Monday, June 8, 2015

Straight from the Heart

Image (c) Agnes Fallah Kamara Umunna

Agnes Fallah Kamara Umunna is the founder of Straight From The Heart and the brains behind the One Liberia Advocacy Online Radio. The CEO and Radio Producer/Presenter is also the Author of the book And Still Peace Did Not Come: A Memoir of Reconciliation. Here is her story as a survivor and a changemaker. 

My work as a journalist began at the UN Radio in Liberia since 2004. I got a job at the UNMIL with the help of my mentor, Patrick Coker. Working with female ex-fighters who became victims of our 10 years long Civil War in Liberia war inspired me to take to gender advocacy.

As I started my work, collecting stories to be aired on the UN Radio, I found that most of my storytellers were young boys and girls who had fought in the Civil War in Liberia. They were not been cared for and catered to when it came to trauma healing and counselling. They complained that most international journalists came to them and collected their stories and never came back to see how they were doing. I wanted to be a journalist and at the same time, a human rights activist. I set up my center at the ghetto where they lived, and I named it Straight From The Heart because of that was what my radio show was called.

The challenges were many. Up until now, I still face these challenges, simply because most of the war lords in the region who gave guns to these boys and girls to make them fighters are now working with the government! They felt that I was bringing the ex- fighters to tell their stories to implicate them and they did not like it. So it was difficult to find resources for the project and for the boys and girls in the form of mental health and trauma care, and reintegrating them back to their communities was difficult. Funding our projects from international financial support was hard because they did not want their funds to go to ex-fighters. This was a big problem with the Liberian Truth Commission which was set up. Nevertheless, we did the best for the people I worked with, using my small salary from the UN radio program, and money from my mentor, Patrick Coker. I stay focused and do what I love doing - which is this very work.  

As I am here right now with peace in Liberia, I find that women are still struggling with things like limited knowledge of such things as sexually transmitted infections, health care, and the strong likelihood of getting pregnant at a young age, among other things. Some women in Monrovia, the capital the city of Liberia, will possibly have to give birth in their homes without any assistance from trained health workers because they do not have money to go to a hospital. That will leave them with delivery-related injuries if they are lucky to survive their pregnancies, and if they do survive it, they often end up with fistulae and uterine prolapse. Poverty is the biggest factor that leads to all this challenges. 

I believe that war has created a complex picture in my mind. I feel that there were so many things that went wrong. How can I and other women and men build a strong set of communities that will no longer just allow people to just come in and destroy our lives, our children and ourselves? How can we sustain family and community values? How can we build on the themes of family race, gender and values and live by it? These were such constant questions in my mind.

My dream is to have enough money to do what I love doing for teens and women in my country using radio for their voices to be heard.
My Voice, Her Voice, Our Voices.