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For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
June 23, 2008

Remarks by Mrs. Mapendo in Honor of World Refugee Day
East Garden

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June 20, 2008

I would like welcome Mrs. Mapendo.

MRS. MAPENDO: Wow. What a beautiful day, an amazing day. This day is a day I will never forget in my life.

First of all, I want to thank First Lady, Mrs. George Bush, for give us this opportunity to be here to share our life, what happening in our life. Sometime when we share with people, is look like you don't care by yourself, you share with somebody. And this opportunity is amazing to me.

I want thank U.S. government, what you did in our life. Maybe you don't know exactly what you did, but God who are in heaven, he knows what you did. Maybe refugees, every one (inaudible) have opportunity to thank you but on behalf all the refugees, I can say thank you.

And I want to thank Sasha Chanoff, he's here with us, the one who was sended to be evacuate us in the death camp. My story is a little bit different with the other people. It's similar, because some people escape and they run away, but us, we was arrested from our house. You see, we were -- the place we were live, we were just five family, and all of us was arrested.

And I want to thank my brother Kigabo, who are here with me -- he's there -- who sacrificed everything in Benin -- his document -- to come to join me. And I want to thank Mapendo International, who help the refugees. Through you, you support Mapendo International to help the thousands of people.

I want to share little bit my story, if maybe is not enough time. My story, in 1998, was genocide. When genocide happened in Rwanda, I never thought it can be happen in Congo. But, in 1998, the genocide start in Congo. All of us Tutsi, we were shocked to see all the people from different provinces were arrested. And by myself, the government give me short notice. They tell me how the government president said to kill all the Tutsi because he was (inaudible).

You see, the world was so small. You look everyone, you don't know what to do, because all the people, it was Congolese people. And the police came to my house. They said, okay, you see, you have (inaudible) in your house, and I say yes. Did you see how they are (inaudible) for Tutsi? And I say yes. But we ask if you can give us money, we can help you. And I was willing to give to them, but they didn't take it, because it was order from president. And the next day, just as the police show up, the soldier (inaudible) truck in my house. I was arrested, and my family; my husband was killed.

I don't know how to paint the picture to see you have everything and you lost everything in one minute. And is not easy to explain to you to see somebody you love -- they are taking all the men, because they were arresting all men, all the men, you see in your eyes how they go to kill them. It was not easy. But we thank God, who saved our life.

We found out in death camp was not to be saved, was just to be killed. Every day the camp chose some people -- people sitting next to you -- took them outside. When you are listening, and every day was saying, will we be the next one? But that time my husband was killed, I was pregnant for one month. Maybe was not enough. And with seven children in death camp, believe me, there was no clothes, was not water, was not anything -- just slept on cement with the guards. Every day, guard would come when you went to use restroom, and the soldier hold guns in your head, in case if you escape they can shoot you. It was not easy.

When I was pregnant and (inaudible) began to tie off, (inaudible) they both even close for 16 months I'd been in prison, to give us kids -- my friend were killed, and I saw the kids. I remember my friend, they took her to the hospital; she never come back -- two women. She left the three-month, in my eyes, the baby cried for hunger -- three months, in the eyes of government, and that baby, he passed away in my eyes.

Those cries is in my heart, and I will never forget that. And when I give birth to the twins, almost when (inaudible) is less than my life, I was angry for God. But I decide to ask God forgiveness, in order to die in God's hands. And I ask God to forgive all the enemies what they have done for me. And when I give birth to the twins, no one day when I was pregnant, except to go to visit a doctor, imagine no one (inaudible) vaccination. In death camp, people -- the place kids use restroom is same place they sleep. It was unbelievable -- the kids begin to have diarrhea of blood, until something came (inaudible) was used like the tomato leaves to stick inside, because it was open; the kids cannot hold anything. (Inaudible.) And when I give birth to the twins, I named after the commanders the names when the people who killed my husband, and to see, how can save my babies alive, and to show them, I'm not your enemy; I love you; no one can name her child her enemy. And for that it was different experience. And before that, when I gave to birth, it was in dark; no light for one day. With kids, seven kids, no room, no clothes, and cement, I thanked God for those miracle in my life.

