September 25th, 2009
11:42 PM ET

A lesson in forgiveness

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/09/24/art.rose.mapendo.babies.jpg caption="Rose and her twins in Congo in 2000."]

Rose Mapendo
Mapendo International

My name is Rose Mapendo, and I am the Ambassador to Mapendo International. We work to rescue and protect at risk refugees who have fallen through the cracks of humanitarian assistance in Africa.

I am from the Democratic Republic of Congo. When war broke out in 1998, my family and I were arrested and forced into a prison camp because of our Tutsi ethnicity. As my seven children and I huddled together, my husband – their father – was tortured and executed within earshot. Soldiers killed our friends and relatives, while many more died of starvation and disease. Months later, I gave birth to twin boys on the concrete floor of my cell. I used a stick to the cut the umbilical cord, and a piece of my hair to tie it off.

During this time I was so angry at God. I was resentful towards God. I was so angry because they had killed so many of my friends and family. I was so angry because they had raped so many of my friends. I thought I was going to be killed. I decided I did not want to die angry. I forgave my captors. I forgave all the soldiers who were in charge of killing. I named my twins after the camp commanders who were in charge of executing my husband. I did this because I hoped that my children would survive and I wanted to show the commanders that I forgave them and that I was not their enemy. I wanted to show them that I loved them. That moment when I forgave, from my deepest heart, was the moment that I survived.

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/09/24/art.vert.rose.mapendo.family.jpg caption="Rose and her family in Phoenix, Arizona, in 2006." width=292 height=320]

My story is too long to tell here. There is a story of hardship and horror in every minute of my 16 months in the death camp. But finally my children and I were brought to a safe haven outside of Kinshasa, Congo’s capital city. A U.S. rescue team came to that safe haven and found us there.

That was where I met Sasha Chanoff and Sheikha Ali. They were part of the rescue team. They got me and my family out. They brought us to a refugee camp in Cameroon, and then we finally resettled to the U.S., to Peoria, outside of Phoenix. Then later Sasha founded Mapendo International to rescue other refugees, like me, who were in danger and had no one to help them. He helped my brother Kigabo and his family resettled to the US after we got there. Mapendo has helped many families, that have been separated, to reunite. If you want to help us rescue and reunite refugees, you can text the world ‘rescue’ to 90999 to donate $5.

My brother Kigabo, who is a doctor, is now starting an organization called African Health New Horizons. I am excited about this because there has never been health care in my home and my brother wants to bring health to women and children and others there.

Now, as the Ambassador for Mapendo International, I am a spokesperson for forgotten refugees. Big Mouth Productions is making a documentary movie about my story. Now God has given me the opportunity to tell my story, and to speak for refugees who have no hope and no one there for them. I am alive to tell you that no matter how terrible life is, no matter how deep your despair or fear, don’t give up. Love people. Forgive people. We all need to live together in this world. My name, Mapendo, means “great love” in Swahili.

Thank you.

Editor's Note: Rose Mapendo is Ambassador for Mapendo International, a non-profit organization that rescues and protects at-risk and forgotten refugees in Africa. Earlier this year, Rose received the "Humanitarian of the Year Award" from the UN Refugee Agency for her work highlighting the plight of refugees in Africa, particularly those from the Democratic Republic of Congo, where Rose was born. Rose will be speaking at  Mapendo's next event in New York City – a cocktail cruise next Wednesday,  September 30th, with open bar and live auction. To purchase tickets, go here. Academy Award-winner Susan Sarandon nominated Rose Mapendo as a CNN Hero. Take a look at the video here.

Program Note: For more ways to make a difference, visit Impact Your World.

Filed under: 360° Radar • 360º Follow • Global 360° • Impact Your World
soundoff (4 Responses)
  1. Annie Kate

    An inspirational story; I hope they do well in America. She is not only one brave intelligent woman; she has 10 beautiful children (like her) that she held together during all this. An amazing accomplishment.

    September 25, 2009 at 9:46 pm |
  2. Trish

    Trully inspiring and a woman of great strength and courage.

    September 25, 2009 at 2:14 pm |
  3. Eleanor Salonga

    Rose's story is unbelievable. Didn't realize that there's still a condition such that, existing at this point in time. It's an inspiring story. I don't know how she managed to forgive the men who killed her husband & friends but it's amazing. Rose is an amazing person. I mean, a lot of people have wronged against me but not as brutal as those of Rose's captors and yet, I find it so hard to forgive these people even if years had passed. I wish I have the courage and faith that she has. I wish I have the forgiving heart that she possess. To Rose's children, you're beyond lucky to have a strong and loving mother like Rose.

    Thank you for featuring Rose's story, such an eye-opener for so many people.

    September 25, 2009 at 1:34 pm |
  4. Karen Gonyea

    Wow, what a beautiful story. Forgiveness has set you free!

    September 25, 2009 at 12:31 pm |