Amanda Lindhout, founder, executive director of Global Enrichment Foundation, Canmore, Alba.
Few people would return to a country, much less help to rebuild it, if they were held hostage there for 460 days. Upon her 2009 return to Calgary, former journalist Amanda Lindhout, 31, spent only four months recuperating from malnutrition and emotional fallout from the harrowing captivity in Somalia, before she started working on a plan to help Somalis.
In April 2010, Ms. Lindhout established the Global Enrichment Foundation. Since then, she has returned to Somalia five times (although she now has kidnap and ransom insurance and security personnel) and raised $2-million. Her latest program, She Will, an initiative of GEF, seeks to provide survivors of rape with medical care, therapy and education so they can break free from oppression.
“Rape is being used as a tool of war. She Will is a locally-based initiative in Mogadishu, led by Fartuun Adan. Ms. Adan is a female activist who, in 2007, returned to Somalia from Ottawa to run a [separate]human rights centre that her husband had founded before he was murdered.”
WHAT DRIVES YOU
“Based on my experience as a hostage, I understand how devastating rape is – and how important it is to empower survivors to reclaim their lives.”
“While I was in captivity, I began to think about setting up a foundation. After I returned home, I received messages from Somalis – young people in particular – apologizing for what happened to me and wanting me to know that my captors don’t represent Somali people. They wanted me to know that they want a different future for Somalia.
“And, after meeting with the women at Fartuun’s centre, I made a promise to Fartuun that I would do everything I could to help her support the survivors of rape and sexual violence.”
“A little goes a long way in Somalia: $5 will feed a person there for about two weeks. A hundred dollars provides the supplies for the school and $200 to $300 can help a woman start a business.”
“Last month, when I was in Mogadishu, I met Abaayo, a tiny six-year-old girl who had been brutally raped. It is so hard to understand how this can happen. The overwhelming need for services like ours is discouraging. The fact rape is a crisis in Somalia is discouraging. Mogadishu is going through a period of relative calm, but senseless acts of violence like that make me see how far we still have to go.
Personally, my safety is often compromised. Somalia is very dangerous and no one knows that better than I. I mitigate the risks as best I can.”
“In September 2010, I met Habiba, a beautiful middle-aged single mother, and a survivor of a very violent rape. Her 12-year-old daughter was shot and killed. When I saw her again in April, the first thing she did was to thank me for food aid that she had received from our famine relief program. Habiba is participating in the She Will business workshop and will soon receive a business grant to set up a small tea stall.”
“When I established the GEF, some people found my dedication to the country where I lost my freedom difficult to understand. Other people thought it was sweet, but didn't expect my commitment to have longevity. It was very difficult to raise money initially. There were many moments when I wasn't sure I could do it, but I never gave up.”
WHAT KEEPS YOU GOING
“I have watched lives change. I have seen women gain confidence. I know that our food aid programs have saved hundreds of thousands of lives. It is the Somali people who keep me going.”
WHAT IS NEXT?
“Together with Fartuun we are hoping to establish Somalia’s first safe house for women. The safe house will have a dormitory for 100 women, a medical clinic, school, library and sports centre.”
“Hillary Clinton has a strong and powerful voice regarding ending violence against women and girls.”
This interview has been condensed and edited.
Farah Mohamed is president and chief executive officer of the G(irls)20 Summit.
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