The Real Wonder Woman Challenge: Day 11

Neslihan Ozgunes

My soul sister and a Real Wonder Woman

I met Neslihan at Search for Common Ground (SFCG) in Brussels and – in her – I found my sister from another mother. She was leaving SFCG and we only had three days for the handover of duties. But, in the short three days, we connected deeply and from the heart. Today, 20 years later, the connection is still growing deeper and deeper.

Neslihan taught me to appreciate life and family, and have fun. She inspires me with her resilience, her capacity for joy and her ability to connect with people easily and naturally.

We were present for each other in moments of parental loss that taught us the preciousness of the present moment. When I grieved for my father, Neslihan was there, on the phone line and over the email, holding me in her heart and listening, crying with me and supporting me through my grief and encouraging me, each step of my journey of mourning.

Neslihan taught me to appreciate life and family, and have fun. She inspires me with her resilience, her capacity for joy and her ability to connect with people easily and naturally. I am impressed by her concern for people, her dedication to her family, her amazing creativity and her ability to facilitate youth groups with fun games. I am in awe of her amazing dancing skills, her laughter and her ability to enjoy and find pleasure in everyday life.

I always felt loved and supported by Neslihan. Through the years, our friendship grew deeper and stronger, and our presence for each other rose in fun times and in challenging times.

I love you, janami!

The Real Wonder Woman Challenge: Day 10

Sandra Melone

My first boss, my friend, and a Real Wonder Woman

In 1999, after I finished my Master’s degree, I spent six months in a frustrating and unsuccessful search for a job that would fit my skills and ambitions. Finally, I decided to give it a rest and give my perfect job time and opportunity to find me, while I do some traveling. And it did. On my birthday, I received Sandra Melone’s interview email invite, while en route to Colombia. For me that was a sign, I just didn’t know how profound a shift it was going to bring to my life. And that’s how Sandra and I first met – at my first work interview for the Search for Common Ground in Brussels.

Search for Common Ground (SFCG) was my first workplace and indeed an amazing way to start my professional career. For the first time, I felt I found a home where my language skills could be combined and be useful and where I didn’t need to choose or justify my cultural and national identity. I was hired to work as the Middle East Program Coordinator, supporting SFCG’s Middle East program that aimed to bring together Arabs and Jews to understand their differences and work on joint projects.

Sandra provided a nurturing presence in crucial moments of growth and at each crossroad, and facilitated fluidity of constant change within the stability of staying in the same organization.

I think I can safely say that – to a large extent – who I am today as a professional is thanks to Sandra. She taught me how to network, lobby, advocate, connect people, how to fundraise, but most importantly, she guided and supported me through the seven years of my work at SFCG. She gave me a lot of creative freedom within the workplace, from one position to another. I always felt loved and supported by Sandra. She provided a nurturing presence in crucial moments of growth and at each crossroad, and facilitated fluidity of constant change within the stability of staying in the same organization.

Sandra inspires me with her warmth and a deep care and concern for people. She is an amazing friend. She never forgets a birthday or any important date and she is always present when you need her: connecting the dots, connecting people across countries, continents and personality types.

I love you, Sandrita!

To know more about SFCG and the amazing work they do in the world, check http://www.sfcg.org.

The Real Wonder Woman Challenge: Day 9

Claudine Maes

My therapist, my friend and a Real Wonder Woman

I met Claudine when I was living in Brussels 17 years ago, and I had my young brother Abed visiting me for several months. I booked him a bodywork session with her upon recommendation of another friend, France Dubois. When I dropped him for the appointment, she looked at me with a smile saying “When you book a session for someone else, it means you need it.” And, it was so true at the time, but I couldn’t see it.

A year later, I booked a bodywork session for myself and her sentence after our session “You are cut from your true being” found a deep echo in me and a desire to explore more. That was the start of a deep soul-searching therapy with her that over the years turned into a beautiful deep friendship.

