Introduced in December 2002 by Volvo Cars of North America (VNCA), the Volvo for life Awards (VFLA) became the largest-ever national search for and celebration of everyday heroes. Since 2002, VCNA received more than 10,000 nominations from all 50 states, provided more than $1 million in awards and contributions in honor of heroes, and more than $5 million to help hometown heroes continue their extraordinary work in their communities.
Throughout the summer, we will re-tell six heroes’ amazing stories of inspiration and fill you in on what they’ve been up to since Volvo named them America’s Greatest Hometown Heroes. Here is the fifth of six Volvo for life Award winners that we will be checking in with during the month of July.
In 2007, Rose Mapendo, a resident of Avondale, Arizona, was honored for her humanitarian outreach when she was named “America’s Greatest Hometown Hero” in the 5th Annual Volvo for life Awards. Nominated by Susan Sarandon, Volvo awarded $50,000 to Mapendo’s charity and gave her a new Volvo ever three years for the rest of her life. Mapendo is the co-founder of Mapendo International (now RefugePoint), and more recently, Mapendo New Horizons.
In Swahili, “Mapendo” means “great love,” and never has a name fit a person so well than in the case of African refugee and widowed mother of 10, Rose Mapendo. Mapendo lost her husband and her freedom in the wake of the Rwandan genocide, yet she considers herself “lucky.” Unlike countless fellow Tutsis, Mapendo survived. She and her children were rescued and brought to the United States where she now fights to protect and empower vulnerable survivors in Africa through the aid organization, Mapendo New Horizons.
“I want to thank Volvo for being one of the first to shine a spotlight on the refugee crisis and honoring me with the Volvo for life award in 2007,” said Mapendo. “I am deeply grateful to Volvo for all they have done, and for the $50,000 that has gone a long way to helping save the lives of countless refugees.”
Since receiving the Volvo for life Award, Mapendo went on to receive numerous accolades for increasing public awareness of the refugee crisis and for securing private resources to help them. Among them are the CNN Hero Award in 2008 and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Humanitarian of the Year Award in June 2009. On World Refugee Day, she was presented with the Humanitarian of the Year Award by NBC’s Ann Curry and received a hug from actress/fellow humanitarian Angelina Jolie. In 2008, Mapendo was invited by First Lady Laura Bush to share her amazing story at the White House.
Today, through Mapendo New Horizons, an organization Rose and her brother, Dr. Kigabo Mbazumutima, founded to support refugees in Africa, she travels around the country speaking and inspiring organizations and colleges with her story of survival and hope. Rose always says, “I can never be quiet with my story. I must share it.”
“We believe the Volvo for life Award was the key that unlocked all of the others,” said Dr. Kigabo, who was with Rose when she accepted her award. “Volvo put Rose and her story in a very important spotlight and after that, everyone wanted to know more and figure out how they could help.”
Mapendo chose Volvo’s flagship S80 sedan, which features the finest in luxury, performance and class-leading safety, because of her large family. Mapendo says the S80 has helped her family tremendously, and that everyone in her family shares the Volvo she won.
In 1998, Rose Mapendo was sitting on the concrete floor of a Congolese prison cell summoning up every ounce of courage, strength and intellect to protect her children. Almost 10 years later, she has used that same determination and drive to help protect and rescue thousands of fellow refugees of genocide.
Mapendo, a Tutsi, was imprisoned and tortured by Congolese soldiers in the wake of the Rwandan genocide. Following 16 months of daily confrontations with death, witnessing the torture and execution of her husband and giving birth to premature twins on the floor of her cell, Mapendo and her nine children ended up in a refugee camp in Cameroon. With the help of humanitarian workers, she left the refugee camp and resettled in Phoenix. Once safely established in the U.S., Mapendo helped found Mapendo International (now RefugePoint).
After six years helping refugees resettle in the U.S. with Mapendo International, Rose decided to focus her efforts to directly helping those suffering in the Congo, Rwanda and Burundi. She and her brother, Dr. Kigabo, joined forces and co-founded Mapendo New Horizons. Mapendo currently serves as the organization’s spokesperson, and, as a single mother, raises her children, all of whom attend school and college.
For additional information about Rose’s story, visit http://mapendonewhorizons.org/node/34.
About Mapendo New Horizons
Founded in 2010, Mapendo New Horizons’ (MNH) mission is to give help and hope to vulnerable survivors of physical, psychological and social trauma in Africa by ensuring them easy access to health care, protection and security.
“We want to empower survivors, especially women, where they are – survivors who will never have a chance to resettle in the U.S.,” said Dr. Kigabo. “These survivors are facing a continuation of a death camp even after they are freed. What is the point of surviving if you later die of malnutrition, childbirth or by a preventable or easily curable disease?”
MNH has two immediate objectives:
1) To renovate existing, challenged hospitals/clinics (as a result of war/genocide) and build their capacity to provide modern, timely and sustainable health care that focuses on maternal/women’s health. Countless women die because they do not have access to a healthcare facility where timely and quality healthcare services are provided. This project is particularly dear to Rose and Kigabo because of their sister, Anne Natasha (the only girl who was a high school graduate at the time), died from a preventable childbirth complication because she did not have access to a medical facility with competent providers and proper medical equipment. This is why MNH’s comprehensive healthcare program will focus on the following:
- Education/training/mentoring: to identify and train local health care professionals in acquiring and maintaining advanced medical skills and knowledge to promote physical, mental and social healing/health. Several American doctors are working with Dr. Kigabo to lead these critical projects to success, and MNH would welcome additional American healthcare professionals to donate their time and expertise, as well as financial support to send medical missions to these countries.
- Reinforcing the diagnostic capacity of local health care facilities in the treatment of preventable and treatable diseases and health conditions that prematurely claim countless lives. MNH accepts donations of medical equipment and supplies to fulfill this goal, as well as financial support to ship donated medical equipment from the U.S. to Congo, Rwanda, and Burundi.
- Inspiring and supporting local communities and village’s efforts who strive to build their own clinics and hospitals.
2) MNH is completing a Training Center for Women’s Empowerment that Rose has been working on since 2008. In fact, like Rose, many women who survived genocide and war are in a need of empowerment to help rebuild their lives and meet their needs and the needs of their children. MNH recently spent time in Rwanda planning the Women’s Empowerment Project and created two initiatives to help women:
- Seamstress is MNH’s initial vocational training program that Rose wanted to develop in the empowerment center now that it is very close to completion. For $250, you can adopt and sponsor a woman to receive a 6-month course from a qualified seamstress instructor, start-up kit and a sewing machine and accessories. MNH believes in empowering women to stand (socially and economically) on their own rather than just giving them assistance
- Education. For $50/year, you can sponsor a girl’s education, which includes school supplies, backpack, shoes, etc. Even before Rose was tortured in the death camp, she experienced a form of gender torture. Even though she was intelligent, she couldn’t attend school because she was a girl.
To learn more about Mapendo New Horizons and to support their efforts, please visit http://mapendonewhorizons.org/.