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Former captive uses first-hand lessons of horrors in Somalia to fight for change

Calgary Herald 

February 05, 2013

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When resources are thin, we often end up becoming quite resourceful.

As a young child growing up in Red Deer, Amanda Lindhout honed that skill.

“My parents did the best they could,” says the now 31-year-old woman, “but there was never really extra money to do special things.”

One of the special things Lindhout wanted to do was step outside her central Alberta world.

“I used to dream of travelling ... and I would go to the local bookstore and I would buy these back issue copies of National Geographic magazine. That was my window to the world. I so desperately wanted to be out there ... and to be part of it.”

She got that chance. After high school, Lindhout moved to Calgary, worked several jobs and scraped up just enough money to see what was out there. Sure enough, she got bitten by the travel bug.

But in 2008, while working as a freelance journalist, one of those excursions took Lindhout to a very different world, war-ravaged Somalia.

“My third day in the country our vehicle was ambushed by a group of teenage criminals. We were abducted at gunpoint and what followed was 460 days in captivity,” she says.

Lindhout was chained to a floor, kept in darkness, brutalized and sexually assaulted by her teenage kidnappers, daily.

“I really just allowed myself to go into the depths of despair. I thought about giving up, often. I mean, things were really black.”

But, somehow, in that darkness Lindhout experienced a profound moment, finding forgiveness for her young captors. She describes it as an almost out-of-body experience, in which she just had to find a way to survive.

“By humanizing those boys, rather than just seeing them as monsters that were hurting me, it allowed me more easily to shift into this place of compassion. I could allow it to sweep me into that undercurrent of despair or I could choose to rise above it ... and choosing to rise above it felt so much better.”

Lindhout made that choice again, after returning to Canada. Her desperate family had paid a ransom and she was freed, only to come home to her own guilt over the fear, danger and financial hardship she felt she’d put so many people through.

Lindhout had to once again choose compassion and forgiveness, and that included forgiving herself.

Part of her healing was to use what she had learned about Somalia, especially the dangerous conditions for women who are often victims of sexual violence, to bring about change.

“I felt this sense of responsibility, like, I know all of that, what can I do to help that country ... to help heal that country.”

That inspired Lindhout to create The Global Enrichment Foundation three years ago. She has since spearheaded efforts to raise millions of dollars to support programs in Somalia. The non-profit organization supplied food during the famine of 2011, and now provides university scholarships to dozens of women, small business and skills training and microloans and grants.

“They have so much ambition, they want to be educated. Their resiliency and their hope for their future and the future of their country is incredibly inspiring.”

Lindhout is sharing more of her experience, and her hopes for the people of Somalia, in a book she has been working on the past few years.

And she will return to that country that took so much from her but somehow at the same time, gave her so much in return.

“We really are changing lives,” she says.

Linda Olsen anchors the Early News and the News Hour on Global Calgary. She also hosts and produces the Woman of Vision Series. If you’d like to nominate a Woman of Vision go to www.globaltvcalgary.com for more information


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