Lindhout returns to Africa

Amanda Lindhout’s steadfast dedication to empower Somalian people through education has taken her to the world’s largest refugee camp in Kenya.

Amanda Lindhout visits a school in Kenya on her first trip back to Africa since being set free from 15 months being held hostage in neighbouring Somalia.

Amanda Lindhout visits a school in Kenya on her first trip back to Africa since being set free from 15 months being held hostage in neighbouring Somalia.

Amanda Lindhout’s steadfast dedication to empower Somalian people through education has taken her to the world’s largest refugee camp in Kenya.

This is the Red Deer native’s first trip back to Africa since being kidnapped in 2008 and held hostage for 15 months in Somalia — the country that neighbours her current location.

“Returning to Africa to support the Somali people is part of my life’s work,” Lindhout told the Advocate by email on Wednesday.

“It was confronting for me to come back, but I did because I refuse to let fear stop me from fulfilling my life’s purpose, which is to work to create positive change for the Somali people.”

In an effort to help the people of Somalia, the former freelance journalist established the Global Enrichment Foundation just months after 460 days of captivity, during which she endured physical abuse and mental torment.

The goal of the foundation — which celebrated its first anniversary on May 13 — is to provide education, health and economic opportunities to the people of the wartorn country.

The decision to expand the foundation’s programming to help Somalian refugees in Kenya brought Lindhout to Dadaab on Saturday.

The overcrowded and chronically underfunded refugee camp near the Kenya-Somalia border is home to some 380,000 refugees, and nearly all are Somalian.

Lindhout was disturbed to learn there is only enough room to educate 41,000 of the some 150,000 children in the camp.

So the foundation will soon embark on a fundraising campaign to ensure every child at Dadaab will be given the opportunity to have an education. Funds raised will build schools and teacher training centres.

“I believe with every part of my being that the kids in this camp are the future of Somalia and that if given the tools to educate and empower themselves, they will be the ones to return to Somalia to create the kind of leadership that will transform the country,” Lindhout said.

“The educational model we will create focuses on leadership training, peace building and conflict resolution.”

But lack of education is only part of the dire situation at Dadaab.

The three refugee camps — Dagahaley, Ifo and Hagadera, collectively known as Dadaab — were established when the Somalian civil war broke out in 1991.

Twenty years later, thousands continue to arrive at Dadaab every day to escape the persistent violence and the worst drought in 60 years that has ravaged their homeland in the Horn of Africa.

Aid agencies are overwhelmed and struggling to keep up with the camp’s swelling population, Lindhout said.

Those who arrive are extremely malnourished, especially the children.

“The stories within the camp are staggering,” she said. “I find it hard to put into words this degree of human suffering.”

Lindhout shared the story of Safia Mohamed, a woman waiting to be registered by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in the camp.

Mohamed and her six children, ages five months to five years, walked for 20 days from their home in Kismayo, Somalia, to reach Dadaab. Lindhout said all of the children were emaciated and malnourished.

Other mothers, however, saw their children die along the way due to hunger, she said.

Water is scarce and new refugees are given food rations and plastic tents.

The overcrowded camp was originally built for 90,000 but is now housing four times that.

The UN Refugee Agency anticipates that there will be 450,000 people in the camp by the end of the year.

“We cannot stand by and watch a crisis like this unfold,” Lindhout said.

“We must do whatever we can to help.”

The foundation will begin a large fundraising campaign when Lindhout returns home to raise money to give the children in Dadaab an education.

Donations can now be made online at www.globalenrichmentfoundation.com.

Lindhout will leave Kenya on July 26 and will attend a foundation fundraiser in Egypt before heading back to Canada.

This week, the foundation will also choose the next 25 recipients of the Somali Women’s Scholarship Program. The inaugural scholarships were awarded to 11 young Somalian women pursuing post-secondary education in 2010.

CBC has accompanied Lindhout to Kenya and will air a documentary of her return to Africa on The National sometime in the fall.

ptrotter@bprda.wpengine.com