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Philanthropy: The Power Of Sisters-In-Arms: THE WARTIME LIFELINE

2 minute read
Margot Roosevelt

Zainab Salbi was a terrified teenager in Baghdad during the war between Iran and Iraq. Bombs routinely fell around her house. Years later, as a 23-year-old student at George Mason University in Virginia, she read a TIME article about the systematic rape of Bosnian women by Serbian soldiers, and it moved her to action. “I grew up in a war, so I was drawn to suffering,” she says. Within six months, having raised $2,000 with the help of a local Unitarian church, she traveled to Bosnia, determined to do something. Today Salbi’s group, Women for Women International, based in Washington and with 180 staff members and a budget of $8.7 million, is a lifeline for war-torn women in eight countries: Afghanistan, Bosnia, Colombia, Iraq, Kosovo, Nigeria, Republic of the Congo and Rwanda. The organization picks up where humanitarian aid leaves off. “We work with women as they get out of the refugee tent–out of the victim stage–and help them become survivors and active citizens,” Salbi says.

A third of the budget is raised through “sister to sister” sponsorship. Women in the U.S. and other countries contribute $27 a month for a year to women in a conflict zone. And they exchange letters. The cash is for the war victim to buy food and pay for her children’s schooling. The letters help overcome the bitterness. “You feel hopeless,” Salbi says. “Then a stranger writes to say, ‘I care. I am listening to you.'” Last year women in the program exchanged 44,000 letters. Salbi is looking to expand. Says she: “It is cheaper to build peace than go to war.” –By Margot Roosevelt

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