Lindhout speaks of light in dark places and the power of forgiveness

Mark Weber

Touching on themes of survival and the power of forgiveness, Amanda Lindhout, the former Central Alberta journalist who was held captive in Somalia for 15 months, recently shared her story in Red Deer.

Lindhout was featured in RDC’s ‘Perspectives: Canada in the World Series’ and her talk was moving, heart-wrenching and inspiring. Her honesty and vulnerability were in particular very compelling as she talked about the details leading to her 2008 kidnapping on the way to a displacement camp in Somalia.

What was to follow was unimaginable – months of brutality, hunger, isolation and pain. Lindhout was plunged into a world of violence, fear and darkness. There was of course physical abuse, but what went on in her heart and soul would have the most impact on her life. “No one can see the ways my experience has marked me the most,” she said.

But there were glints of light during her ordeal, which have since sparked an urgency to bolster awareness about the plight of the Somali people in general and the nation’s women in particular.

Last spring, Lindhout launched The Somali Women’s Scholarship Program which seeks to offer women opportunities for an education – an extreme rarity in Somalia, which she pointed out is the poorest nation in the world. Half of its people rely on international food aid to survive and it’s been gripped in civil strife for about 20 years.

Lindhout spoke about her tremendous burden for Somalia, even after what she endured at the hands of her captors. She recalled an escape attempt made by her and another captive, Australian photojournalist Nigel Brennan. They made it to a nearby mosque but their captors soon found them and dragged them back to their prison.

Lindhout remembers a Somali woman pleading with the kidnappers to let the journalists go. “I looked back at her and she had tears streaming down her face, her hands still spread out to me. She touched my life in a profound way I will never forget.”

In fact, Lindhout says a seed was planted in her that day. She already knew about the horrific oppression women suffered in Somalia, and she knew that if she ever regained her freedom she would work on behalf of the country’s women to advance their educational dreams. “Women in Somalia are suffering in ways that are impossible for us here in Canada to imagine.”

Lindhout said that ultimately, she believes education is the key to Somalia turning the corner on its tortured past. And the influence of more educated women would wield a lasting, immense impact and legacy.

“I’ve always held to that old adage that if you educate a woman, you educate a community.” She was thrilled to announce that last month, scholarships had been given to 11 women.

Lindhout has indeed taken a crushing, dehumanizing experience and chosen to work for change. Part of what enables her to do so, she explains, is choosing to forgive her captors as well.

She acknowledged it’s a process. But even in the midst of her captivity, she was always searching for glimpses of humanity in her captors. It helped her have some measure of compassion for them. They’ve known nothing but violence and loss, she said, adding they’re still of course responsible for their actions.

“I knew I would never lose my humanity as long as I could feel compassion.”

Meanwhile, back in Canada, it’s been a long road to recovery. Lindhout’s life will certainly never be the same. And there are things she chooses not to talk about, hoping those memories will ultimately die.

What drives her, empowers her and energizes her is her passion for a people who have known virtually nothing but hardship. And the desperation in the eyes of that woman in the mosque remains one of the catalysts that keep her pressing forward.

“I chose to put my vision into action. All they need is the chance.”

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