In our last spotlight feature, we introduced you to Ozii Obiyo and how his work with the OTG Playa team is shaping content access on the African continent. To start the New Year, we have an equally enterprising young lady and member of Philly Nigerian Professionals, whose organization “HEAL”, is impacting the lives of women and communities in Liberia and Africa.
About Mawata Kamara
Mawata Kamara is the founder of Holistic Education Advocating Leadership (HEAL), a nonprofit organization dedicated to “tackling the epidemic of rape and sexual assault in Liberia and West Africa”. The decision to start HEAL was born out of Mawata’s childhood experience growing up in a war torn Liberia and having to flee with her family in the late 80’s to Guinea, a refugee camp in Sierra Leone and finally to the United States in the early 90’s.
Ms. Kamara comes from a family of strong women, including her mother and elder sister; Linda, whom she credits as being the greatest influence in her life. Linda worked hard to ensure that all her siblings were taken care of and played the role of a parent by inspiring them to strive for their dreams and be the best. Linda’s selfless service and generosity to others without expectation informed Mawata’s decision to become a nurse; a profession that allows her to give back and help people in need. She graduated from Temple University in 2008 with a BSN and has been working as a Registered Nurse since. Mawata has worked with notable medical institutions such as John Hopkins and Yale University Hospital.
HEAL stands for Holistic Education Advocating Leadership. Mawata says that the philosophy that drives HEAL is that one’s struggle from the past does not dictate the future. HEAL aims to provide and expose people to events and resources that will allow them to holistically heal from past pitfalls, mistakes and life’s events, while also empowering them to continue to move forward. HEAL also works hard to address the epidemic of rape and sexual assault of women and children in Liberia and other African communities through education, advocacy, awareness campaigns and ultimately providing forensic services that will help bring perpetrators to justice.
HEAL’s immediate and current target audience are victims of rape and sexual assault in Liberia. Mawata’s decision to begin with Liberia is driven by her roots and connection to Liberia as well as the prevalence of rape and sexual assault in the country due to its violent past. Liberia has had an alarming rate of rape and sexual assault for over a decade now. According to reports by the UN, three children are raped daily in Liberia and 1,300 women were raped in nine months. Among other things, lack of concrete evidence is the primary cause of this tragedy. Liberia lack scientific evidence such as DNA forensics that can properly identify accused rapists. Most rape cases are based on “hearsay”. This, in addition to a slow judicial system often leads to rapist being set free; going back into communities feeling a sense of being untouchable.
On some of the Challenges faced by HEAL in its fight against this epidemic, Mawata had to first get her family on board, because rape and sexual assault is a sensitive issue for most Liberian families. Rape and sexual assault remains a big issue in Liberia because victims choose silence for the sake of the family name, while at the same time expecting the issue to be “dealt” with. Often times, victims continue to reside in the home of the perpetrator, and are expected to still respect and honor the very person who betrayed their trust. For Mawata, the biggest challenge was negotiating her way around the tension between loyalty to secrets kept and doing the right thing. According to her, HEAL was born out of the knowledge that no one had to live with the pain and burden of enduring the after effects of rape and sexual assault in silence. HEAL’s programs are specially designed to educate, advocate and empower people, especially victims of rape and sexual assault.
Funding and Future Plans for HEAL
HEAL’s programs were initially funded solely by Mawata, which included paying for several trips to Liberia for educative and advocacy purposes, as well as volunteering with local hospitals in order to create awareness about HEAL and its programs. In recent times, family, friends and HEAL’s Operations Director, Katherine Redd, have joined hands to sponsor HEAL. Limited funds are also raised through T-shirt sales.
Future goals for HEAL includes continuing to organize multiple workshops and events around preventive education. HEAL also wants to provide DNA forensics for rape cases and train professionals that will help execute successful trails in court. To accomplish this, HEAL is taking two companies, Sorenson Forensics and First Witness of Duluth to Liberia to help train professions in the area of DNA forensics and child advocacy; an effort that will cost an estimated $60,000.00. Other plans for HEAL’s operations include building a Forensics Laboratory and a one stop center/ clinic that provide resources for victims. HEAL is open to sponsorship and donations that will help the organization achieve its goals.
The Liberian Entertainment Award (LEA) recently recognized HEAL and its commitment to Community Development. HEAL has been nominated for the 2014 Community Crusader Award organized by LEA to be presented at the Liberian Entertainment Award Show in February, 2014. HEAL needs your vote to win this award. Please vote for HEAL at LEA 2014 Awards. Voting Starts today, January 1st, and ends on January 31st, 2014.