The details of journalist-turned-humanitarian Amanda Lindhout’s horrendous experience in Somalia a few years ago are well-known.
In 2008, while in the war-torn nation and on her way to do a story on a group of displaced people near the capital city of Mogadishu, she was kidnapped and held hostage for an unimaginable 460 days. She was eventually released after a ransom payment was delivered to her captors.
During her captivity, she endured unimaginable pain, terror and isolation. But on a deep level, her heart and spirit were stirred by a compassion as well. She knew that if she would someday be free, she would work to make a difference in the country, which remains on of the poorest nations on earth.
So recalling what she endured in the poverty-stricken nation hasn’t dampened Lindhout’s resolve to help the people of Somalia. And her work with the launch of a new women’s school. Lindhout was in Red Deer last week to talk with hundreds of local students and educators about the Rajo Women’s Literacy School.
“Everyone one of us has the power to create change in the world, but we also have a responsibility to respond to pain in the world,” she said. Ultimately, everyone can do their part, and as she so effectively pointed out, sweeping change has often begun with the actions of a single person.
Lindhout also recounted her story of being held hostage to show that, “We can not only face extreme adversity, but even find all kinds of hidden gifts and lessons in it if we’re open to looking for them. My hope is that my story today will remind everyone of you here of the great strength and endurance of the human spirit that lives in all of us. And that no matter what you might be going through in your life right now, you can keep moving forward – even when the worst thing you can imagine is happening to you.”
Supported by The Global Enrichment Foundation, the RAJO – or ‘hope’ in Somali – Literacy School seeks to educate and empower Somali women and girls living in Eastleigh, a neighbourhood of Nairobi, Kenya. Eastleigh is one of the largest Somali refugee communities outside of Somalia – a country plagued by decades of conflict and famine.
In addition to war, violence and poverty, Somali women living in Eastleigh have been subject to oppressive cultural norms, unequal power relationships and economic dependency.
The vast majority of these women have been denied the opportunity to attend school – to receive any education at all – and lack training in English, one of Kenya’s official languages. This makes it difficult, at times impossible, for Somali women to secure employment, to access government services, to seek medical attention, to respond to authorities, to travel, even to shop for necessities. Women are thus unable to become active members of their community and effective advocates for themselves and others.
This project provides beginner, intermediate and advanced English language instruction to 75 Somali women. Classes also include basic computer skills training, and are supplemented by open discussions about health and nutrition, parenting, conflict resolution, and the challenges they have faced as Somali refugee women.
Meanwhile, Lindhout has been extremely active on other fronts to help the people of Somalia. She has organized several ‘Convoys For Hope’ which have transported emergency food aid there – the first was formed last summer when news of the devastating famine was surfacing.
The first distribution was launched via Lindhout’s Global Enrichment Foundation and several have followed – the last one being delivered just prior to Christmas.
Lindhout made a decision long ago that has proven to have an overwhelming influence. She chose to forgive and move forward. She chose to look into the faces of her captors and see a people that had only known war, conflict, oppression and hardship.
And she chose to reach out, to love and to put her love for the Somali people into action.