Fensala Hall in Markerville became a scene of African culture during the African themed night where Lorinda Stewart shared her amazing story.
Stewart, mother of Amanda Lindhout, a journalist who was captured and held hostage in Somalia for about 15 months along with another journalist from Australia, shared her experiences during that horrific time. Lindhout was captured in August of 2008 and released in November of 2009.
With tears and amazing strength she told the crowd how she managed to come through for her daughter and never gave up hope.
“I realized I had to figure out a way not only to survive this but to stay sane so that I could continue to negotiate my daughter’s freedom,” said Stewart.
Stewart worked with a team that started to help her negotiate and trained her not to show any signs of stress or emotion to the kidnappers.
“I felt like I had an elephant sitting on me, and it was physically hard to breath,” said Stewart. “There were many times that I felt I was sinking beneath the waves, things that struck me down like the time a friend called to tell me that she had just heard that Amanda had been killed, news reports that Amanda had a baby, and the many deadlines the kidnapers gave me with threats that my daughter would die if I didn’t pay the ransom.”
Stewart said the most distressing calls were when they put her daughter on the phone with the intent to break her.
“The first call was so horrific I had to hang up the phone on her,” said Stewart.
“I threw up and fell to the floor where I lay crying for hours. They broke my heart a million times, but all these things were a distraction from my goal and I could not afford the luxury of self pity or the time and energy it would take to deal with all these distractions.”
When they reached 11 months the negotiating team told them to look at other options because of the lack of progress that was being made. The operational center where she was living was shut down and Stewart had to borrow money to move back to Canmore.
They started fundraising vigorously, and together with the other captive’s family members they hired a private security company and had to fundraise a ransom as well as money to pay the security company without the media finding out.
“It was at that time that I found myself completely alone without a support system, sitting in a small two-room basement suite taking horrific calls from the kidnappers, because at that time their patience had long run out,” said Stewart.
She started travelling across Central Alberta fundraising and met some amazing people along the way.
“The love, support and dedication shown to us lifted my weary spirit,” said Stewart.
When negotiations finally came to an end and mother and daughter were reunited Stewart said it was far too emotional to put into words.
“The weight of the first elephant was replaced by the second elephant — a profound sadness of how my daughter had suffered.”
Within four months of Lindhout’s release she started The Global Enrichment Foundation for Somalian women in need of support and education. Stewart said it was very healing working with her daughter on the program.
The Foundation helps Somali women gain an education through scholarships and also provides them with small business loans with the goal of creating sustainable economic empowerment with the ‘SHE WILL’ initiative.
Women who live in refugee camps in Dadaab, Somalia, are slowly getting the support they need with the foundation and Stewart said that she is slowly healing. But it takes time.
“Through therapy, releasing and forgiveness I am finding my way to joy again.”