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Former Hostage Amanda Lindhout: Back to Somalia With Convoy for Hope

Dec 22, 2011 at 10:57 AM Chime in now

Amanda Lindhout

Photo Courtesy Amanda Lindhout

Amanda Lindhout is an internationally recognized humanitarian, public speaker, writer and activist. As the Founder and Executive Director of the Global Enrichment Foundation, Amanda has raised millions of dollars to support development in Somalia- the country where she once spent 460 days as a hostage.

In 2008 former Canadian freelance journalist Amanda Lindhout traveled to Somalia to research a story on the millions of people affected by two decades of war, drought and famine. Kidnapped by teenage criminals outside of the capital city, Mogadishu, Amanda was held hostage for 15.5 long months.

Following her release in November 2009, she became an unlikely and passionate advocate for the people of Somalia. Only four months after returning home, Amanda founded the Global Enrichment Foundation to ignite leadership in Somalia through education and economic initiatives.

Amanda advises international governments, non-profits, business leaders and policy makers on the importance of using education to counter the radicalization of youth and provides insight onto the interrelated issues of poverty and violence against women.

As a women’s rights activist Amanda travels the world promoting gender equality.  The university scholarship program she founded to ignite female leadership in Somalia has been heralded as one of the most successful in East Africa.

Amanda frequently appears in the media: she has been featured on the pages of publications including ELLE, Canadian Living and The Globe and Mail and appeared on The Today Show, Anderson Cooper 360, CNN, Sanjay Gupta MD, NBC Nightly News, BBC, MSNBC, CTV’s Canada AM, CBC’s The National, Radio Canada International, and a variety of other TV and radio programs both domestic and international.

Amanda is currently finishing a memoir, titled A House In The Sky to be published by Simon and Schuster in 2012.

Follow her humanitarian work on twitter @amandalindhout

Women We Love Q&A:

How many times have you returned to Somalia since you were freed from captivity?
During a very difficult time in captivity I made a promise to myself that if I made it out of Somalia alive I would dedicate my life to supporting and leading peaceful initiatives to counter the widespread violence I experienced in that country. Shortly after I was released I established the Global Enrichment Foundation (GEF), a non profit organization based in Canada but operating in Somalia. It quickly gained momentum and with the support of the Somali community our educational programs grew in size and scale but I never imagined I would actually return to the place where I had spent 460 days as a hostage and where I’d suffered so greatly.
In July 2011- a year and a half after I’d been released by my teenage captors- the United Nations declared a famine in Somalia. I was overcome by a sense of responsibility to do everything I could to help. I created the GEF’s Convoy For Hope, a food aid program to help save some of the 750,000 Somali people the UN predicted would die from the famine. On August 4, 2011 I found myself in Somalia once again with food aid to feed 14,000 people. I have now been back three times with the Convoy For Hope and we’ve fed nearly 100,000 Somali people severely affected by famine, with current resources of $1.5 million raised to feed about 300,000 more.
When you first announced that you were going to return to Somalia and do humanitarian work what were initial reactions you received?
When I decided to return to Somalia last summer for famine relief work, I did so quietly. It was only afterwards the public in Canada saw images and TV reports of my trip. Support for my organization's efforts was swift and widespread- the GEF began receiving donations from around the world. But for some people, especially those that worked to bring me home from captivity, it was hard to reconcile my dedication to the Somali people with the reality of what I had endured there not so long ago. I completely understand that. I would be lying if I said that this work is easy. On both a personal and professional level working in Somalia is complicated and dangerous. I do not aspire to put my life in jeopardy and I take every pre-caution available. Yet, the need for change in Somalia is so great- and no one knows that better then I. So I ask myself: is there any other choice after my experience, but to help? I know the answer to that and my life is a reflection of my truth.
Do you still feel fear when you travel there?
Every single time I travel to Somalia I am confronted by captivity memories and fear though I now always have a tremendous amount of security as well as measures in place that I did not in 2008- such as kidnap and ransom insurance. I am driven by a resounding belief that the work of my organization is establishing lasting change in a country that truly needs support. The vision of a better world as a result of these programs is what I keep in my mind and I constantly remind myself of that.
How is food supply used in times of war?

Somalia is largely under the control of a small but powerful extremist group called al-Shabaab, which is funded in part by al-Qaeda. This group has prevented and banned many international organizations from responding to the famine. Like other organizations we are challenged by this dynamic and it adds layers of complexity and danger to our work.
What parts of Somalia is your organization, the Global Enrichment Foundation, targeting with the Convoy of Hope? Refugee Camps? Villages?
Hundreds of thousands of Somalis leave their villages on foot and walk up to 45 days to internally displaced peoples camps across the country. Once registered in the camps, they are provided with regular food rations- but many do not make it and die on the long and difficult journey. The GEF’s Convoy For Hope program targets those who are en route to the camps, providing them with food baskets to last two weeks.
What can Canadians do in the short AND long term to help the people of Somalia?
When the UN announced the famine in Somalia this summer Canadians responded and over 70 million dollars was raised across the country, but the crisis is far from over. Such a little amount makes a huge difference. It costs about $5, the price of a cup of coffee, to feed a person in Somalia for two weeks.

It is my belief that a wide scale educational initiative structured around peace building, conflict resolution and leadership training would transform Somalia.
Once one is aware of the problems in a country like Somalia, we have a responsibility as global citizens to take action. How can we look away?
Are you still involved in fundraising for scholarships to send Somali girls to university?
The Somali Women’s Scholarship Program was the GEF’s first project and we are now into our second year of providing extraordinary and brilliant Somali women with fully funded university education within Somalia. The dozens of women we sponsor have been selected for their leadership ambitions. I am so proud of this program- the women we are supporting are creating dramatic change in their communities. From establishing environmental clubs to volunteering with our own Convoy For Hope project these women give back to their country and inspire me every single day.
What is it that continues to inspire you about the country, and keeps bringing you back?
As a hostage I often thought about the Somali people who I’d met the days before I was kidnapped. The resilience I had seen and the hope they had in the midst of unimaginable circumstances often helped lift me out of my own moments of despair. On this side of captivity it is that hope which continues to compel and inspire me. I am humbled by their stories and their dignity. I am in awe of their ability to transcend hardship.

As a reminder to all Canadians to give thanks for their good fortune and to give to those in need, the GEF will roll out the Christmas Convoy on December 24th and 25th. To follow news on the Convoy for Hope, or to make a donation to this program, visit convoyforhope.com

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