valley north of Kabul. Those who read it appeared both intrigued and enraged by the doctrine inflicted by the Taliban on the Afghan people  and particularly the Hazaras. Naively, I thought I was doing a good thing. People needed to know and understand what was happening there.

About a week before my departure, I attended the Australian Davos Connection’s Future Summit in Melbourne where I had the privilege of meeting an Army General with four tours in Afghanistan under his belt. A generous man, he gave up two hours of his time to tell me how to stay safe on the ground. The two most salient pieces of advice were to travel off book and keep a low profile. I was going with an Afghan family so I would not be listed on any Non-Government or Government agency manifest – tick! Low profile – err, maybe that blog wasn’t such a good idea. I hadn’t considered the Taliban would be monitoring social media. Needless to say, my blog came down the following night, leaving my followers disappointed but like me, they too had learnt a valuable lesson.

Iridimi With Gaiton 2 UNHCR M Collins-c61.JPG

For many years, my photography focussed on these most marginalised people, including Tibetan monks, refugees from Darfur, and former refugees resettled here in Australia. The common thread among all of these individuals was a loss of dignity. Many I met said that the need to be heard was an essential part of the healing process. Without it, moving on became impossible. Images were no longer enough.

If I was asked to use one word to describe the people I met in the worst hellholes on earth, without question, my response would be ‘proud’. Many had an inner strength and dignity I could barely comprehend that appeared at odds with everything they had endured. Inconceivably, they were imbued with hope. These trips were great levellers and always a clear reminder of what mattered in life.

My aim with this blog was to share some of those stories, but also to recognise those individuals who are, without great fanfare, working in many different ways to support these marginalised groups. They will include photographers, journalists, aid workers, philanthropists, celebrity ambassadors, the world’s most successful entrepreneur and even a former President. I will investigate philanthropic foundations, books, movies, TV series and all manner of things pertaining to the right to live a peaceful, dignified life.

Next time, I’ll introduce you to my three favourite men: Bill, Bill and George.

Until then – thank you,

Maureen.

Also posted in Dignity, Marginalised People, NGOs, Philanthropy, Photography

Welcome

Welcome to my new Dignity website. I hope you enjoy the images and content. Please contact me if you would like to know more about my work.

Many thanks

Maureen

Also posted in Dignity, Marginalised People, NGOs, Philanthropy, Photography