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How one man turned his life around after losing everything

Suleiman Turay ©BBC

Suleiman Turay ©BBC

I read a great story on the BBC website the other day and thought I’d share it with you.

It’s about 31-year-old Suleiman Turay, a man who survived the horrors of the Sierra Leone civil war in the 1990s, during which he witnessed the deaths of his brother, father and cousin. He was held captive during the conflict in a house by soldiers and only managed to escape after distracting them and running for his life.

After seeing his father brutally beaten to death he tried to start a new life with the money that was left to him but this soon disappeared on his father’s debts and Suleiman was left with nothing.

He set out for the capital, Freetown, with little more than a dollar in his pocket, and found work as an apprentice mechanic in a garage but in Sierra Leone apprentices have to give money to their employers, not the other way around, so Suleiman lived hand-to-mouth for eight years until he got a big break.

One day a man brought in a car that had been in a terrible crash. The mechanics took one look at the car and said there would be no way to fix it but Suleiman examined it and told the owner he would have a go.

He managed to bring the car back to life and the owner was so impressed that he brought in two minivans for Suleiman to fix up. After doing yet another good job he managed to get work as a driver, earning $10 (£6.50) a month. Being a driver who could also fix cars, he found his services were becoming more and more in demand and this eventually led on to his next job – working as a driver for the UN, which paid him over $100 a month.

He has since started work for the Africa Governance Initiative (AGI) where a member of staff lent him $300 to buy his own car. He used it to start his own car hire and driving business and then made enough money to buy two more cars.

After living on virtually nothing for years, Suleiman’s hard work and persistence finally paid off and he now has enough money to build his own house on the outskirts of Freetown for his wife and two children, whom he hopes will have a far better education than he did: “I am illiterate and so is my wife,” says Suleiman. “My desperate desire is to educate them. And I want so much for my children to not experience a life like mine.” Suleiman and his wife are both victims of the decade long civil war which robbed their generation of an education.

Since the end of the war in 2002 the country has bounced back and last year the economy grew by 21%. The capital is currently experiencing a building boom, and with some beautiful beaches lining the coastline they could well be a popular tourist destination in the years to come.

Angelina Jolie and William Hague reunite at the G8 in London to fight rape in war zones #TIMETOACT

Foreign Ministers Gather In London For G8 Meeting

Angelina Jolie and William Hague at the G8 in London today

The G8 today pledged £23million towards tackling sexual violence in conflict zones around the world. The Foreign Secretary William Hague said that part of the funding would go into training the military to respond to conflict sexual violence and that the training would be extended to peacekeeping groups of other nations. Members of armed forces are often the first to come into contact with survivors and it is hoped that they could have an important role to play in helping to change male attitudes.

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In his speech at Lancaster House in London today, Hague said:

“We know that tens of thousands of women were raped in Bosnia-Herzegovina in the 1990s, hundreds of thousands in Rwanda’s genocide, and up to a quarter of a million in the Democratic Republic of Congo over the last decade. We know that a huge number of the victims of sexual violence are children: often very young children and sometimes babies.

“We know that this violence inflicts unimaginable suffering, destroys families and communities, and fuels conflict.Yet the overwhelming majority of survivors never see any justice for what they have endured. And there has never been any concerted international effort, supported by leading nations of the world, to eradicate sexual violence in conflict in the first place. This has to change. To my mind, this cause is the slave trade of our generation.”

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Angelina Jolie added:

“Time and again the world has failed to prevent this abuse, or to hold attackers accountable.

“Rape has been treated as something that simply happens in war; perpetrators have learnt that they can get away with it; and victims have been denied justice. But wartime rape is not inevitable. This violence can be prevented, and it must be confronted.

“There are many individuals and NGOs who have worked tirelessly to address these crimes for years. But the international political will has been sorely lacking. I have heard survivors of rape from Bosnia to the Democratic Republic of Congo say that they feel the world simply does not care about them. And who could blame them?

“For too long they have been the forgotten victims of war: responsible for none of the harm, but bearing the worst of the pain. But today, I believe, their voices have been heard, and that we finally have some hope to offer them.”

I took some time to read other articles covering this story today and was appalled by some of the negative comments made online about William Hague and Angelina Jolie.

Many were criticising Jolie due to her star status, asking what it has to do with her, probably due to a lack of awareness about the work she has been doing for the UN for over ten years. She has worked as an ambassador and now Special Envoy for the UNHCR, bringing attention to the plight of millions of refugees around the world (not to mention the millions of dollars she has donated to other good causes and countless hours of her time).

Miss Jolie and Mr Hague have been working on their sexual violence initiative for almost a year now and have already put in place a 70-strong specialist team of police, lawyers, psychologists, doctors and forensic experts to help survivors and witnesses. They have met three times in London and visited survivors of rape in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda last month.

Angelina Jolie and William Hague in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Angelina Jolie and William Hague in the Democratic Republic of Congo last month

I saw a lot of criticism of William Hague for putting up £10million of the £23million fund – but I would guess this is down to the fact that the UK put forward the initiative and are also president of the G8 for 2013.

To me the amount of money is irrelevant and probably equates to pennies out of the tax payers pocket – we are all human beings, where we are born is down to luck. If you had been born in the Democratic Republic of Congo with the threat of rape and violence on a daily basis would you not hope that someone somewhere would take notice and try to help you?

Unless we put ourselves in other people’s shoes we can never fully understand how terrifying life could be. Thanks to an accident of birth most of us will never have to go through what these women, children and babies go through and I’m so pleased to see Angelina Jolie and William Hague standing up for those who might otherwise not have a voice.

