a few minutes with… zainab salbi, - co-founder and president of women for women international - part 2

co-founder and president of women for women international - part 2
January 22, 2011  |   column: what's new

there are so many international aid organizations working for donations. what’s the greatest challenge in raising awareness for wfwi and getting support for the work you do?

right now, girls get two cents out of every development and aid dollar so for me the importance is not as much about getting money specifically for our organization as it is about raising awareness for women’s issues, globally, and turning that two cents into 50 cents. i’m more interested in figuring out ways to grow the whole pot of funds and being able to go with an open heart to other agencies so we can all collaborate to continue to build resources across the board.

you’re exposed to such unimaginable suffering in the work you do. how do you manage to let it not consume you?

for me, it’s a privilege to see it all. i was with a woman in congo last week who told me her only wish for the future was to have enough food to feed her children. then a few days later i was in new york, eating in amazing restaurants, wearing nice clothes and seeing the absolute other side. for me it’s a blessing to be exposed to both. normally, at the end of one of my trips to our program countries, i go back to my hotel and cry for quite while but i would be worried if i didn’t. i think it reenergizes me and speaks to my passion. i also love the experience of taking people, like the kate spade new york team, to these countries. i get to watch them explore another world and watch their evolution as they process what they’re seeing. i get to watch an opening of consciousness that shows their connection to humanity. it’s beautiful to witness our supporters, who make these trips, go from resistance to fear to melting down to reassessing their own lives to opening their hearts. i get to see things through their eyes that after being in these countries so many times, i may take for granted and i get to see them come home and realize what a privilege it’s been to have visited these places.

it’s easy, as someone living in a developed country, to feel overwhelmed by the injustice and poverty around the world and not know how to help. what’s the best way someone can start to get involved?

i remember when my mother was dying from lou gehrig’s disease and a friend of hers came to visit her in the hospital. this man stayed for a few minutes and then started to leave because, it was clear, he couldn’t handle the sight of how much she had deteriorated and how sick she was. my mother got very mad and said to him “i’m the one who’s going through this. i’m the one who has to live with this and still try to stay positive. how dare you not have the courage to support me?” this same reasoning can be applied to helping anyone in need. learning to face other people’s suffering and pain is the minimum act of courage that should be required from all of us. it’s important for our own individual development to look outside ourselves and do what we can. at the end of the day, the women in our program are dancing, singing and surviving despite all they’ve gone through. who are we not to listen? an eighteenth century scholar said “those who do good should do it as consistently as those who do bad.” i interpret this as, it’s not about one random act goodness but rather an effort that needs to be made over and over. we can’t be afraid that bad is going to overwhelm us. we have to make the personal choice to see the bad and then defeat it with goodness on a sustained basis.

is there a mantra you live by?

it’s a good day to fly
it’s good day to die
i’ll be in my long, tall body and deep, deep roots
because i’m strong, soft and subtle

to me this means that life is beautiful and it’s a good day to learn but if i die today i’m on a good page with myself, my values and those around me–i’m living my truth. being in my long body with deep roots means that i’m ok with who i am–i’m fully me. and finally, strength doesn’t come from brute force but from softness and subtlety. i repeat this to myself at the start of every day.

looking ahead, what’s the next milestone you hope wfwi will achieve?

echoing the work and impact one million times over.

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