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Women's Rights Activist Learned A Big Lesson After Revealing A 'Shameful' Secret

"How can I be a women's rights activist and ... tell you I knew Saddam Hussein?"

For the last two decades, Zainab Salbi has devoted her life to helping women in war-torn regions, from Afghanistan to South Sudan. As a result of the brutal conflicts in these various countries, the women and girls there have been beaten, displaced, raped, widowed, terrorized and denied things like healthcare and education -- but they are all survivors.

Salbi founded an organization to help these women when she was 23. The idea behind Women for Women International is brilliantly simple: connect women in war zones with other women around the world through letters and financial sponsorship. The organization has changed many lives, offering marginalized women not just support but also tools and training programs to empower them socially and economically.

Yet, when Salbi was just beginning her efforts and encouraging women to share their stories with the world, she wasn't standing in her truth herself. As Salbi tells Oprah during an interview for "SuperSoul Sunday," she feared that her family's association with one man could be her complete unraveling.

"How can I be a women's rights activist and ... tell you I knew Saddam Hussein?" Salbi says.

During her childhood, Salbi's father worked for the Iraqi dictator as his personal pilot. Her family lived in a constant state of fear, having heard horror stories of Iraqis being sent to prison, enduring torture and even being killed for any perceived misstep. Salbi couldn't bring herself to admit that she grew up in Hussein's inner circle.

"I was ashamed," Salbi says. "I believed that if I told anybody that, they will no longer see me and they will see his face instead, because he's so much [more] powerful than me. So, there was a shame in that."

I did not know how many people will accept me, will hate me, will kill me.

But, inspired by the countless brave women who shared stories of the horrors they endured, Salbi eventually decided to open up.

"It was a leap of faith," she says. "I did not know how many people will accept me, will hate me, will kill me."

Salbi assumed she would be shunned once people knew of her association with Hussein, but the reaction she received from women was actually the opposite.

"People did not react the way I thought they would react," Salbi tells Oprah. "They welcomed it. They hugged me. They said, 'Thank you so much.' And, strange women would end up talking to me and tell me their stories."

That's when Salbi had a powerful realization.

"I realized that when someone breaks their own silence, that person becomes like a candle to other people," she says. "And so, what I realized in the process [was] that I, for the longest time, had become the prison guard for my fear. I was the guard that was feeding my fear, actually.

"When you own your story and you tell it and you walk out of your shame," she continues, "then you are liberating yourself in the process."

Salbi's full interview airs on this weekend's "SuperSoul Sunday," on Sunday, Nov. 29, at 11 a.m. ET on OWN.

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