An Alberta woman who was held hostage for more than 15 months in Somalia has started a foundation to send women in the war-torn country to university.
Amanda Lindhout hopes the charitable foundation will be able send 10 women to school next year and 100 women over the next four years in the country where only four per cent of women pursue higher education.
"The scholarship program is based on the concept that each woman has the potential to make substantial contributions to the future development of Somalia," she said in a telephone interview with The Canadian Press on Friday.
Lindhout was snatched off the side of the road outside Mogadishu along with Australian photographer Nigel Brennan in August 2008. The pair, who had been working in Somalia as freelance journalists, were freed last November after their families teamed up to hire a hostage negotiation group.
"Being a woman who suffered in Somalia based on this narrow interpretation of Islamic law, I feel a great sense of empathy and compassion for what women are going through in Somalia," Lindhout said.
"It seems quite natural for me to develop a program that can empower them."
The cost of sending each woman to university is about $1,000, which includes tuition and a monthly living stipend. Lindhout said she's raised half the amount necessary for next year and is looking to raise $5,000 more before school starts in September.
She's still waiting for her Global Enrichment Foundation to get charitable status, but has joined with another organization to provide tax receipts for donations in the meantime. The foundation's website, www.globalenrichmentfoundation.com, is supposed to be up by the end of the weekend.
Lindhout has been reluctant to speak publicly about her long months in captivity.
She gave a speech in February at a dinner in her honour held by Alberta's Somali community in which she expressed pity for her captors despite the horrors she endured.
She said at the time that while she doesn't condone what was done to her, she understands that decades of conflict have led to generations of war-traumatized people who know no other life.
She declined to elaborate further Friday, saying she still isn't ready to talk about what happened to her.
"I do want to say that it was both a horrific ordeal, but one that I'm working really hard to see as something that's made (me) a stronger and inspired person," she said.
"Establishing this foundation is the first step towards making sense of what happened to me and using it to do something good in the world."
Eventually, Lindhout hopes, the foundation will fund programs to empower women and promote peace throughout the world. She's taking a diploma in leadership studies at St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia this fall and hopes the scholarship program will be a first step in giving back.
"We want each applicant to tell us their grandest vision of Somalia," she said. "We want to know how they are going to use the education that we are going to fund for them to create sustainable change in their own communities."