As a friend and a soul sister, Claudine inspires me with her teachings and learnings, constantly seeking to evolve, grow, and support.

Claudine offered me a range of personal development tools, from bodywork with sounds and vibrations from Tibetan bowls, coaching, guided interaction with horses, and most of all – full presence and heart-centered listening to deepen, readjust, harmonies within to be able to take action in the here and now. With an intense work and travel schedule, Claudine became my one stopover to breath, relax and let go. Claudine taught me how to connect to myself, my soul and soften deeper in my self-love, self-acceptance, and self-compassion. Claudine has been instrumental with her coaching and personal development based, among other things, in the way things overlap, both in our inner reality and in the way our external world materializes. She provided precious help needed to open me to my own potential.

Whenever I am in doubt or in a crisis, Claudine is the first person I call to help me explore the shadow that I am unable to see. As a friend and a soul sister, she inspires me with her teachings and learnings, constantly seeking to evolve, grow, and support. She also taught me how to put healthy boundaries between therapy and friendship. This became a very useful skill for when my coaching clients turn into my friends as the connection deepens, or when my friends become my clients as issues arise for them and we need to define which hats we are using.

Most of all, I feel Claudine’s deep love and support for me as a friend and a sister, every step I take, and regardless of where I am in the world. I am so grateful for our deep connection and mutual support for each other.

I love you, Claudine!

If you wish to find out more about Claudine’s work, please visit her website at https://douxrevesmaes.wixsite.com/doux-reves.

The Real Wonder Woman Challenge: Day 8

Béatrice Pouligny

My soul sister and a Real Wonder Woman

I met Beatrice while I was doing a Ph.D. in Political Science at the Sorbonne on Women’s Role in Conflict Resolution in Burundi and Palestine. After reading her books linking political and trauma healing in Rwanda I was greatly impressed by her practical approach to the field, which was very different from the intellectual and mental approach at the Sorbonne. I asked to meet her and was very touched by her humbleness and practical wisdom. Needless to say, I became hell-bent to have her as a mentor for my Ph.D., but she was tied up with fieldwork. So, I dropped the Ph.D. for the practical fieldwork that I was so yearning to do in Burundi.

Beatrice inspires me by her dedication to her growth, her unconditional loving and giving, her perseverance in motherhood and mostly her practical approach, even as a shaman turning rituals as accessible and simple as possible.

Ten years later, when we met again, both having experienced burnout in the development field, we connected deeply on our healing journey and over the learnings we received during the process, as we both continued to pursue our international careers as healers and mentors. We decided to co-create a retreat in the jungle for peace-builders. We wanted to share with our colleagues what we’ve learned about how to take care of one-self and how to include a well-being routine in one’s day-to-day life to support one’s mental and psychological equilibrium. The whole process taught us how far reached and too forward seeking we were at the time. We realized that for a peace-builder to admit that s/he is experiencing burnout and needs self-care wasn’t an easy talk.

Beatrice inspires me by her dedication to her growth, her unconditional loving and giving, her perseverance in motherhood and mostly her practical approach, even as a shaman turning rituals as accessible and simple as possible. I felt her love and support when I was staying with her in Washington while working on a training manual that was presenting challenges on many levels but mainly an attempt to bridge soul-based peace-building, spiritual psychology with conflict transformation. I felt so nourished by our spiritual connection and intellectual conversations.

I love you, Bea!

To know more about Beatrice and her offering I invite you to check her website Allowing The Light – Contemporary Shamanic Healing & Spiritual Guidance.

The Real Wonder Woman Challenge: Day 7

Rania Ariss

My friend and a Real Wonder Woman

I met Rania in Paris while studying International Relations at the Sorbonne in Paris. In one of our tasks as students, we had to choose between various themes to write a paper and we both chose to work on the challenges of the Oslo Agreements in the Middle East. She did it from an Arab-Syrian perspective and me from a Palestinian-Israeli perspective.

