Zainab Salbi

Well, congratulations for finishing a fantastic chapter of your life. It’s probably the most fun, although it can get much more funner.

At this point of your life, at this particular juncture, you have a choice to make as you enter the new chapter of your life. You have a choice to live life out of fear or to live life out of love. We have been told to live life out of fear for way too long now. To fear ourselves; to fear revealing our full selves; to speak our truth; to live in our full truth; to live in our culture; to show the beauty inside us; to show our ways. We have been told calculate every step out of fear of not having, not being loved, not being accepted, not succeeding. Fear of our own self

You have a choice to make today. And the choice is fully yours. You can live your life hiding from your dreams or you can live your dreams today and now. You can live your life being afraid of love, showing it or receiving it, or you can dance in that love, expressing it to all around you and to yourself. You can live your life escaping from your truth, keeping your secrets buried, keeping your silence, keeping yourself busy with this thought or that doubt. And this job or that shirt. Or you can live your life with the courage to face your own truth. To live your truth, to speak your truth, and to be your truth. It is your choice to make.

In the process you will always come to the same conclusion. To live out of fear is to live out of your smallness; and to live out of love is to live out of your bigness. To live out of fear is to live out of scarcity; to live out of love is to live out of plentiness. And mostly you will come to know that you cannot live in this world, in the world you want to live in, if you do not be that world yourself.

So how do you do that? There is no better teacher in my opinion than Mother Earth herself. You see, a tulip does not question its right to come out – it just comes. A water spring does not ask, “Can I come in this spot, or this spot? Is my water sweet enough for you or not?” – it just comes. A bee does not ask for permission to sting when it feels in danger – it just stings. A volcano never worries about its eruption. It just erupts. So what if you allow yourself the same clarity a tree has when it blossoms in spring? What if you allow yourself the same peace a waterfall has in its strength? What if you spread your wings in its fullness without hesitation or fear? How will the air feel? Where would your heart take you to?

Of the same mother, bred from the same roots. Yet we spend too many times, too many years depriving ourselves of what our mother has always given us: the clarity of the tulip, the strength of the waterfall, sweetness of a rose smell, defensiveness of the bee sting, beauty of a peacock, and the softness of a water spring. What if you enter this new chapter of your life with a full clarity, with an open, full, strong, vulnerable, beautiful heart? What would life be if you let it be?

At this point you have studied much and learned much about what’s working and what’s not working in this world. I have no doubt that you have an apt understanding of the problems the world faces. I have no doubt that you know that every 90 second a mother dies in childbirth. And I have no doubt that you know that 80% of the refugees in the world are women and children. That one out of five women in this world is violated in some way. That there are hundreds of thousands of women who get raped every single day and as we speak now, from this country all the way to Congo. We live in a world where trafficking against women and girls are the top three largest illegal trades in the world, where only 2.2% of all peace agreements are signed by women, where women in this country only hold 3% of decision-making powers in the media. And where women worldwide only have 18% of the political representation, and where we get paid less, still, for doing the same job a man does.

It is not whether we are going to change this reality or not. We have no option but to change this reality, and but to change this world to survive as humanity. The consistent marginalization and disrespect of women can no longer be sustainable: not for us, not for men, not for our children and not for humanity.

The question is how to change? How to make this world a better place? Now to be a person who will have the guts to speak truth to power, to change policies and outdated abusive structures, you must first have the guts to do it in your own life and act it within yourself. You can’t criticize a politician for not speaking truth to power if you do not speak your own truth to your own self, and to the powers around you, be it yours, your friends’ and your enemies’.

Much in the world can make us really upset. I’ve lived and worked in wars all my life. I have seen bombs destroy homes and families. I have seen loved ones cry and die and get displaced. I have seen my own home village destroyed. I have seen a mother’s legs chopped into pieces in front of her children. I have seen a mother get raped in front of her boys. I have been very angry. I have been very angry at the injustice in this world. And now every part of me says enough is enough for the line has been crossed a long time ago when even the children have been violated.

I decided to walk the walk of change through beauty and compassion. For I no longer could sustain the anger and the resentment. The darkness I was working so hard to change exhausted me, broke me to tears too often, tried to destroy my spirit over and over again. And finally I decided and I arrived at the conclusion that in order to create the peaceful and just world we envision and talk about, we need to make the change out of love and beauty and not out of anger.

You see I came to the realization that a strong heart is a happy heart. A strong heart is not the warrior heart that we see in the movies. The one that goes into battlefields and with anger kill thy enemy. A strong heart is a happy heart, for it is that heart that can go to darkness: to brothels where women are forced to sleep with 15 men a day; to refugee camps where people don’t even live in close to humane conditions; to basement factories; to shelters of abused women; to prisons. And to still see the love in each other and in yourself, and to still reach out and change that world out of love and not out of anger.

That journey is not an easy one, has not been an easy one. Your heart may break several times. But let not the broken heart take you to fear.

Mystics say, “Oh, break my heart. Oh, break my heart again so I can love even more.” I say, build a bridge, they will destroy it. Build a bridge again, they will destroy it again. Build a bridge until so many people are part of building that bridge, no one can destroy it every again. Never give up on this beautiful world and never give up on doing your work with love.

As I walked the journey of my truth and decided to dedicate my life to service, I have been filled with inspirations at times and I have been insulted often and hurt at some other times. But I had the choices – the choices to walk and live my truth with the costs it comes at, and to continue believing in myself and to live my truth for I cannot live life out of silence. And that‘s been the journey. I was only 23 years old when I started Women for Women International, I had no work experience, and most importantly I had no money. And there it goes again, and there it comes. 300,000 women later, $100,000,000 dollars distributed, 250,000 American women helping in the process.

It makes me believe. It makes me believe in the possibilities of change. It makes me believe in the possibilities of healing. And it makes me know that I’m just starting. It’s not by far the end. In the process I learned what women need is very simple actually. What women need is acknowledgement of our own contributions and of our own value. What women need is inspirations, through the storytelling, our own storytelling when we each break our silence. When we each take the responsibility and tell our story. Service becomes not helping the other, service becomes helping oneself and through that helping the others.

I learned that if you do not respect the people who you are serving then better not serve them. What people want is respect for their integrity and dignity far more than the money and the clothes. And to walk the walk of service we must start with the respect for ourselves first, so we can respect the others.

As you embark upon your journey I ask you to service the world in a new way. Think not it can only be done through civil society and nonprofits, and I’m telling you that as a nonprofit. The separations between for-profit and nonprofit sectors may have worked for a while, but the segregation and the separations of the ‘do good for people’ and the ‘do good for yourself’ can no longer be sustainable. Change the world through the government. Change the world through the corporations. Change the world through religious institutions. Change the world through the arts. Change the world through the merging of the different for-benefit sectors. Women overpopulate the humanities sector, and we are far underrepresented in government, and in corporations, and in media, and in institutions. It is time that we take over these sectors as well.

And last, but not least, as you do that never forget the very people, and the very essence that led you to where you are today and where you are heading tomorrow. It is in the people that we must always be anchored. It is in the baker, the taxi driver, the tailor, in the mother, in the father, in the rickshaw pusher, in the beggar that we anchor ourselves. We are them; they are us. I am you and you are me. Never forget our inner connections, and never lose yourself in the process of living your life.

May you always see your beauty. May you always spread your wings and fly. Do the work with respect and joy. May you be the ones who tell the new story, the story where our victimhood does not define our narrative as women, the story where our joy and our success, where we see ourselves in our fullness, in our goods and our bads, in our beauties and in our shadows, and we still see us. May you walk the journey with dance, and joy, until the end. Good luck and go rock it.