When women's rights activist Zainab Salbi married her second husband a few years after breaking free from a brutal arranged marriage, she had just enough money set aside for a honeymoon in Spain with her new love. But instead of taking off on a romantic vacation, Salbi decided to use the funds to go somewhere that many people at the time would actively avoid: into a war zone.
It was 1993, and the Bosnian War was in full swing. Salbi was no stranger to war herself, having lived not only in Baghdad during the Iran-Iraq War, but also having grown up with direct ties to feared dictator Sadaam Hussein. So, when Salbi heard of rape camps and other horrors Bosnian women faced, she was determined to help however she could.
As Salbi recently told Oprah during a conversation for "SuperSoul Sunday," she didn't have any contacts in the war-torn region. So, she and her supportive spouse set about their aid efforts the old-fashioned way.
"We literally knocked on … women's rights organization's doors, and we said, 'We're here to help,'" Salbi says.
That trip sparked Salbi to launch a global organization called Women for Women International, which to date has helped more than 425,000 women in eight war-torn regions. Salbi, too, has come a long way from the naïve newlywed she was during that first humanitarian trip.
"It has been a journey of humility for me," she says. "That first trip, I started and I went, 'I am here to help all women survivors of rape in Bosnia!' And I remember the woman who said, 'Then don't help us. Because if you're going to isolate us as only women survivors of rape … then you're even stigmatizing us even more.'"
Instead, the woman urged Salbi to adopt a more inclusive approach, one upon which Women for Women continues to operate.
"[She said], 'Either you help all of us, regardless of what we have gone through, or don't help us,'" Salbi recalls.
Through financial sponsorships, vocational programs, job placement services, health education, community workshops and various trainings, Women for Women International has helped female survivors of war become more empowered, socially and economically. Salbi is proud of its work, and also humbled by what she has learned from these brave women along the way, beginning with those Bosnian survivors.
"That has been the beginning of many lessons," Salbi says. "It's a humbling experience."
"SuperSoul Sunday" airs Sundays at 11 a.m. ET on OWN.