Women in the World

03.12.11

Zainab Salbi: 'All the Guilt, It's Not Worth It'

Zainab Salbi, the founder of Women for Women International, an organization that helps women survivors of war, shared the story of her childhood and the maid who she also called sister.

Zainab Salbi teared up when she spoke of Radya, who was both her her sister and maid growing up in Iraq. The founder of Women for Women International, Salbi has spent her life fighting to help survivors of war—one letter at a time. But until now, she hasn't spoken about the guilt she felt about her childhood. She was raised in an affluent family. They were part of Saddam's inner-circle and lived a "hip" life. When she was 5 years old, her mother brought Radya, 7, home and told Salbi this was her new sister. Salbi, being a spoiled little girl used to be the only daughter in the house, didn't like her at first. But they soon grew to be great friends. Salbi wrote about how the girls both left their house in 1990 in last week's NEWSWEEK. Radya, the poor girl, married for love. Salbi, the affluent one, ended up in an arranged marriage that took her to America.

War after war ravaged the country and the two women lost touch—until last year. That's when Radya joined Women for Women International after losing her husband to war and became internally displaced with six children.

Speaking at Saturday's summit, Salbi shared her journey in accepting the two women's different paths. "It's in our imperfections that we connect," she said. "Don't take life too seriously. All the guilt, it's not worth it. We go and cry, then we dance. We cry, then we dance again."