A Very Heartfelt Letter of Gratitude

One of the charities I donate to is Women for Women International and I received a message from its President. This organization helps women in foreign war-torn areas rebuild their lives. I was so moved I had to share it with you all. Sometimes all we need is a bit of perspective to remind ourselves how blessed we truly are despite our own difficulties navigating through life:
A long time ago, the staff of Women for Women International decided that we would not do a gift exchange during the holiday season. Rather, we would share something symbolic with each other—a word, a song, or a wish.
There was the year where we sang songs to each other, the year when we made dishes for each other, and the year in which we gave the gift of words to each other. I remember a colleague wishing me not only good health so I can keep on going, deep love so my heart may be filled, but also enough challenges to keep me humble and enough pain to remind me of my blessings. I thought this was the most beautiful gift I had ever gotten and, God knows, the prayer did come true.
This year, around a simple pizza gathering, we shared what we are most grateful for. (Perhaps not the most ideal holiday party, but we are a nonprofit and there is a financial crisis going on out there. We need to squeeze everything we can out of each penny.)

And, I think, this year was the most profound sharing of gifts I’ve ever had. 

The night before, my father had called me from Baghdad and was complaining about how tough life is in Iraq—how there is only limited electricity each day, how water pressure is so weak one barely gets enough water (let alone clean water), how there was a bomb that exploded in neighborhoods all around him. And, as I was trying to calm him down, I was also thankful that he is alive, that my loved ones are alive and though he and other family members have endured so much, they are still there in my life. For my father’s love, I am very grateful. 
The week before, an Afghan colleague was sharing her worries about her children’s safety and while she will do anything to keep working for the women we serve, she just wants to make sure that her son’s life is safe. For her courage, determination, and love I am deeply grateful. 
And just the month before, I had the privilege of spending time with Honorata, a woman whom I first met as a participant receiving Women for Women International services in DR Congo and just recently, I met her as a colleague, a hero, and a great teacher in this life. On her first visit to the United States, Honorata stood in front of more than 800 people and gave her testimony about what she endured during her sexual enslavement in DR Congo, “I was married and was wearing a wedding ring on my finger. They sawed off the ring and, because of that, my finger can no longer function properly. They said I was nobody’s wife and, at the same time, I was the wife of everyone. They called me ‘a meal’. Everybody who was hungry for sex could take me as their meal. After raping me, they would pick up any rag, put it on the end of their rifle, and insert it into me, saying that they were wiping me clean”. These were just some of the things she shared in telling her story. Later on, and in a private conversation with me, she talked about how important it was for her to have the power not to look back, not to have her past paralyze her life, to be able to love more, and speak more, and share more. Her resilience shows an amazing part of humanity’s strength, courage, and beauty and for her I am incredibly grateful. 

I have always known that the women we serve and the colleagues we work with in our overseas offices will always be a source of inspiration for me. But, as many of us do, I have often traveled the world and looked ahead for what I will be grateful for and often forgotten to pay attention to what is around me every day, to show my gratitude to those who sometimes, because of their closeness, I do not always give them the time needed to communicate my love and admiration for them. This is what Sibongile taught me in our holiday party. 
As we went around the room in our headquarters office in Washington D.C., my colleagues expressed all kinds of gratitude. There were those who were grateful to have found love in their lives, those who were grateful for doing the work they do, and those who were grateful for good health. And then there was Sibongile, a newer staff member. She took a deep breath and talked about how she was grateful for the ability to communicate with one another, how she was grateful to live in a peaceful country, how she was grateful to have the basics in life. “Don’t worry about the financial crisis”, she said as she tried to put into perspective one’s life, the gift of communication, the gift of sharing, and the gift of showing what is most valuable in our lives: love, kindness and generosity of spirit.

Sibongile grew up in South Africa under the apartheid regime and witnessed the disappearance and death of loved ones in her life, days without much food or basic amenities, and days of fighting and instability in her life. Sibongile and I have only met once before in her 9 months with Women for Women International, but I am deeply grateful to her for teaching me to see the blessings and wisdom that has been so close to me all year long, yet, I didn’t spend much time to appreciate it. For the beauty of her words and her spirit, I am very grateful. 
As we all embark on a new year—hopefully a good year, a peaceful year, and, yes, maybe a tough year, but never for too long—remember to notice the blessings that are close to you and far away from you, remember to take the time to share a sweet word with someone, and hopefully, with a woman in a war torn region. Write a letter to your sponsored sister. If you have not yet sponsored a sister, please go to www.womenforwomen.org and sponsor a woman survivor of war. Share with her some of your financial blessings, some of your love, and some of your wisdom. 
And remember Rumi’s words when he said:

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

May it be a very happy 2009.

With deep gratitude for all of your support,

Zainab

Women for Women International 

4455 Connecticut Ave NW Suite 200 
Washington, DC 20008
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The book, “The Other Side of War: Women’s Stories of Survival and Hope” would make a great gift as well.