Photograph by Steven Carty
|Born||June 12, 1981|
|Organization||Global Enrichment Foundation|
|Home town||Sylvan Lake, Alberta, Canada|
Amanda Lindhout (born June 12, 1981) is a Canadian humanitarian and journalist. In 2008, she and members of her entourage were kidnapped by Islamist insurgents in southern Somalia. She was released 15 months later on November 25, 2009, and has since embarked on a philanthropic career.
At the age of 24, Lindhout quit her job as a cocktail waitress to become a journalist. She used her salary from the bar she worked at to finance reporting trips to various conflict zones around the world.
Lindhout began her new journalism career in Afghanistan, arriving in the capital Kabul in May 2007. She later moved on to an assignment in Bagdhad, Iraq in January 2008, where she worked for Iran's state television Press TV. Writing in The Toronto Star, John Goddard states that her reports for the Iranian Press TV "begin to raise questions about her judgment. As a reporter, she became a propagandist for the Iranian regime, oozing anti-Americanism and contempt for Western media."
Red Deer Advocate
At the time of Lindhout's second abduction, this time in Somalia, she was reportedly not affiliated with any news organization other than Alberta's Red Deer Advocate. She wrote a column for the small daily.
Several media reports suggested that Lindhout was in Somalia on assignment for France 24. However, Nathalie Lenfant, a spokesman for the organization, indicated that Lindhout had only sent a few reports to the news agency from Iraq. Lenfant also stated that France24 had declined two proposals by Lindhout to serve as a correspondent for the organization in Iraq and Somalia, respectively. According to Lenfant, the news agency later decided to confirm that Lindhout was on a freelance assignment for it because France24 representatives "thought it would be better if she could be seen to be part of the structure of a larger company".
On August 23, 2008, two days after having arrived in Mogadishu, Amanda Lindhout and Nigel Brennan, a 37-year-old freelance Australian photojournalist from Brisbane, were kidnapped along with their Somali translator, Abdifatah Mohammed Elmi, their driver, Mahad Isse, and a driver from the Shamo Hotel, Marwali. They were on their way to conduct interviews at an IDP camp when they were stopped by gunmen. The abductors were teenage insurgents from the Hizbul Islam fundamentalist group.
On September 17, Al Jazeera featured footage of Lindhout and Brennan in captivity surrounded by gunmen. On October 13, 2008, the kidnappers demanded a ransom of US$2.5 million by October 28. On February 23, 2009, the Canadian Association of Journalists urged Prime Minister Stephen Harper to help secure the release of Lindhout and Khadija Abdul Qahaar, a Canadian woman who was kidnapped in November.
On June 10, 2009, CTV News received a phone call from a tearful Lindhout who seemed to be reading a statement: "My name is Amanda Lindhout and I am a Canadian citizen and I've been held hostage by gunmen in Somalia for nearly 10 months. I'm in a desperate situation. I'm being kept in a dark, windowless, room in chains without any clean drinking water and little or no food. I've been very sick for months without any medicine.... I love my country and want to live to see it again. Without food or medicine, I will die here."
On November 25, 2009, after 460 days as a hostage, Lindhout was released following a ransom payment. Brennan had heard her tearfully asking her mother to take the entire $500,000 that his family had largely raised and use it to pay just for her. She was hospitalized in Nairobi for two weeks and treated for acute malnourishment.
Lindhout studied Development Leadership at the COADY International Institute at St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia and is the executive director of the Global Enrichment Foundation. Lindhout has become a much sought after speaker on the topics of forgiveness, compassion, social responsibility and women's rights.
In 2010 Lindhout addressed the United Nations Association in Ottawa, Canada about women's rights.
In July 2010 Google Ideas had Lindhout moderate a panel of former violent extremists at the Summit Against Violent Extremism in Dublin, Ireland. The event was the largest gathering of former violent extremists to ever take place and was organized by Google, the Council of Foreign Relations and the Tribeca Film Festival. Lindhout moderated a panel which included a former Somali militant with Al-Shabaab, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed. Toronto Star reporter Michelle Shepard observed the tension on stage:
"The only detectable moment came during a panel moderated by Amanda Lindhout, the Canadian journalist who was held hostage in Somalia for 460 days, and Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, who left Toronto to fight with Al Shabab during Ethiopia’s invasion in 2008. Lindhout had asked Mohamed how he justified the deaths and injuries of civilians while a part of the Somali group, but instead he spoke of the political motivations as to why he went to fight with the Shabab."
