Aminata, who is a board member here at The Social Outfit, was one of the first refugees from Sierra Leone to settle in Australia, following her kidnapping and imprisonment by rebel soldiers during Sierra Leone’s 11-year civil war. As I speak to her, there is no bitterness in her voice. I hear warmth, acceptance, good humour, and an unwavering sense of purpose. 

“I don’t like to say I’m busy,” she laughs. “I’m proactive.”

As I speak with her, I get a sense of the energy she brings to her life, and her role as CEO of her non-profit, The Aminata Maternal Foundation, and her role as Special Representative for Australia United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.  

“My purpose is to restore dignity to humanity. Everyone is born with dignity, but for some, that gets taken away. But if it can be taken away, that also means it can be restored.” 

I ask her... “What would you want our community to know, Aminata?”

Her answer is instant. “The public narrative around refugees is not the full picture. They’ve lived entire lives before arriving in Australia. They’re much more than what happened to them. They’re resilient. They have a richness of culture and skills, and they long for equal opportunity to contribute to Australia and flourish.”

As we speak, it’s clear that restoration of dignity rests on the foundation of recognising humanity. 

“Before we’re anything else, we are human beings – humans seeking refuge. Don’t see me as a refugee. See me as Aminata. Connect with me, on a human level. And if, in that conversation, you discover you can do something for me, great. But also, be open to the fact that I might be able to do something for you!”

We spend a moment discussing ubuntu – the beautiful spirit of collective interdependence that is the bedrock of Africa. As I reflect on our conversation, I am convinced that, ultimately, our humanity is what both connects us, and motivates us in being the change we seek – together. 

Above: The Social Outfit Ambassador Bianca Spender (L) and Aminata Conteh-Biger (R) with model for Mindfully Made 2018

Refugee Week, 18-24 June, celebrates the contributions refugees and people seeking asylum make in our communities. A big thank you to Aminata Conteh-Biger for taking the time to share her insights and volunteer Donna Radley for conducting the interview and writing this article. If you’d like to read Aminata’s book, Rising Heart, you can find the details here.

Donate to The Social Outfit's Refugee Week Fundraiser WEAR THE CHANGE here

June 19, 2023 — Kate Clugston

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