I cut umbilical cord with wood, stick (inaudible). And I took the piece of my hair, I tied them, in case they cannot breathe. In refugee camp, I was able to manage my kids, sing a good song for them, encourage them, and ask their forgiveness. I just encouraged the refugees, said, this is not time to give up. Never give up because I think (inaudible) was wish to be killed before my kids.

And I go to sing the song for you I would sing for my kids:

(Mrs. Mapendo sings a song of courage.)

I remember the genocide in Rwanda. But I never thought the same thing could happen in Congo. Then they started attacking Tutsis in the Congo. Soldiers captured my husband, my children and me. They brought us to a death camp. I listened as soldiers executed my husband. My husband was a hard-working businessman who was only interested in providing for his family and helping the community. Every day I thought they would kill my children.

Then I found out I was pregnant. I was very sad. I prayed God to keep my pregnancy inside me until I survive or I die. I was concerned about giving birth in that place. I thought my babies and me would die with infections, cold and hunger. I gave birth to twins in the death camp, a dirty place that children use as a restroom. There was no nurse, no doctor to assist me. It was in the night without light and my kids were there. I could not cry. I had nothing to cut the umbilical cords of my twins. I used a stick to cut the umbilical cords. I used a piece of hair to tie the cord.

I had no food and no water for my children. I had no clothes. My body was a blanket for my babies. I had to give my baby twins the names of commanders who ordered the execution of my husbands to see if I can have their favor to keep my children alive. The commanders and soldiers were angry and confused. I realized that I forgave them and I was not resentful for what they did to me. It worked because it is important to wear the same name in Congo -- it sounds like family.

I was in the death camp for 16 months. Soldiers killed many of us. I saw my best friend and her baby dying of starvation few months after the execution of her husband. To keep my courage and my faith alive I used to sing a song to myself and to my children. I am going to sing that song for you.

(Rose sings a song of courage.) (Applause.)

This song I would sing to my baby, say, Jesus is my rock. When it is dark, he is my light. When it's raining, he's my umbrella. He's my rock, he's my rock. I will never leave the place he is, because no one was there for me, except him. It was unbelievable situation, and God he delivered us.

If I said that life for refugees, I don't want anyone to tell me, because it's picture in my heart, it's picture. Like women, we have a lot of thing we need in our life but no one day. When I think about refugee in camp, it's picture always in my heart, and when I came, I never forgot the people I left behind. I said, at least my baby can have a little bit of food, I can cry with those kids who lost their parents in my eyes. I can share with other widow to buy the little clothes with them. It's good for me to support other people, and through you, I supported them. I come to United States without any penny -- any penny, any dime, but look who I am today through you.

I have 10 kids, with the woman government provide everything for me, renting house for me, provide the medical for me, give my kids opportunity to go to school. I will never forget what America have done for life of a refugee, especially for me. I will never forget. And please, don't give up to help the refugees. Don't forget Somalia. Don't forget Darfur. Don't forget Congolese. My people, they stay in danger, even in refugee camp in Burundi.

In 2004, they attacked the refugee camp; they killed 166 in refugee camp. If -- I wish someone to look life for Tutsi in Congo. I saw my pastor, he was burned -- they put his leg up the fire, until he was dead. And other, they took the skin from his hair, they put sword, they put him in sun. Nothing have they done, because how they look like. Other one they put like the (inaudible) tree, and they hang up him, and the tree come out. Those is the picture. If you think the life for refugee, you don't know.

And I want to say, God bless you for all you done for us. Maybe we will never thank you enough, but don't give up. Just make America to be America. I call this country the country for refuge, these people -- place you cannot have home to live, call America your home. And I become a U.S. citizen -- it's amazing, I come here without speak any language -- just two words, "yes" and "no." I believe maybe you cannot understand everything when I said, but you can have a clue what I am saying, and I thank you for giving this opportunity to be here. And thank you so much what you have done. Thank you for invite. Don't forget, and don't give up.

Thank you so much. (Applause.)

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