Her name and story are well known, so, for Amanda Lindhout, putting that knowledge toward the power of change is the most important thing for her to do moving forward.
Lindhout, the former freelance journalist whose 2008 kidnapping in Somalia drew international coverage, established the Global Enrichment Foundation (GEF) in 2010.
It has since helped more than 300,000 people in that country through numerous initiatives, including the recent opening of a primary school for 850 students outside of the capital city Mogadishu.
Lindhout, 31, who grew up in Red Deer, spoke at the University of Lethbridge's 20th International Dinner Wednesday night, as well as to a group of students during an informal afternoon session.
Her presentation was called “A Celebration of the Human Spirit.”
“I think that that’s something I can really speak to after spending 460 days as a hostage in Somalia. I certainly had to rely on the strength of my own spirit to survive that,” Lindhout said.
“I think that there’s a real spirit of activism in the youth today and it seems to be a message they respond very well to. I really like sharing with students the power of one person to make a difference in the world. I really believe in that message because it’s something that I think that I’ve done. I was one person with an idea to create change in a very troubled part of the world.”
Lindhout had been to 50 countries by the time she was 25. After turning 27, she travelled to Kenya to prepare for what was meant to be a one-week work trip into Somalia.
Five months into the captivity, her and fellow hostage Nigel Brennan used a set of nail clippers to chip a “basketball-sized” hole in their bathroom’s mortar wall.
They fled to a nearby mosque, but were soon recaptured. After the failed attempt, she said everything became worse.
Her teenage captors put permanent padlocks on her ankles and severely limited her food, light and bathroom access.
“I couldn’t understand how people could reach those depths to inflict such suffering on another human being,” Lindhout explained.
Somewhere toward the end of her 15-month kidnapping, she began to change her perspective, chose to focus on forgiveness and began to plan her future foundation.
“I think that the work that I do at the Global Enrichment Foundation has been very healing for me. It’s a gift for me every single day to be able to use the challenges and the hardship that I lived through to do something good for other people. It helps make meaning out of what happened to me,” Lindhout said.
“(The foundation) is certainly an extension of that real belief in the strength of the human spirit as I see it in really poor parts of the world like Somalia.”
Lindhout returned to Somalia in 2011 with a famine relief effort and has since been there four more times in support of her foundation’s efforts. She travels with a “small army” and always acquires kidnap and ransom insurance.
She is planning her next visit for early 2013.
“It is my life story. I don’t think you can live your life in fear,” Lindhout said.
“I really feel that all of us as human beings have a responsibility to help others.”