CIW Speaker Meets with Students, Shares Story of Surviving Pirate Kidnapping

Jessica Buchanan, who survived being kidnapped by pirates, shares her story with CIW YOU(th) participants.

While working as a humanitarian aid worker in Africa, Jessica Buchanan was kidnapped by pirates at gunpoint, held captive for more than 90 days and rescued by an elite team of Navy Seals – a story she took the time to share Oct. 16 with about 15 students at John Hancock High School on Chicago’s Southwest Side.

“(I learned) it would take a lot to break me,” Buchanan said. “I’m a tough girl. I’m a strong girl. I had to tell myself that every day, but I learned to trust myself.”
Buchanan was one of more than 20 dynamic Chicago Ideas Week (CIW) speakers who met with groups of Chicago Public School students as part of the new Speaker Connect series of the CIW YOU(th) empowerment program. CIW YOU(th) gives about 450 high school students exposure to unique experiences, positive mentors and CIW’s Talks and Labs both during the annual weeklong October event and during the rest of the year.
The second Buchanan finished sharing the 30-minute story of her 2011 ordeal, at least five hands shot in the air from the small circle she sat in with the students. They were gathered in a small classroom with posters of schedules and book quotes plastered up on the wall. One student asked what the first things Buchanan did after being rescued.
“I took a shower… and I asked for cheese,” said Buchanan, who survived on small rations of food and water. “Cheese and crackers. For a while, it was all about food.”
Other questions took on deeper subjects. Students were curious about whether valueed different things or had new views on life after the experience.
“Weight gain means… nothing,” Buchanan said. “I’m not gonna freak out if I gain a few pounds.”
After her rescue, Buchanan said she moved back to the United States, where she lives with her husband and young son, August.
“Are you afraid to go back to Africa?” one student asked.
“No,” she said with a small smile. “No, bad things happen everywhere. I still love it there.”
Buchanan’s son was even born in Kenya last year while she and her husband were living oversees for about ten months.
“Are you going to tell your son?” another student asked about her kidnapping.
“Yeah, we just have to figure out how…’Your mom was a hostage?’ So weird,” Buchanan said with a laugh.
Following the event, 17-year-old Jorge Genis rushed up to thank Buchanan and wish her well.
“The Q&A was so great,” Genis said afterwards. “Usually you hear about kidnappings and everything goes wrong. (They) don’t usually end well. I had to hear her story.”
The students returned to class, and Buchanan and her husband, Erik Landemalm, marveled at the great moments they shared with the teens. She said they asked such good questions – and her husband thought so, too.
“You know, they took the information and asked really thoughtful things,” he said. “I was so impressed.”
*To get involved with the CIW YOU(th) program, contact*
Written by: Fran Hoepfner
Photography by: Fran Hoepfner 

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