“Refugees are normal people like us, like you and like me. It is somebody who lost everything in one minute and he found himself in a death camp.”
Rose Mapendo addressing the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Switzerland.
During the month of March we celebrate Women’s History—a time for us to pay even closer attention to the generations of women who have contributed to the improvement of society. Rose Mapendo is one of those women. Indeed, Ms. Mapendo is a formidable woman of courage, resilience, determination, and compassion who, today, advocates for women’s empowerment, but who, not so long ago, survived the horrors of war and genocide.
Rose Mapendo was born in 1963 to a Tutsi family in a town called Mulenge, in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the third largest country in Africa. In 1998, four years after the Rwandan genocide of almost one million ethnic Tutsis, the Rwandan Tutsi army invaded the Democratic Republic of Congo and triggered even more violence against Congolese Tutsis. In the middle of that unspeakable ethnic violence, Rose Mapendo and her family were arrested by government agents and placed in a prison camp where they lived for 16 months, where she was forced to watch the execution of her husband, the rape of her daughter, and where, in a prison cell, she gave birth to twin sons.
The family was transferred to another prison camp, and then to a protection center run by the American Red Cross in Cameroon. In July of 2000, Ms. Mapendo and her children, except for her daughter Nangabire, who was being held in another prison camp, resettled in Arizona. It took almost a decade for the family to be reunited with the daughter, Nangabire, who was left behind.
Today, Rose Mapendo is a mother of 10 children, an inspiring speaker, a humanitarian and activist working to empower refugees, the co-founder of Mapendo New Horizons, a non-profit organization that helps survivors of physical, psychological, and social trauma caused by extreme violence, and the subject of a 2011 PBS Independent Lense documentary titled Pushing the Elephant. In 2006, she became an American citizen. In 2009, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees named Rose Mapendo “Humanitarian of the Year.”
Rose Mapendo will speak about the atrocities that happened in the Democratic Republic of Congo during the 1990s, and about her death camp experience, survival and journey to America as a refugee. In this video she makes a brief statement about her story.