May

Alvernia Magazine Feature: No Regrets

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On her fifth day in captivity as a hostage of Somali “land pirates,” American aid worker Jessica Buchanan hit the nadir of what turned into a three- month horrifying ordeal.

She realized the AK-47-toting, 11-year-old boy high on the local drug khat was one of the children her Danish nongovernmental organization (NGO) had helped. Abdilahi was wearing a Mine Risk Education bracelet, given to kids who attended classes on avoidance of mines and munitions — classes she had helped organize. In essence, he was the type of child she had hoped to save when she came fresh-faced as a teacher to Africa.

Now, the boy was one of two dozen kidnappers. The wild-eyed child-soldier, reputed to have already killed three people, taunted her as he prodded her through the brush with the muzzle of his gun. Once, he threatened her with a butcher’s knife.

“This was a kid who could cut your throat for pocket change,” Buchanan, 34, writes in her book “Impossible Odds.” Out since last spring, the New York Times best- seller chronicles her 2011 kidnapping and subsequent rescue by Navy SEALs. She co-wrote it with husband Erik Landemalm, 37, a human rights advocate who specializes in Somalia, and author Anthony Flacco.

Buchanan and Landemalm visited Alvernia in October during the university’s annual Literary Festival. The pair shared their story of service in one of the poorest, most struggling places in the world and their message of commitment to humanitarian help in places like Somalia, despite the dangers.

“You wonder, ‘Am I doing anything that makes any difference?’” Buchanan allows during a telephone interview from Alexandria, Va., where the two, along with their 11-month-old son, have relocated. “That was really hard. He [Abdilahi] knew exactly who I was. He was just empty. Burnt out. He had seen way too much.

“Then you think, ‘This is just one. Maybe there’s another one who didn’t touch a land mine and got to keep his arms today,’” she says.

Buchanan’s desire to help the most needy among us has garnered admiration. “We make a very conscious effort to incorporate service learning into our teaching,” says Sue Guay, an assistant professor of English and communication at Alvernia.

“Jessica has such a desire to help people,” says Guay, who chairs Alvernia’s Literary Festival. “People in this country have a great history of selflessly reaching out to aid those who are less fortunate.

“No matter what the need is, Americans are there helping. That’s a very good thing about this country, and Jessica embodies that ideal.”

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