Sharing stories of abuse to help others
African women living in Australia find courage in their faith to speak out – and forgive
“I was kidnapped during the civil war in Sierra Leone for over seven months and I was taken from the hands of my dad,” remembers Aminata Conteh-Biger about the rebel fighters who stormed her home in 1999. “The main reason why they kidnapped young girls was to use them as a sex slave or a human shield.”
Aminata is one of four African women who share their painful yet powerful life stories in The Baulkham Hills African Ladies Troupe, a successful theatre production that’s played in London and Sydney’s Opera House. Also, it’s the subject of a newly released documentary. Australian theatre director Ros Horin worked with the four women for several years, developing a production of potent intimacy aimed at informing and helping with healing.
“It was very traumatising but I have to remind myself that I’m doing it for other women.”
“It was very traumatising but I have to remind myself that I’m doing it for other women,” explains Aminata about her involvement in the stage show. “There are other women that don’t have a voice and rape happens all around the world. I know that I’m better now but there are other women going through this shame. I want them to feel this liberation; that they can talk about it. They can say something to someone.”
The four women of the Ladies Troupe were all able to escape similar situations to Aminata, and migrated to Australia. Those behind the theatre production and documentary have “social change objectives”. They want Ladies Troupe to be a toolkit for police, counsellors, and other front-line workers involved with the issues which face refugee women and victims of abuse and trauma. They also believe church and community groups would benefit greatly from what Ladies Troupe unveils.
A major part of Aminata’s healing process was being able to forgive those who kidnapped and raped her. The only Christian in her Muslim family, Aminata fondly remembers Bible stories such as Jesus’ Prodigal Son parable from her childhood days in a Catholic school. Upon being released by the rebel fighters, Aminata immediately said she forgave them. But it wasn’t until she was working intensely on The Baulkham Hills African Ladies Troupe project that she explored what forgiveness through God really means.
“When I was kidnapped, that’s when I found God, really.”
She came to realise she had only two choices. “I can be consumed by hate or consumed by love,” Aminata describes her crossroads of forgiveness. “Hate brings you down and love liberates you. For me, there was no choice than to choose love. And I wouldn’t really know that if I didn’t have God in my life.”
“When I was kidnapped, that’s when I found God, really. I felt like my dad wasn’t there to protect me but he wanted to protect me. The only thing that could was God. And I really held on that every single day of my life; every single minute, every single cry and struggle.”
Aong with being an UNHCR ambassador, Aminata has founded the not-for-profit charity, The Aminata Maternal Health Foundation, in Sierra Leone. Aminata’s homeland has the highest infant mortality rate in the world and her foundation wants to create more health facilities for mothers and their children.