From a desk in Lavender Bay, Aminata Conteh-Biger is changing – and saving – the lives of thousands of women and children more than 16,000 kilometres away
First published northsider magazine Summer 2018/19
Nineteen years ago, Aminata Conteh-Biger didn’t understand what Australia was, let alone imagine she’d one day be the CEO of a charity headquartered on Sydney’s harbourside. “I just wanted to come to a country where I felt safe,” she remembers.
Originally from Sierra Leone in West Africa, Aminata’s life was changed forever by the brutal civil war that raged from 1991 to 2002. At the age of just 18, she was kidnapped by rebel soldiers. Held captive for several months, she was raped and used as a human shield. Aminata was freed in exchange for food and became the first female refugee from Sierra Leone to arrive in Australia.
Building a life for herself in Sydney, Aminata, 38, met and fell in love with her now husband, Antoine. It was the complicated delivery of the couple’s first child, daughter Sarafina, that inspired Aminata’s maternal rights crusade. With seven doctors on hand to ensure both she and her bub were safe and healthy, Aminata quickly realised they both would have likely died if they’d been in Sierra Leone. She was horrified to discover it’s one of the worst places in the world to become a mother. Women are 200 times more likely to die in childbirth than women in Australia, with five dying every day due to pregnancy-related issues, and 11,000 newborns die every year.
Even if mum and baby survive, women face the risk of fistula, a preventable and treatable condition caused by prolonged labour that can result in incontinence and even paralysis
“I can’t change what happened to me in Sierra Leone,” Aminata says. “But this is something that I can change.”
With the help of a passionate team of supporters, Aminata, who lives locally with Antoine, Sarafina, six, and son Matisse, five, set up the Aminata Maternal Foundation.
Now in its third year, the charity is going from strength to strength. Australian donations have helped fund more than 2,000 safe births at the Aberdeen Women’s Centre, the foundation’s partner organisation in Sierra Leone.
Women in Sierra Leone are 200 times more likely to die in childbirth than women in Australia, and 11,000 newborns die every year
“We’re a small charity and it means you see the difference your donation makes, no matter how big or small,” Aminata explains. “For example, a regular monthly donation of just $30 allows five children to be seen by the team at the Aberdeen Women’s Centre.
“Infant mortality is preventable,” she continues. “I encourage everyone to reach out to us, to donate and help spread the word. We can all be part of changing these statistics.”
With a schools’ project and a major awareness campaign lined up, as well as Orange Is The New Black star Yael Stone announcing her support of the foundation to her one million social media followers, 2019 looks set to be the AMF’s biggest year yet. And it’s all being done locally
“The best thing about this area is absolutely the people,” Aminata smiles. “There’s a wonderful feeling of community and a sense of warmth and kindness that’s impossible to describe. I just love it.”
For more information about the Aminata Maternal Foundation and to donate, head to aminatamaternalfoundation.org. You can also download the charity’s app at the App Store and Google Play.
Words: Anna Gordon Photos: Matthew Jensen - shotinthenorth.com