Ep 2: Aminata Conteh-Biger// From Heartbreak to a Rising Heart

It is with much excitement, almost to the point of these words exploding out of the show page, that I introduce the official first guest for the show: Aminata Conteh-Biger.

Aminata is one of those people that literally lights up any room with her energy, in fact it's more than a light: it's like a galaxy of stars that radiate brightly. She is not just a messenger of hope, she IS the embodiment of hope, resilience, passion and positivity.

Aminata became a casualty of the civil war raging in Sierra Leone, one of the world's most impoverished nations. Kidnapped by rebel forces, she survived months as a sex slave. Upon her release, the UNHCR granted her refugee status in Australia, making her the first Sierra Leonean refugee woman in the country.

Since her arrival here almost twenty years ago, Aminata has forged an unstoppable life as a wife, mother, maternal health advocate and now author.

Upon becoming a mum, following the difficult birth of her first child, she was inspired to found The Aminata Maternal Foundation, which has as its mission to educate and empower women and children in Sierra Leone, the country with the world's highest infant mortality rate.

At the heart of the Foundation is Amii's belief that:

"You've got to educate people first before you empower them. You need to provide them with the resources to ensure that access to maternal health is a basic human right. "

Aminata has shared her story of survival for over twenty years: she has been a UN Ambassador and spoken at events alongside the likes of The Hon. Dame Quentin Blake, former Governor- General of Australia (who wrote the foreword to her book), Cate Blanchett, Business Chicks with Entrepreneur Emma Isaacs as well as countless others. Yael Stone, lead actress on Orange is the New Black, is a Spokesperson for the Foundation's work.

Her incredible life was the inspiration behind an award-winning documentary "Daughter of Sierra Leone" which aired on SBS TV in 2017.

In this tell-all conversation, we cover:

  • the twin legacies of civil war and the Ebola virus in Sierra Leone and how these have detrimentally impacted the country socially, economically and politically
  • the reality of what it is like to give birth for women in Sierra Leone and the work of Aminata's Foundation on the ground in Freetown, in arranging and financing a simple, life-saving preventable fistula surgery as well as the fund-raising activities in Sydney
  • Ami's nuanced approach to accepting the reality that people have cultural stereotypes and how to over come these, through showing grace and patience, and help people be informed about the reality of any situation, not to necessarily wish these stereotypes away , because they will always be present
  • the background to her extraordinary autobiography Rising Heart, released in Australia on 25th August. In her own words she had a clear vision that "this is an uncomfortable memoir full of hope" and that this was not going to be a story "about another African refugee"
  • the difficulty in prioritising maternal health as a basic human right when the academic study of and governmental policy-making in terms of human rights, economic rights or social rights is much more structured and mainstream.

AND FINALLY : a message of joy: despite these seemingly horrific life experiences, Aminata encourages us to RISE with joy because as long as we are still living and breathing, there is always HOPE.



We discuss in the context of civil war, rape and kidnap and in the context of life-saving operations, a medical procedure to prevent a birth-related complication known as a fistula.


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