Giving A Voice To The Voiceless

Congolese genocide survivor Rose Mapendo started her story Tuesday evening with a song.

It was a song about God and the strength He can give to a person.

Despite the atrocities that Mapendo has endured, her story is one of forgiveness and hope. She saw the brutal genocide in neighboring Rwanda in 1994 and couldn’t imagine that happening in the relatively peaceful Congo. But in 1998, the government ordered that all people from the Tutsi tribe be imprisoned, so she and her children were taken and held in a death camp for 16 months.

Mapendo suffered through a lot during those months, including the murder of her husband, the realization that she was pregnant, starvation, malnutrition and birthing twins on a cold, concrete floor without medical assistance.

She was angry with God for creating her as a Tutsi and as a woman. She was angry that He allowed her to get pregnant just before being taken to the camp.

She knew she was going to die while imprisoned. And she didn’t want to die angry, so she asked God for forgiveness, and she chose to forgive her captors.

Then, free from all anger and hatred, she named her twin boys after the commanders at the death camp. That act, which is a huge honor in Congolese culture, is what saved the lives of her family members.

Her family was sent to a refugee camp in Cameroon and eventually relocated to Phoenix as refugees. She and her brother started an organization called Mapendo New Horizons, which is dedicated to giving help and hope to vulnerable survivors of physical, psychological and social trauma in Africa by ensuring them access to health care, protection and security.

“I choose to be a voice for the voiceless, and I wish to give hope for the hopeless,” she says. “I’m here today to make you understand that what happened to me is still happening today.”

Mapendo spoke on campus as a part of Concordia’s Faith, Reason and World Affairs Symposium titled “Beyond Genocide: Learning to Help and Hope” on Sept. 11 and 12.