For Further Information:

Read the G8 Declaration on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict

Find out more about the G8 Foreign Ministers’ Meeting

Read more about the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative

View the FCO’s Storify covering the G8 foreign Ministers’ Meeting

More information on the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative at our tumblr

Find out more about the UK’s work to support women and girls around the world

Follow on twitter @FCOhumanrights or follow the hashtags #timetoact, #sexualviolence, #conflict and #G8UK

#TIMETOACT

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Charity Profile: Women for Women International

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Today I would like to blog about a charity called Women for Women International that helps women survivors of war and civil conflicts rebuild their lives.

It works in eight different countries around the world including Afghanistan, Iraq, South Sudan, Kosovo, Rwanda, Nigeria, Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Democratic Republic of Congo. As a strong believer and supporter of women’s empowerment, Women for Women provides financial aid, job training, rights awareness and leadership education to women in communities destroyed by violence.

I first came to hear about Women for Women International when researching the ongoing conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo. I came across WfWI and was impressed at how women enrolled in their programme are connected to a global network of sponsors who provide monthly financial assistance and emotional support.

I believe that the empowerment and involvement of women should be at the centre of development and peace negotiation strategies. And so, I would like to invite you all to get involved and raise awareness about the rights of women worldwide. You can read the report on Gender, Conflict and Millennium Development Goals or any of the other publications sponsored by Women for Women.

And so, if you want to read more about Women for Women International UK you can visit their page or you can also check out their blog.

Please also consider donating to the charity or getting involved, it doesn’t matter how big or small your donation is or how much time you can dedicate to the cause, every little bit counts!

You can follow Women for Women on Twitter here – https://twitter.com/womenforwomenUK

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Angelina Jolie announces the start of the Malala fund

Angelina Jolie and Malala Yousafzai

Angelina Jolie and Malala Yousafzai

In a speech at the Women in the World summit in New York yesterday, Angelina Jolie announced the start of the Malala foundation which will the support the education of 40 girls in Pakistan. Aged between five and twelve these girls would otherwise be forced into domestic labour.

In October last year 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head and neck by Taliban gunmen whilst on a bus home from school in the Swat Valley, Pakistan. The Taliban’s reason for attacking her was because they said she was anti-Taliban, secular and that she would therefore not be spared. Malala came to the public’s attention several years prior to the shooting by writing a diary for BBC Urdu about life under Taliban militants who were in control of the valley. After the shooting she was flown to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, England where she underwent hours of major surgery.

“Here’s what the gunman and the Taliban accomplished on that day,” Jolie, who has donated $200,000 to the fund, said in her speech in New York. “They shot her at point-blank range in the head – and made her stronger. The brutal attempt to silence her voice made it stronger.”

Malala is currently attending school in Edgbaston, Birmingham. A video of her speech about the fund was played to the summit audience: “Today I’m going to announce the happiest moment of my life,” she said, “Let us turn the education of 40 girls into 40 million girls.”

 

Celebrating Heroes: Somaly Mam

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“I continue to give my life to help those in pain and respectfully call upon all those who have love to give, to give wholeheartedly for those less fortunate.” – Somaly Mam

Today is Somaly Mam’s official birthday – she doesn’t know her real birthday or the year she was born (it is thought she was born in 1970/71) or even who her parents were.

So who is Somaly Mam you might ask? She is head of the Somaly Mam Foundation, a nonprofit organisation dedicated to the eradication of sexual slavery and the empowerment of its survivors.

During the mid-1970s when Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge party were terrorising Cambodia, wiping out a quarter of the population, Somaly Mam was separated from her family. She was taken in by a man who promised to help find her father but instead he kept her as his slave until he sold her, at the age of 12, to a brothel in the capital, Phnom Penh. It was here that she endured horrific torture and rape on a daily basis.

She watched in horror as her best friend was murdered by a pimp and knew she had to escape or face the same fate herself. With the help of a French aid worker she managed to flee to Paris but instead of living out her days in peace, she returned to Cambodia where she worked as a nurse with Medicines Sans Frontiers, handing out condoms to women in the brothels. In 1996 she set up Afesip (acting for women in distressing situations) to rescue, house and rehabilitate survivors of sexual slavery in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. The organisation works with the police to raid brothels and bring the women to safety – some of the survivors are as young as six.

Somaly has already helped over 4,000 women escape sexual slavery and in 2007 set up the Somaly Mam Foundation to raise awareness, campaign for change, fund projects and support anti-trafficking groups. Because of her work she has been threatened by pimps and brothel owners and in 2006 her 14-year-old daughter was kidnapped and raped by three men in retaliation for her work.

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Somaly Mam could easily have stayed away from Cambodia and her past, but instead she decided to fight back and confront a problem which affects thousands of women and girls in Cambodia and millions more in other countries. It is estimated that around two million girls are held as sex slaves around the world.

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“My lowest point was when I was trapped as a sex slave and didn’t know how to find my way out. My adoptive parents always gave me good advice: “Use the difficulties to make you stronger, difficulty is your life’s experience.” Their words gave me hope to move on. I now understand life is love, life is about forgiveness,” Somaly said,  “In life you have to learn that you are enough, if you learn how to be enough and accept it then you can unlock all your potential.”

To find out more about Somaly Mam and her Foundation please visit the below links:

http://www.somaly.org/

http://www.afesip.org/

You can also follow Somaly on Twitter here – https://twitter.com/SomalyMam

And on Facebook here – https://www.facebook.com/somalymamfoundation