Rania was my first Arab friend, and she taught me so much about the wider Arabic culture. As a Palestinian growing up in a tiny French-Israeli bubble, living in Israel and studying in a French-Jesuit school, I had little exposure to the Arab culture.

Rania inspires me by her amazing knowledge and culture, her unconditional generosity and wide heart, her love for life and for people, her ability to adapt and create harmony.

I still remember how shocked Rania was when I used to refer to myself as an Israeli and not a Palestinian. We had passionate political conversations filled with disagreement and love for each other. At the time, my identity as a Palestinian with an Israeli passport was a contradiction in terms for both of us.

Rania inspires me by her amazing knowledge and culture, her unconditional generosity and wide heart, her love for life and for people, her ability to adapt and create harmony. Our friendship grew stronger as the years went by. I always felt loved and supported in my life journey by Rania. Even when our roads weren’t going in the same directions, and we weren’t sharing the same views, we still managed to meet each other in-between travels to celebrate our birthdays and friendship whenever possible.

Regardless of how far we are from each other and how much time goes by without us seeing each other, there is a deep connection beyond time and space and a sisterhood that is present and that we both deeply appreciate.

I love you, Ranoushti!

The Real Wonder Woman Challenge: Day 6

Paula de Carvalho Vogelius

My friend and a Real Wonder Woman

I met Paula while we were both studying at the University of Strasbourg. The day we first met we were both late for a class. Neither of us dared to open the door to the classroom and each of us hoped that the other one will do it. So, we stood outside the door for a while and I ended up opening it.

As we were late, all working groups have already been formed and we ended up being a group of our own. That was the beginning of a life-long friendship that is still alive despite the space and life choices between us.

Paula was able to not take life too seriously and simultaneously experience a deep connection to nature.

During my days in college, Paula taught me how to have fun and enjoy life. I used to be a serious student (Incredible, but true!) and Paula would often come up with crazy and fun ideas to experiment and discover nature.

What impressed me most about Paula was her love for life and the joy of living. She was able to not take life too seriously and simultaneously experience a deep connection to nature. She was committed to recycling and dedicated to climate change cause.

After four years in Strasbourg filled with fun and study, we embarked on completely different paths, yet we kept meeting for weekends of fun and deep sisterhood connection. I felt and still feel Paula’s unconditional love and support. Regardless of where I moved – from Paris to Brussels to Ivory Coast to Los Angeles to Costa Rica – whenever possible and needed, Paula would jump on a plane and find a way to meet me anywhere I was for fun times and heartfelt support.

Throughout my life, I felt Paula’s presence every step of my way. When I decided to quit the United Nations Peacekeeping Mission and move to Los Angeles to join my husband, we met in Berlin and had a great time. When I decided to move from Los Angeles to Costa Rica to have my first child in the jungle, she laughed so hard when she realized that I was now a nature girl. Her love for me was palpable through all the jokes, especially when she came to visit me in my jungle house and witnessed me with a new connection to nature and animals which was alien to me when we were university students. To be witnessed by my student-time friend allowed me to see also my own journey of growth, which was beautiful and refreshing.

For the past 25 years, we have been present for each other through the good times and the painful ones. We showed up through depression, loss, grief and with total presence and hearts filed with acceptance and love for one another. Sisterhood is real and it’s beyond ties of blood, space or time.

I love you, Paula!

The Real Wonder Woman Challenge: Day 5

Isabelle Lauber

My role model and a Real Wonder Woman

I met Isabelle when I moved to France at the age of 19 to study the law at the University of Strasbourg. Her younger sister was studying with me she came to visit her from Switzerland. We immediately connected when she gave me my first tarot cards reading.

For the rest of the four years I spent in Strasbourg, Isabelle and her family – her husband Mario and her nine-year-old daughter Audrey – were my second family. I would spend most of my holidays with them, in their home at St. Imier, absorbing with thirst all this new knowledge, way of living and being that was so foreign to me at the time.

