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Rose  Mapendo

Rose Mapendo

Humanitarian, Activist & Congolese Genocide Survivor


When ethnic violence engulfed the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the late 1990s, Rose Mapendo was imprisoned with her family. Her harrowing experience included the nighttime arrest of her entire family by government agents, the execution of her husband, the birth of their twin sons in prison, and grim negotiations with prison guards to save the lives of her children. She emerged from this experience advocating forgiveness and reconciliation. In a country where ethnic violence has created seemingly irreparable rifts among Tutsis, Hutus, and other Congolese, this remarkable woman is a vital voice in her beleaguered nation’s search for peace. Read More >

Today, Mapendo is a global activist for peace and reconciliation and an in-demand motivational speaker. Her work has had a significant impact and encourages world and local leaders to revisit the manner in which they enforce justice. Mapendo has been honored by the White House and in 2009 was named Humanitarian of the Year by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

She founded the Rose Mapendo Foundation in 2012—a nonprofit committed to empowering widows, women, and children around the world with peace center in Kigali assisting widows and women in the region with hope for change.

Rose Mapendo’s story has been chronicled in the documentary film Pushing the Elephant, which premiered in New York City in June 2010. Her inspiring and heartfelt message is received by corporate, government, and community groups around the world with tears and standing ovations at every turn. And most of all, Mapendo is a victim no more. She is a true hero, an incredible survivor, and an inspiration to us all.

Born in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, Mapendo had seven children when the Rwandan army invaded the Congo and war broke out in August 1998. Four years earlier, the Rwandan genocide had claimed the lives of nearly one million people. Now a similar wave of violence swept the Congo. In response to Rwanda's invasion, Congo's President Kabila announced that some ethnic groups inside Congo were the enemy. This proclamation was a death-knell for Mapendo and her family whose ethnicity had been pronounced “the enemy.” Soldiers and civilians hunted down, beat, raped, jailed, tortured, mutilated, and killed fellow Congolese. Men, women, and children from unpopular ethnic groups hid in attics, ceiling compartments, and secret rooms to escape the atrocities; they tried fleeing along dangerous and uncertain escape routes. The survivors' stories of these pogroms evoke history's darkest moments.

Mapendo was one of the targeted. Soldiers arrested her and her family. Her youngest child was still breastfeeding when they were imprisoned along with friends and relatives from their village. Soldiers separated Mapendo from her husband and then executed him as Mapendo sat helplessly in a jail cell. In prison, Mapendo watched as other close relatives and friends died of malnutrition, disease, and abuse.

A few months after her imprisonment, Mapendo realized that she was pregnant with twins. By her eighth month of captivity, when she was suffering from severe malnutrition, Mapendo bore premature twin boys on her concrete prison floor. She was provided with no medical attention during the deliveries. She had to beg for a piece of bamboo in order to cut the umbilical cords and used her hair to tie them off. And since Mapendo’s milk didn't nourish the newborn twins, she soaked rags in tea and coaxed her babies to suckle on them in order to keep them alive.

In an extreme sign of forgiveness, Mapendo named her twins after two of her most brutal captors.

After being imprisoned for 16 months in the death camps, Mapendo and her children were flown to a refugee camp in northern Cameroon. Over the next six months, the twins almost died on three occasions from malnutrition-related sicknesses, but doctors on hand worked fast and saved them each time.

Ultimately, with the US government’s intervention, Mapendo and her family resettled in the United States. The twins are healthy young boys now. Mapendo's children are all in school and she was able to watch her oldest son graduate from high school in the spring of 2005. For her twins, the trauma of prison has already faded into the distant past. In the face of violence, loss, and extreme hardship, Mapendo found reserves of strength and courage that allowed her children to thrive. Read Less ^

Speaker Videos

Pushing the Elephant

Genocide in the Congo

Speech Topics

Surviving & Thriving

Overcoming Overwhelming Obstacles

Peace & Reconciliation

Books & Media