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Amanda Lindhout on the Transformational Power of Forgiveness

“Forgiveness has helped move me forward in my life. It’s not something I claim to have found everyday but when I do get to those moments it feels like freedom. Freedom from anger, bitterness and fear.”


Amanda Lindhout thought she would be in and out of Somalia in a week with a ground-breaking article. When she left 460 days later, she had a personal story that no one could have predicted.


BY Shelagh McNally | Photography by Steve Carty


The call came the day before her 34th birthday. The RCMP had arrested Ali Omar Ader, the principal tormentor in her brutal kidnapping. Although Amanda had been helping with the investigation, she never expected him to be brought to justice. The news made her a headline once again, but Amanda took it in stride; this was another step in her incredible journey of healing and transformation.

Her story of survival is remarkable, but even more extraordinary is the message she brings forth: Forgive.

“Forgiveness has helped move me forward in my life. It’s not something I claim to have found everyday but when I do get to those moments it feels like freedom. Freedom from anger, bitterness and fear.”

Amanda was working as a freelance journalist in Iraq when the USA began bombing Somalia. It was one piece of a complicated story—that included a brutal war, tragic famine, and growing factions of Islamist extremists—and she wanted to be the one to tell it. In August of 2008, she set out to visit a refugee camp outside of the capital city of Mogadishu. She never made it to her destination.

Amanda didn’t know that a kidnapping had been planned, targeting journalist Robert Draper, on assignment with National Geographic. When his security was beefed up, the insurgents moved onto journalists with less protection. And so began the harrowing captivity of Amanda and her Australian colleague, photojournalist Nigel Brennan.


Related: Learn how award-winning news anchor, Tamara Taggart, survived cancer and learned the importance of advocating for yourself. 


Her captors were teenage Islam fundamentalists, demanding $3 million dollars in ransom. While the two families navigated complex negotiations, Amanda and Nigel were moved from one deserted house to another, in far-flung villages. When their daring escape failed, Amanda was chained in the dark, beaten, starved, tortured, and sexually attacked several times a day. To survive she developed the coping technique of recreating her good moments in painstaking details. It would prove to be transformational.

“In my darkest moments, I was held up by something bigger than myself. Being truly alone with my mind and no distractions was truly a spiritual experience. When you hold onto the resiliency, grow with it and let it take you where it wants—that’s a beautiful thing,” said Amanda. “The extreme experience led me into a deep area, and when you touch that true part of yourself, it changes you.”

Eventually both families raised funds privately (both Australia and Canada have policies against paying ransom), and hired a British security team to negotiate the couple’s release for $600,000. On November 25, 2009, Amanda and Nigel were free.

Amanda_Lindhout2_400x400Soon after her release, Amanda started the non-profit Global Enrichment Foundation (GEF). It was her way of fulfilling a promise she made after realizing her captors were lost boys raised in an unstable culture of violence and death. She was filled with compassion for their situation and vowed to help the country. GEF funds various projects in Somalia ranging from health care, meals for school children, medical care for survivors of sexual violence, sports programs for girls, and university scholarships for women. To date, 16 women have graduated from university and another 31 are finishing their post secondary studies.

At first Amanda spoke about her ordeal with the media but was soon invited to talk at conferences, universities, special events and conventions, reaching a wide audience. “It’s been quite empowering to speak out and find my voice. In fact, I feel it’s my responsibility to share this. It’s a time for deep conversation. Many people are moved. Some people make a choice to forgive and they contact me afterwards to let me know they did forgive.”

Her journey is also about the healing bonds between women. In 2012, she started working with Dr Katherine Porterfield, Ph.D. a clinical psychologist at the Bellevue/NYU Program for Survivors of Torture. Amanda describes Porterfield as “an angel.” Together they mapped out an ongoing treatment for her inevitable PTSD.

Another key part of her recovery was writing her memoir. Released in 2013, A House in the Sky quickly became a New York Times bestseller. Co-written with journalist Sara Corbett, the book has garnered praise for its unflinching honesty and beautiful prose. It took three-and-a-half years to finish and during that time Sara and Amanda developed close ties.

“My relationship with Sara was one of implicit trust. We shared a vision of how to tell the bigger story about a young woman seeking answers, running into trouble and having a personal transformation. There was a grace and trust to the process. Everyone involved gave us time to do it properly. Sara remains one of my closest confidants.”

Amanda continues to fundraise for GEF and hopes the upcoming film based on her story will help raise awareness and support for Somalia. She has plans to return to university to study psychology and work with survivors of trauma.

In the meantime, she talks about forgiveness and compassion.

“I’m going to continue sharing my story as long as people are deriving value from it. I’ve experienced some very dark parts but also the kindness of people. I have something to say about resilience and the human spirit. I’m still optimistic about humanity.”


A version of this appears in print in our Fall 2015 Women of Influence Magazine, Pages 34-35. 


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