Congolese genocide survivor and women’s rights activist Rose Mapendo told her emotional story to a standing-room-only audience of nearly 300 at the University of Central Florida this week. She also made other presentations on and off campus.
Mapendo is also one of the founders of Mapendo New Horizons, an organization dedicated to helping victims of extreme violence by providing them with healthcare counseling that has a special focus on young girls and women. In 2010 her story was told in the documentary film “Pushing the Elephant,” which follows her back to the Congo to spread a message of hope. The film will be screened at the Gallery at Avalon Island, Friday at 6 p.m. as part of the 2011 Global Peace Film Festival.
Mapendo opened with a prayer of thanks and by singing a hymn in Swahili that set the mood for the next hour and a half. Her faith, she explained, was what defined her life and helped her through her traumatic experiences. She spoke of the life she led as an upper-class Tutsi in East Congo, where she was happily married to her husband, with whom she had seven children. She then told the audience how the government had persecuted Tutsis in response to Rwanda’s invasion of the Congo.
When the police came to take her husband away, she said, she knew they would not kill her because, as a woman, she was not worth the trouble. Instead, she was sent to a death camp, where she soon learned she was pregnant. Women in the death camp were raped and abused, she said, adding that when she gave birth to twins, she had to beg for a piece of bamboo to cut their umbilical cords.
Ultimately, Mapendo’s message was that of forgiveness. She described her struggles with her faith and her epiphany that in order to be embraced by God, from whom she was estranged, she needed to forgive all the people who had wronged her, including her captors. “People think I survived on the day I was rescued,” she said. “No, I survived on the day I decided to forgive them.” In order to overcome the trauma that survivors of extreme violence have experienced and prevent it from happening again, she said, “we must fight back with love and peace.”
Sponsors of the event include the UCF Global Perspectives Office, the Sibille H. Pritchard Global Peace Fellowship program, Lawrence J. Chastang and the Chastang Foundation, LarsonAllen LLP, the UCF Global Peace and Security Studies Program, the UCF Human Trafficking Awareness Program, the UCF Diplomacy Program, the UCF Political Science Department, the UCF Office of Diversity Initiatives, the UCF International Services Center, the UCF Book Festival 2012 in association with the Morgridge International Reading Center, the UCF LIFE and the Global Connections Foundation.