In 2013, Lindhout released a memoir, co-written with journalist Sara Corbett, titled A House In The Sky recounting her experience as a hostage. She indicated in the book that her motive for traveling to Somalia in the midst of an insurgency was the dearth of competition from other journalists covering the region, as well as the possibility of documenting unique human interest stories. Once held hostage, she alleged that she and Brennan were forcibly separated since they were not married, and that she was subsequently repeatedly tortured and raped by her teenage captors. It was also reported that Lindhout had given birth to a boy named Osama while in captivity, though she neither confirmed nor denied the allegation, only stating that she had endured grave atrocities that she would never reveal. Additionally, Lindhout asserted that she and Brennan had converted to Islam in order to both appease their abductors and make life easier for themselves.
The Global Enrichment Foundation
In 2010, Lindhout founded the Global Enrichment Foundation to create more opportunities in Somalia by offering university scholarships to women. Lindhout currently serves as the organization's Executive Director, with Ahmed Hussen, the president of the Canadian Somali Congress, acting as the Fund's co-director. Aurala Warsame, a Somali researcher at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, supervises the program and vetted the first applicants.
In response to why she established the Foundation despite her ordeal, Lindhout told the CBC's The National "You can very easily go into anger and bitterness and revenge thoughts and resentment and 'Why me?'[...] Because I had something very, very large and very painful to forgive, and by choosing to do that, I was able to put into place my vision, which was making Somalia a better place[...] I've never questioned whether or not it was the right thing to do[...] What else to do after the experience that I had, than something like this?"
In conjunction with various private university institutions across Somalia, the GEF's Somali Women's Scholarship Program (SWSP) offers higher education opportunities to women in Somalia on a contribution basis. Lindhout's foundation aims to annually send 100 women in the country to university for the next four years, and is sponsoring tertiary education for 36 women, who are expected to go on to become teachers, doctors, environmentalists and engineers, among other professions. The GEF also started the SHE WILL micro-loan initiative to financially empower widows and other Somali women.
In response to the 2011 Eastern Africa drought, the GEF put into motion its Convoy for Hope program. The initiative received a $1 million USD donation from the Chobani Yoghurt company. As part of the GEF, teachers with the Memorial Composite also raised funds to sponsor the Sankaroos women's basketball team of Abaarso School in Somalia, and a group of high school students in Alberta raised over $23,000 to support the GEF's educational work.
In 2012, Lindhout was featured as the face of jewelry company Hillberg & Berk's spring/summer 2012 'Najo Rajo' Collection of Hope. The Regina, Saskatchewan based company donated $15,000 towards the Global Enrichment Foundation's Somali Women's Scholarship Program for Amanda's participation.
Return to Africa
Lindhout's work for the Global Enrichment Foundation eventually drew her back to Somalia in July 2011. Accompanied by CBC's The National, who filmed a documentary about her titled Return To Africa, Lindhout visited the Dadaab refugee complex in Kenya to research a $60 million educational project for children in the camp, many of whom fled the conflict in southern Somalia. Lindhout attempted to reconcile her fear of abduction with her deep commitment to helping the asylum seekers. However, her efforts were criticized by Badu Katelo, Kenya's commissioner for refugees, who suggested that the best solution to the issue was through military intervention in Somalia's conflict zones. Katelo characterized Lindhout's initiative as "small [...] It's a drop in the ocean. It's not anything to rely on to bring peace to Somalia. I think if education was to bring peace in Somalia, then it should've happened a long time ago because in 1991, when refugees came here, they were all educated". Lindhout responded that "to anyone who's questioning us right now, that's fine[...] That's fair. It is an incredibly challenging environment to work in, but time will tell the story."
On August 4, 2011, Lindhout travelled back to Somalia for the first time since her captivity. Leading a large convoy carrying food aid for 14,000 people in the southern Somalia town of Dobley, she was welcomed by Somalia's Transitional Federal Government. Lindhout described the trip as also "an opportunity for me to look at that fear and maybe let it go — this fear that I have been carrying around with me for some time". Her Convoys For Hope project has continued to provided relief and expects to assist 300,000 more people.
Awards and honours
In June of 2012, Amanda received the Red Deer Women of Excellence Award in Human Services in recognition of her leadership, compassion and practice in human service programs within the community.
In March 2012, Lindhout accepted an invitation from former President of the United States Bill Clinton to participate on a panel at the annual Clinton Global Initiative University about her humanitarian work in the Horn of Africa with the Global Enrichment Foundation.
In spring of 2012 Amanda was asked to be photographed for the book 100 Making a Difference by celebrity photographer John Russo, alongside such public figures as Sophia Loren, Prince Edward, Michelle Obama and Al Gore.
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