Lindhout tells of transformative experience

Tuesday, May 08, 2012 02:05 pm | Paul Frey
Noel West/Olds Albertan
Noel West/Olds Albertan
Amanda Lindhout gives a presentation to students from Olds High School, Olds Koinonia Christian School, Deer Meadow School, Bowden Grandview School, and Red Deer's River Glen School at the Ralph Klein Centre last Tuesday.
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Amanda Lindhout shared her story of being captured and held hostage for 15 months in Somalia with the community last week at both Olds High School and the TransCanada Theatre.

The school presentation also brought in students from Bowden Grandview School, Olds Koinonia Christian School, River Glen School and Deer Meadow School.

Lindhout, a former Canadian journalist, spent 15 months in captivity in Somalia after arriving there on August 20, 2008. Lindhout had planned to spend only a week in Somalia when she, along with photographer Nigel Brennan were captured on August 23 when the car they were riding in was ambushed by what Lindhout called “teenaged criminals.”

“I knew how dangerous it was to go (to Somalia),” Lindhout said, adding that she felt a need to travel to dangerous areas to tell people’s stories. “Despite all of the warnings, (I went).”

Lindhout had been to 50 different countries before travelling to Somalia. Before going to Somalia, Lindhout admitted when she travelled, she didn’t always take all of the needed precautions, but felt a need to visit troubled areas to tell people’s stories.

On the second day of her trip — before her capture — Lindhout visited a world feeding centre that handed out food to Somalis, about 40 per cent of whom rely on that for their sole source of nourishment. She encountered a woman there who had walked for days to the centre, still clutching her dead baby, and was extremely malnourished herself. Despite the woman’s condition, Lindhout said she asked Lindhout if she herself was hungry.

“I was incredibly humbled and touched by how kind the people were. You never forget a moment like that,” she said.

On the third day in Somalia the vehicle she was riding in was forced to stop. Everyone was forced on the ground, spread out, with guns to the backs of their heads. Once the captors determined they weren’t armed, they drove the vehicle over an hour to their compound. Lindhout said she believed she and Brennan were kidnapped because they represented the western world that had failed the captors.

Leaders then demanded contact information from Lindhout, and her family received a $2 million ransom message.

Lindhout said the pair was moved around a lot during its captivity to different areas that were deemed safer for the captors.

“I always find it hard to explain (to others) that feeling of not knowing (what was going to happen),” she said.

Lindhout and Brennan were kept together for two months before being separated. After being separated, they developed ways of communicating silently amongst themselves when they were able to come together. During one whispered conversation, the pair hatched a plan to escape the poorly maintained house they were being held in. The pair managed to slowly chip away at the motar with a pair of nail clippers and escaped through a small hole to a nearby mosque.

The captors tracked them to the mosque and began shooting at the “brave men” who Lindhout and Brennan met at the mosque. Lindhout said there was one older woman among the group at the mosque who sensed the danger Lindhout was in and grabbed her after Lindhout was dragged by the ankles from the mosque by the captors. Eventually, Lindhout and the woman became separated, “but she did affect my life profoundly. She risked everything that day.”

Following her release, Lindhout said she owed a huge debt of gratitude to the woman.

Once the pair was recaptured, Lindhout was put in what she called the “dark room” and could neither see her hands in front of her face or move because of the chains on her ankles. She couldn’t sit up or lie flat, only lie sideways.

“I had lost everything … the sky, the breeze, laughter, light. What happened to me is something that no human being should have to experience,” she said.

As the days and months of her capture dragged on, Lindhout said she began to feel a sense of compassion for her captors — a group of teenaged boys who had never been to school and had only known violence, sadness and death — because she came to realize that they would never know freedom, something she hoped to one day know again. She said between the several daily assaults she would endure from them, they would tell her of the parents and siblings that had died and how they wanted to be free to pursue an education.

After one such assault, Lindhout said she could feel herself about to lose hope in human decency. At that moment, she said she suddenly felt detached from the situation as though looking down on it as an objective observer, and felt peace wash over her.

“I understood that this boy’s suffering was greater than my own. My own was only physical,” she said, adding that her weakest moment gave her her greatest strength.

Following her release, Lindhout said she had the choice to be bitter and filled with anger or to forgive. Though it was a long process that is still ongoing, Lindhout said she has chosen to let go of the negative emotions and forgive her captors. However, she has come to realize that her actions hurt her family and others, and “forgiving myself has proven to be far more difficult.”

As a result of her experience, Lindhout has now started the Global Enhancement Foundation, which works to further women’s education, women’s economic empowerment and community development through the leadership of women. The GEF has a particular focus on Somalia.

Last year, Lindhout returned to Somalia to distribute food aid in a “convoy of hope” during the famine there. Despite estimates that 750,000 Somalis were expected to die because of the famine, the GEF managed to raise $2 million and helped feed 300,000 Somalis.

Lindhout’s visit to Olds was sponsored by the Olds Interact Club.


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