'Serving' and the story of Zainab Salbi

The October meditation theme for the Monthly Reflection rug is "serving." This brings to mind "awareness rugs" - rugs hooked to raise awareness for social causes.

In 2006, the Celebration Magazine featured a rug "Women of the Congo" hooked by Donna Hrkman (follow this link to her own website and photo of the rug). She describes her rug as a "social commentary" which she hooked in response to an episode she saw of the Oprah Winfrey show when the organization Women for Women International was featured. She wrote about her rug, "I saw women who were survivors of genocide in the Congo and their horrific stories moved me to create this rug. It was designed to raise public awareness of their plight" (Celebration XVI, 2006, pp. 42-43).

PHOTO: From Donna Hrkman's website Blue Ribbon Rugs

Women for Women International is the organization that was featured on the show. Women for Women International provides 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. Women for Women International believes in the power of "changing the world one woman at a time." Thus the organization operates largely by matching individual sponsors and their financial support with individual women in countries ravaged by war.

The organization was started by a young woman Zainab Salbi who is the most dynamic speaker I have ever heard. She was chosen to be the main speaker by the students of Rice University for the 2009 graduation. Imagine my surprise as she stepped forward on the platform in front of me (the faculty sit behind the stage) and I put two and two together, realizing that she was one of the women who had inspired Hrkman's rug.

As I listened to her speak last spring, I was so moved, so touched, so inspired, that tears were streaming down my face. Her courage was unbelievable. She told us about her horrific life as a young women caught in war, raped, and then sent off by her family into an abusive arranged marriage. So horrible was her life, so terrifying, that she decided she had to rip herself out of it, to start it over. It was this moment that she began, without a penny, an organization to help women victims of war called Women for Women International.

Photo: from Rice University News and Media HERE

During her commencement speech, she told us stories about the women victims she had met and the impact that they had had on her life. She emphasized again and again that each of us must "live our own truth," a message she learned from a woman who had been so brutally beaten and raped that she was unable to tell her story to anyone until Zainab came along. The woman told her, "I've never told anybody but you my story. If I could tell the world my story, I would. But I cannot. You can. You go ahead and tell the story -- just not to the neighbors." Zainab went on to say, "Without her, I would never have the courage to write my own journey. Without her, I would not understand that to break my own silence and speak my own truth is part of my responsibility to the whole world."

At the end of the speech, she said, "I learned last but not least that we must enjoy the ride," she said. "Often we take ourselves too seriously in whatever we are doing. There are a lot of horrible things in this world, but there are a lot of wonderful things too. If we don't enjoy the ride, shame on us. The women I work with start every gathering with singing and dancing, and who are we not to sing and dance every day? Who are we not to enjoy life every single day?"

She shared the words the 13th century Islamic mystic and poet Rumi:

Dance, when you're broken open
Dance, if you've torn the bandage off

Dance, in the middle of the fighting

Dance, in your blood

Dance, when you're perfectly free
"Today you are perfectly free," she said. "Go for it. Live your truth. Speak your truth. Be your truth. Don't wait. There is no better time. May you dance -- dance until the end, and may you enjoy the ride."

For a webcast of Zainab's speech, go HERE. For a written report of her speech, go HERE. For her published memoirs, go HERE. To become a sponsor for a woman victim of war or contribute financially to Women for Women International, go HERE.