African Refugee Helps Other Refugees Find Hope

Rose Mapendo faced enough horrors to last a lifetime during wartime in Africa. Now, she's working to help her fellow refugees discover a better life.

When Rose Mapendo gave birth to twins on the cold concrete floor of her prison cell, the babies weighed only four pounds each. With no medicine, no help, and very little food, it seemed an impossible feat to keep them alive.

But Rose drew upon the strength within herself to ensure her new infants’ survival. She cut their umbilical cords with a stick, and tied them off with strands of her own hair. Because her body was too weak to create milk, she soaked rags in tea, and persuaded the babies to suckle on the rags.

Rose wasn’t meant to give birth in prison. She should have been at home in the Congo, with her husband and the couple’s seven other children. But Rose and her family were members of the Tutsi ethnic group – and when war began in the Congo, that meant they had no right to exist. In 1998, Rose’s husband was executed by the Congolese military, and she and the rest of her family were dumped in a prison cell for sixteen months, left there to die.

Miraculously, in spite of the horrible conditions they faced, Rose and her children all pulled through – the newborn twins included. Thanks to an American rescue team, Rose’s family was evacuated to a refugee camp, and in 2000, they resettled in Phoenix, Arizona.

Today, the twins are healthy boys. And Rose herself has quickly adapted to life in America: She’s learned to read, write, drive, and speak English, all while working full-time and caring for her nine children. And, as if that isn’t enough, she’s taken on the role of spokeswoman for an organization founded in her name, Mapendo International.

Mapendo International is a non-profit that aids individuals much like Rose herself: African refugees whose lives have been destroyed by war and violence. Mapendo International provides support and financial assistance to help refugees escape from atrocities like those faced by Rose. As spokeswoman, Rose tirelessly advocates in support of her fellow refugees, working to raise funds for the organization. Then, she goes back to Africa to help distribute the funds in the best possible ways: Already, the organization is building schools and hospitals in impoverished parts of Africa.

Rose’s last name, Mapendo, is the Swahili word for “great love.” And without a doubt, that’s exactly what this amazing survivor embodies: “The big happiness I have,” she says, “is not just to help my own family – I can help different people from different countries, and I’m very happy for that.”

Rose Mapendo was awarded this year’s Volvo for Life Awards grand prize. Visit Volvo’s site to see an amazing video about her story.