Category Archives: Dignity

The Land of a Thousand Hills

It is never a good thing when you arrive at an International airport and are told, “I think you’re in the wrong place!” Fortunately, what the man meant was, “You need to go next door.”

So it was a relief to finally land at Kigali Airport and meet the enthusiastic Amos, who will be my guide while I am here in Rwanda. Much of the afternoon, I spent at the memorial for ten Belgian Peacekeepers, who were murdered at the start of the genocide while protecting the Prime Minister.

It was a sobering sight regardless of how much I had read about the attack prior to coming here. What was interesting was that the taxi driver who took me there had never been there before.

Tomorrow is the 21st anniversary of Liberation Day.

Here’s a few images from my visit.

Belgian PK Building 6x4.jpgBelgian PK Memorial 6x4.jpgBPK Genocide Artwork 6x4.jpgNames of BPK 6x4.jpg

Also posted in Genocide, NGOs




On Friday 18th May, I was invited to attend an inspiring event called #WeSpeakCode. Held at the University Of Technology,  the coding event was run by Microsoft and attended by 800 teenagers with a passion for IT from low socio-economic schools around Sydney. So what has this got to do with dignity you might ask.

At both the morning and afternoon session, The Smith Family chose a student speaker to thank Microsoft and all the other contributors at the event. The student who spoke in the afternoon was a Year 9 teenager from Auburn Girls School. While the quality of this video might not be fantastic, the content is breathtaking. In eight years of working in the not for profit sector right around the globe, Jumana is, without doubt, the most impressive student I have met. People who witnessed this speech or have seen the video since, including Microsoft CEO Pip Marlow have said such things as: future employee, future prime minister, world leader.

Please take two minutes to judge for yourself. I now know that the world’s further is in safe hands – enjoy!

Also posted in Marginalised People, Technology

The Baulkham Hills African Ladies Troupe

Baulkam Hills Ladies Troupe.jpg

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.


Also posted in Marginalised People, NGOs, Refugees

Holy Cow!

There’s a new law in India that penalises people for up to five years for slaughtering a cow. Sexual harassment against a woman carries a two year sentence – sad but true.

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Read more here:

Also posted in Marginalised People


Last night I saw the new Cuba Gooding Jr movie Selma. The film chronicles three months in 1965 where Dr Martin Luther King led a campaign  to secure equal voting rights for coloureds in the face of violent opposition.

The story of Martin Luther King is well known but this particular event, less so. It is easy to walk away from the film thinking how far we have come. For me, it was a stark reminder of how much is left to do and that oppression and brutality are not a third-world problem. It is in all of our backyards.

I saw the film as a reminder of how one simple act of cruelty or a cutting remark can marginalise a fellow human being.

In the words of the man himself,

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Also posted in Celebrity, Marginalised People, Movies

Varuna – the National Writer’s House

Happy Australia Day – as you celebrate today with your family and friends, please spare a thought for those whose lives were marginalised as a result of the actions carried out on this historic day – thank you.

Now many of you know that I am on annual leave, but I want to reassure you that I am not having a holiday, well not entirely.

At the end of last year, I was privileged to be awarded an Eleanor Dark Fellowship for Fiction at Varuna.

Varuna, the National Writer’s House is situated in the Blue Mountains, an hour and a half north of Sydney. Eleanor Dark was one of Australia’s finest writers of the 20th Century, and Varuna owes its existence today to Eleanor, her husband Dr Eric Dark and their family. Her best-known novel was the best-selling The Timeless Land (1941), the first part of a trilogy, with Storm of Time (1948) and No Barrier (1953).

Read more about Varuna here:

I arrived last Monday and the first thing that hits you when you get here is the peace. Not actual quiet, as a mob of sulphur-crested cockatoos act like court jesters and keep everyone entertained, but more a sense of tranquility.

I am here with four other writers, who between us are working on fiction, non-fiction and academic manuscripts, so a diverse range of genres and inevitably some varied dinner table conversations.

A few days ago, I had the opportunity to meet with Varuna elder, Peter Bishop, who was insightful about my work, but also about life.

Varuna House Sign.jpgVaruna Painting l-res.jpg

It would be remiss of me not to thank Jansis and her extraordinarily kind staff at Varuna, who have made me feel so welcome. A special shout out goes to Sheila, who prepares our divine home cooked meals each evening. I haven’t eaten as well since I was married to a chef!

On my arrival, the weather was foggy with drizzling rain, arguably a perfect environment for a budding writer. The next few days were bathed in glorious sunshine and much of my time was spent in the garden working on my laptop. I even indulged in a trip or two to the spa. Now, the rain is back and with it my productivity!

I am staying in the Bear Room, overlooking the garden. The house’s original veranda has been closed in giving each bedroom its own workspace. So, as I sit and write, amused and somewhat distracted by my screeching yellow and white friends, I can appreciate that just in front of the trees at the end of the garden is one of the most environmentally significant World Heritage sites on the planet.

It is impossible to stay at Varuna and not be aware of your surroundings. As a photographer and writer, there simply aren’t enough hours in the day. A few early morning bush walks followed by half an hour of yoga have both pampered my soul. A reminder of what it means to be at one with nature, to be calm, and to have the capacity to be creative – that is Varuna. You cannot fail to be inspired by such surroundings.

My aim is to try to do justice to my story in recognition of the people I am writing for. In this instance, the people of Rwanda and Darfur, and two heinous crimes that the world should never forget, one of which still continues today.

Thank you – Maureen


Also posted in Genocide, Marginalised People, Writing

Quote of the Day

“Violence is not merely killing another. It is violence when we use a sharp word, when we make a gesture to brush away a person, when we obey because there is fear.”


Also posted in Marginalised People

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.

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, Genocide, Marginalised People, NGOs, Philanthropy, Photography, Refugees

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,


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


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


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