Aminata Conteh-Biger was 18 years old when Revolutionary United Front rebels rounded on her home in Freetown, the epicentre of Sierra Leone’s bloody civil war.
Within moments the rebels took her freedom, within days they took her virginity. Over the next seven months she was relentlessly raped until, in desperation, they freed her in exchange for food.
That nightmare is now 18 years, a continent and 16,700 kilometres away. Today, Aminata lives safely with her husband and two young children in Sydney, where she arrived as Australia’s first Sierra Leonean refugee in 1999.
While she could be forgiven for never again wanting to traverse that distance, to return to the place that was the source of such trauma, Aminata is doing just that in an effort to change – even save – the lives of those left behind.
Her cause? Infant mortality. A phrase she had never heard until her own life-threatening birth experience.
When Aminata went into labour in June 2012, she was 10 days overdue with an unborn daughter who weighed at around 5kg. Nine hours later, the child's position was precarious, the time for a C-section had passed.
"They'd done everything, they had used the vacuum and nothing was happening," she told Mamamia. "Really they were not trying to get her out alive the just wanted me to survive."
With expert medical care, she did and so did her little girl, albeit with a broken hand.