Wife of envoy raises funds to help women, children

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One of Washington’s most powerful women is a child of war who today is promoting peace, using her high-profile status to raise millions of dollars to help resettle refugees, fight malaria, build schools and fund hospitals for children.

“I’m in a unique position where I can make a difference in the lives of women and children, and it just feels right,” said Sheikha Rima al-Sabah, the wife of Kuwait’s ambassador to the United States. “If each of us makes a small contribution in any way we can, we will make the world a much better place.”

“Helping women and children is my passion,” she added. “I can’t bear to see a child suffer. I can’t bear to see a woman suffer.”

Tall, blond and beautiful, Sheikha Rima, at 47 with four sons, looks like a fashion model. The glamour she radiates belies the horror she knew growing up in her native Lebanon during a civil war that devastated her homeland from 1975 to 1990. She was 13 when the conflict broke out.

A daughter of upper-middle class professionals, she remembers sleeping on mattresses pulled into the hall of her parents’ apartment in Beirut to avoid random gunfire that would pierce the outer walls or shatter windows, sending shards of glass flying. One day, a rocket exploded in the family dining room.

“Children of war are not like other children. They have their childhood stolen from them,” Sheikha Rima said.

“You hear gunfire at night and wake up in the morning glad to be alive. You don’t take life for granted,” she said.

She joined Lebanon’s Daily Star as political editor in 1984 and became a war correspondent for United Press International in 1986. One day as she was covering the conflict, a photographer standing next to her was wounded in the leg.

She also interviewed Terry Waite, the envoy of the Church of England, the day before he was kidnapped by the Islamic Jihad Organization as he was trying to negotiate the release of other hostages held by the terrorists.

“My dream was to become a war correspondent. I wanted to show the plight of those suffering from conflicts,” Sheikha Rima said.

The war claimed 250,000 lives and wounded 1 million people, about one-third of the population.

By that time, however Sheikha Rima had found another life. She met Sheikh Salem al-Sabah at the American University of Beirut, where she had earned a bachelor’s degree in political science. They married in 1988.

Soon the former Lebanese war correspondent and the future Kuwaiti ambassador, a member of his country’s royal family, were off on a diplomatic adventure, first in New York at the Kuwaiti mission to the United Nations for eight years, then to South Korea, where Sheikh Salem had his first ambassadorial post. They arrived in Washington eight years ago.

By 2005, Sheikha Rima’s humanitarian instincts drew her to hold annual gala dinners and raise money for charities through the Kuwait-America Foundation, which was founded in 1991 to express Kuwaiti gratitude for the U.S. liberation of the country from Iraq’s Saddam Hussein.

Ambassador Molly Raiser, chief of protocol under President Clinton, appealed to Sheikha Rima for help in resettling Iraqi refugees, mostly women and children. At the time, Mrs. Raiser was head of USA for UNHCR (the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees).

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About the Author
James Morrison

James Morrison

James Morrison joined the The Washington Times in 1983 as a local reporter covering Alexandria, Va. A year later, he was assigned to open a Times bureau in Canada. From 1987 to 1989, Mr. Morrison was The Washington Times reporter in London, covering Britain, Western Europe and NATO issues. After returning to Washington, he served as an assistant foreign editor ...

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