Rose Mapendo, the Congolese refugee for whom Mapendo International draws its name, enthralled an audience of more than 200 people at Temple Beth Avodah in Newton with her personal story of suffering, survival and renewal in America.
I went along to hear Rose Mapendo speak, having written an article in the Globe earlier this year about Rose and Mapendo International founder Sasha Chanoff and his work rescuing refugees. I also wrote on Saturday about Kitty Dukakis, the former Bay State first lady who has quietly worked for refugees for 30 years, and has been a key adviser to Chanoff since he launched Mapendo in 2003.
Dukakis offered an opening tribute to Rose Mapendo and to Chanoff, a Marlborough native who founded Mapendo International in Cambridge in 2003 to rescue the forgotten refugees who have fallen between the cracks of the United Nations and other major refugee organizations. Mapendo has rescued nearly 5,000 refugees since then and helped them resettle in the United States.
Often tearful, Mapendo recounted in heart-wrenching detail how she and her husband and children were arrested in 1998 in her Tutsi village in eastern Congo, how her husband was taken out and killed, and how she bore his twins on the cement floor of her cell. She and her nine children made it to a holding center, and Chanoff -- defying orders from his bosses -- helped her escape to a new life in Arizona. She was named humanitarian of the year by the US branch of the UN refugee agency this year.
She and other refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo sang a haunting song, and she said more than once: "God has been faithful to me."
Rabbi Keith Stern, welcoming the Mapendo team, noted the parallels of modern refugees with Europe's Jews who escaped the Holocaust or were consumed by it. "All of us understand that our roots are deeply connected to refugees who struggled, who suffered. And all too often, there was no one to extend a hand. If we, in this beautiful city of Newton, do not lend a hand, then we really cannot say that we learned anything."
About this blog
About James F. SmithJim Smith came home to his native Boston in 2002 to become the Boston Globe's foreign editor after spending 22 years abroad. He was previously based in Buenos Aires and Mexico City for the LA Times, and in Johannesburg, Tokyo and The Hague for the AP. In 2007 he became the Globe's national political editor, coordinating presidential campaign coverage. He is a Yale graduate, and has an MBA. He is married to Maxine Hart and has two sons, Matthew and Daniel.
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