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Zainab Salbi, the story of a Muslim who knows of war but strives for peace.

Zainab Salbi is one of the extraordinary examples of how passion coupled with hard-work can move mountains. Because of sheer will she transformed herself from a victim to an agent of positive change. She is an Iraqi American activist who founded an organization Women for Women to support female victims around the world. She is also an author of two books and has received the 2010 David Rockefeller Bridging Leadership, the Forbes Trailblazer, and Time Magazine's Innovator of the Month awards, among many other nominations. In a profile interview, Nadia Al-Sakkaf introduces Zainab Salbi as an example of a successful world leader. She is only 40 years old, but already she has more than 17 years' experience in development and is the CEO of a foundation which has distributed more than USD 79 million to more than 800,000 family members. Salbi started Women for Women when she was only 24 years old. The idea started when she read about the suffering of Bosnian women being gang-raped by Serbian soldiers as a part of an intimidating strategic military tactic as part of the Balkan War in 1993. Salbi was a victim of marital abuse herself. Although she was brought up in a modern educated Iraqi family close to Saddam Hussein's regime, her mother shipped her off to the US while she was in university to be married to a much older Iraqi man. While she was still a new bride, her husband became abusive and raped her. Later in life when she confronted her mother as to why she had married her off like that, her mother confessed that she wanted to protect her from Saddam Hussein who wanted her for himself. Zainab Salbi's mother was a strong influence in her life. She had brought her up to be the strong independent woman she is today. And because of her strong personality she was able to pick herself up and leave the abusive husband. "While raising me, my mother encouraged me not to be a prisoner. She encouraged me to speak my truth, live my truth and values and not let cultural concepts prohibit me from my dream and truth," she said. After leaving her husband she could not return to her family Baghdad because the Gulf war had started. So she settled in the US and remarried. In 1993, when Salbi read the Time Magazine's article, she empathized with the Bosnian women and with her own money and with support from a Unitarian church, she and her second husband started fundraising to help Bosnian women. Women for Women International Gradually the foundation's work expanded to include women suffering from war consequences worldwide and Women for Women International was created. Since 1993, the organization has helped 250,000 women survivors of wars access social and economic opportunities through a program of rights awareness training, vocational skills education, and access to income generating opportunities, thereby ultimately contributing to the political and economic health of their communities. In its 17-year history, the organization has distributed more than USD 79 million in direct aid, micro credit loans, and has impacted more than 800,000 family members. For its work in "alleviating human suffering", Women for Women International was awarded the 2006 Hilton Conrad Humanitarian Award, becoming the first women's organization to receive this honor. "Our mission is to provide women survivors of war, civil strife and other conflicts with the tools and resources to move from crisis and poverty to stability and self-sufficiency, thereby promoting viable civil societies. We're changing the world one woman at a time," said Salbi. Giving back to Iraq After struggling to support women from other war-torn countries around the world, Zainab Salbi turned her attention to her home country, Iraq. Women for Women International started a program to help Iraqi women. And while Salbi acknowledges that the Iraqi government is working towards restoring order and creating a working democracy, huge challenges remain for women's rights. In a ten-day visit to Iraq, she returned back with a sad heart and more determination to help her own people. She wrote a report on her journey which she called "Please tell Mr. Bush C*." Through this report, she hoped to convey the situation and fundraise for projects that would eventually help Iraqi women overcome their ordeal. There is a high level of chaos, anarchy, frustration, and even anger in today's Iraq, according to Salbi. This is triggered by the lack of electricity, water, food, medicine, and most importantly security. Not only is the looting continuing, but so is the killing. Children as young as ten have real guns and Kalashnikovs, which they point at anybody at any time. A driver is vulnerable at any moment to a gunman forcing him or her out of the car. People are witnessing killings in public streets and in the middle of the day. Women are afraid to leave their houses for fear of rape and kidnapping. Mothers are afraid to let their children walk to school on their own. "Iraqis are not only dealing with today's chaos, but also with the trauma caused by the oppression they have faced for 35 years during Saddam Hussein's regime. Tears are constantly dropping from everyone's eyes," she said in her memoir of the trip to Iraq. Women for Women International's programs in Iraq have received a grant totaling more than USD 970,000. The grant will provide job-skills training and rights awareness programming to Iraqi war widows and female heads of households--a total of 2,500 women. The latter make up 60 percent of Women for Women International's programs in Iraq and care for an average of three children and live in poverty. Salbi believes the Iraqi people are learning from the past and will rise again. "I don't think that is true that Iraqis will not be able to rebuild themselves and their nation again. There is an African saying: Culture is water not stone. Iraqis like all people can evolve, learn from their mistakes and rebuild the country for a better future," she said. Changing the world one woman at a time Women for Women is now working in eight countries around the world. The foundation has grown amazingly and from only USD 2,000 as its capital in 1993, the foundation today manages millions of aid money to support thousands of women. One woman at a time, says Zainab Salbi, is how she and her colleagues at the foundation's board of directors, global management teams and advisory board will create positive change. "If there is one thing I would change about the world, I would change the inequality that exists between men and women. I want equality between women and men: equality of education, equality of political rights and access, equality of economic opportunities, and equality in decision-making," she said. The foundation is taking long strides to achieve this. In 2009 alone, Women for Women oversaw the graduation of over 25,500 women from its programs in all countries, trained over 880 women in organic farming and techniques in Sudan, and broke ground for the first ever Women's Opportunity center in Kosovo. "My aspirations for Women for Women International are to keep connecting women to each other and building bridges of peace. I continue to get women access to money and knowledge for them to be able to lead to create lasting change," said Salbi. For more information on Zainab Salbi or Women for Women Foundation go to:

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Publication:Yemen Times (Sana'a, Yemen)
Article Type:Company overview
Geographic Code:7IRAQ
Date:Oct 11, 2010
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