Twenty eight extraordinary Kuwaiti and expatriate women, their distinguished guest speakers, international delegates, and guests, celebrated the establishment of the Soroptimist International Club Kuwait with an elegant ceremony and gala dinner at the Jumeirah Beach Hotel. The name Soroptimist is derived from the Latin soror meaning sister, and optima meaning best. The aim of more than 3,000 Soroptimist clubs in 132 countries is to do what’s best for women by helping them achieve their individual and collective potential, realize aspirations, and have an equal voice in creating strong, peaceful communities worldwide.
One of the opening speeches was given by Kuwait’s Minister of Social Affairs and Labor and Minister of State for Planning and Development Hind Al-Sabeeh. Among the other speakers who explained the Soroptimists’ goals were the President of Soroptimist International of Europe (SIE) Maria Elisabetta de Franciscis; SIE Executive Director Anne Simon; Soroptimists International (SI) Immediate Past President Ann Garvie; and finally, the President of SI Club Kuwait, Dr Stacey Al Ghawas. The Masters of Ceremony for the evening were Vice Presidents Dr Hanan Al Mutawa and Dr Linda Fouke.
For Dr Stacey Al Ghawas, the establishment of SI Club Kuwait was the fulfillment of a dream that was many years in the making. Originally from Manhattan Beach, California, Dr Al Ghawas has been a Soroptimist since she was fourteen years old.
“My chemistry teacher, Mrs Priestly, God rest her soul, was a Soroptimist and she asked me to join the junior Soroptimists’ Club for girls,” she said. “It was an empowering experience, teaching us teamwork and leadership through community projects. From these activities we learned how privileged we were. The mentorship from our Soroptimist ‘mothers’ built our confidence, encouraged creativity, and sowed the seeds of success in us as young women.”
Quoting from a poem by Khalil Gibran, Dr Al Ghawas said, “You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.” Explaining the analogy she said that with a powerful bow and a strong arm you can send your arrows far, but that her first Soroptimist ‘mother’, Mrs Priestly, serving as her bow, could scarcely have imagined that one of her arrows would end up in Kuwait more than forty years later. Following in Mrs Priestly’s footsteps, Dr Al Ghawas is eager to launch a “Live it, Be it” program to mentor young women in the Soroptimist tradition.
“What enables the arrows of Soroptimists to fly far is the fact that our organisation is built on diversity and meritocracy. It is not a group of elite or of a single profession. It does not exclude on the basis of social or economic background; it is inclusive of those based on their professionalism and ability and motivation to change the lives of those less fortunate,” Dr Al Ghawas said.
“My vision for SI Kuwait is that it can be a voice for our women and girls to assist them in their education and training, to help fight violence and promote gender equality. Our plans are to work collaboratively with other groups to promote health and well-being and to protect our environment for future generations. We also want to be the bow that helps spread Soroptimism in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman so that together with SI Kuwait and SI Dubai, we can create an Arabian Gulf network to leverage our global voice through Soroptimism.”
Dr Al Ghawas thanked all the remarkable women in Kuwait and abroad who helped establish SI Kuwait. “We are extremely grateful for the support of Her Excellency Hind Al-Sabeeh and Dr Massouma Al-Mubarak, who unfortunately is unable to attend this evening due to a family bereavement. We appreciate their sharing of their enthusiasm for Soroptimists International, to give opportunities to business and professional women to contribute their energy and love to benefit the lives of our fellow females. They too have the hearts of Soroptimists.
“Of course, behind each successful woman is a great man, a selfless man who understands this call to service and adjusts to schedules that change, and makes compromises to take on more burdens, because he knows that his wife, sister, or daughter is doing something important which is gratifying and worthwhile,” Dr Al Ghawas pointed out. “I salute the men in the audience who support our Soroptimists. You are ‘Soroptimisters’!
Dr Al Ghawas also gave special thanks to her husband Dr Hani Al Ghawas, for his patience and support.
Finally, she voiced her appreciation to the 27 dedicated and talented women who are the SI Club Kuwait members. “That you have volunteered your time over the past two years to work on behalf of those unknown faces that have no voice is a testament to your human capacity to love and to care,” she said.
SI Godmothers from Tunisia, Zohra Turki and Dr Saida Fitouri introduced the SI Club Kuwait members, truly an outstanding group of individuals from all walks of life, who are dedicating their time and effort towards building a brighter future for women and children in Kuwait. The traditional candle lighting ceremony was conducted by Maria Elisabetta de Franciscis, Ulla Madsen, Ann Garvie, and Dr Stacey Al Ghawas.
Both longstanding and new Soroptimists follow in the footsteps of many strong women with the aim of making the world a better place. The first Soroptimists, who founded their club in Oakland, California in 1921, were involved in service projects and listened to speakers on various worldwide issues that broadened their horizons. Their first project was to save the Redwoods, the great ancient trees in northern California that were being cut down for timber. They lobbied the California State legislature, took on powerful lumber companies, and won the support of the public. The result: a major portion of the forest was set aside as protected land and still exists today.
Soroptimists clubs today undertake a wide range of projects depending on local needs, but the following objectives broadly summarize their work: to increase access to formal and non-formal learning opportunities; to improve access to economic empowerment and sustainable opportunities for the employment of women; to eliminate violence against women and girls and ensure women’s participation in conflict resolution; to address the specific needs of women and girls by improving environmental sustainability and mitigating effects of climate change and disasters; and to ensure women and girls have food security and access to the highest sustainable standards of health care.
In order to realize the latter goal, SI Club Kuwait has initiated a Thalassemia Awareness project led by Project Chairwoman Mae Al Hajjaj. Mrs Al Hajjaj explained that Thalassemia is an inherited blood disorder that primarily affects people from the Mediterranean and the Middle East. It is prevalent in Kuwait and the GCC countries, with many people unaware that they are carriers and can pass this serious disorder on to their children.
Soroptimist International holds General Consultative Status with the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and official relations with several international agencies and technical bodies. They have a network of permanent SI representatives at all of the major UN centers, thus ensuring a global voice.
Much important information about Soroptimism was disseminated throughout the evening and guests were obviously impressed by the selfless efforts of the women who are working for such a wide variety of noble causes. SI Immediate Past President Ann Garvie briefly summed up some of the Soroptimists’ sentiments in her powerful speech, from which a few excerpts are quoted below.
“With this membership comes responsibility,” she told the new Soroptimists. “Your global family will support, embrace, and enrich you. Energy is your enabilizer. Use it wisely…
“You are stunning…you can think outside of the box. Use social media to its best advantage, but walk gently, do not tread on your dreams.
“Reflect. No single country in the world has achieved gender equality. Change this. Only forty percent of participants representing peace are women. We require more at the peacekeeping tables and in the UN.
“Educate, empower, enable women and girls, but don’t forget to embrace men and boys.
“Enjoy, respect, and activate your club into the Soroptimist world. Cherish our heritage but add your culture to it. I warmly congratulate you all.”
By Claudia Farkas Al Rashoud
Special to the Arab Times