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Child protection from violence, exploitation and abuse

Sierra Leonean survivor honoured for advocacy on behalf of women and children

© UNICEFHQ/2009/Markisz
UNICEF Canada Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict Mariatu Kamara, a survivor of the conflict in Sierra Leone and the newest Voices of Courage Award winner, with Executive Director Ann M. Veneman at UNICEF headquarters in New York.

By Elizabeth Kiem

NEW YORK, USA, 8 May 2009 – The newest recipient of the Voices of Courage Award, Mariatu Kamara, met yesterday with UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman, who congratulated her on the honour.

The award from the Women’s Refugee Commission was presented in New York by the Commission’s co-founder, Liv Ullmann.

Ms. Kamara is a survivor of the civil conflict in Sierra Leone and founder of the Mariatu Foundation, which seeks to provide refuge and healing for women and children there. She is also UNICEF Canada’s Special Representative for Children in Armed Conflict.

While Ms. Kamara has already received other awards for her work, she said it was “wonderful” to join the ranks of other enterprising women advocates honoured by the Commission.

Speaking out as a survivor
Now 22, Ms. Kamara fled her native country in 2002. At age 12, she had been taken captive by rebel soldiers who cut off both her hands. This ordeal was followed by three years in a refugee camp, after which she received asylum in Canada.

Since then, Ms. Kamara has worked with both UNICEF and the North American non-governmental organization Free the Children to promote child rights and decry the impact of war on children. As a UNICEF Canada representative, she has visited programmes in Sierra Leone.

“It is nice to see the progress being made,” she said of those programmes. “But we need to spread support a little wider. Even though the war is over, there are still so many little children suffering.”

Plans for the future
Through her foundation, Ms. Kamara hopes to set up safe houses for abused women and children in Sierra Leone. She is currently studying counselling at George Brown College in Toronto. While she thinks her personal experience suits her for a future in providing psychosocial help to survivors of conflict, she is keeping other options open.

“I’m always thinking about being a lawyer – being involved in justice and human rights,” she said.

During her first visit to New York, in addition to being welcomed by UNICEF’s Executive Director and honoured by the Women’s Refugee Commission, Ms. Kamara has met with representatives of the International Rescue Committee and with the UN Special Representative on Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy.



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