Isabelle taught me that, regardless of what I study at the university, that which I am destined to become, I will come to be.

I was impressed by their parenting style with Audrey, the combination of freedom and structure, the connection with nature and the long walks in the forests we would take together.

Isabelle taught me that, regardless of what I study at the university, that which I am destined to become, I will come to be. That was true for her too because, after years of studying and practicing as a nurse, she realized her dream and after long last opened her kinesiology practice.

Her husband Mario initiated me in Reikki, and her daughter taught me mentorship, how to be present with a child that isn’t your sibling and yet to whom you feel so connected.

I always felt so loved, fully accepted and supported by Isabelle and her family. To this day, even though I haven’t seen them for the past 10 years, our heart connection and support of each other is still present, regardless of time and space.

I love you, Zabeau!

The Real Wonder Woman Challenge: Day 4

Abir Dalak Kheil

My younger sister and a Real Wonder Woman

Abir is one year younger than me and we grew up together, hand in hand, playing and at times competing for attention from our other siblings and parents.

Abir inspires me with her radiant beauty, her wisdom and her grace. I grew up rebel and screaming loud and high about my disagreements. Abir would also disagree, but she would just go ahead and do what she wanted, silent and trusting in her own way, with no need to prove her point. She taught me when it’s better to stop the fight, drop the issue and walk away with ease and grace, find a better way rather than hit the wall.

Abir would also disagree, but she would just go ahead and do what she wanted, silent and trusting in her own way, with no need to prove her point.

Most of all, I appreciate Abir’s ability to joke, release tension and have fun, which she communicates with gentleness and hard belly laughter. Abir’s joy is infectious, and I enjoy laughing with her. We often laugh at our own selves and when we refuse to take anything too seriously like that, we are able to set a distance and evaluate situations better.

Abir’s sentence that sticks with me is: “Don’t lose energy on fighting.” Indeed, in many of my life’s confrontations, as soon as I would speak with Abir I would be like a balloon that just let go of its own air!

Marrying my life partner was one of the major decisions of my life and I referred to Abir to be guided by her wisdom. I am forever grateful for her and her life partner, for holding us both in their hearts and navigating all the logistics and practical issues of our wedding in Jaffa while I was sick with malaria for the whole week before the ceremony.

I feel Abir’s full support and unconditional love for me, especially in situations where she doesn’t necessarily understand me or my choices yet she is there for me and that’s the best feeling in life to be held in your being regardless of what you are doing.

I love you, sistouch!

The Real Wonder Woman Challenge: Day 3

Ghada Dalak Kaboub

My Big Sister and a Real Wonder Woman

Ghada is six years older than me, and thanks to that age difference I had the privilege to be guided by her ever since I was born. For a long time I considered her my second mother and would refer to her while growing up especially when I would get in trouble at school and needed to bring in my parents.

Thanks to Ghada I grew up faster than I would have without her tracing the way ahead. I was her shadow and probably a bit annoying as a younger sister, yet she never let me feel that. She allowed me to read her “grown up” books, explained to me what I didn’t understand and mostly initiated me into social life. Ghada supported me in exploring my emotions as a young girl, my frustration of being a girl and not being allowed to do certain things, my frustration of being in the middle between my siblings and feeling different as if I didn’t belong to this family, this society, this culture…

Ghada taught me how to be patient, how to take things into perspective and keep freedom within regardless of outside circumstances and environment.

Most importantly, Ghada taught me how to be patient, how to take things into perspective and keep freedom within regardless of outside circumstances and environment.

Ghada’s sentence that sticks with me is that ‘all is good’ and her calm and grounded way of being would sometimes drive me crazy as I wanted to shake things up and wouldn’t accept things as they are. She inspires me by her courage and commitment to growth, personal development and freedom. She is a beacon of light in my life and I feel her unconditional love and acceptance of who I am, supporting me each step of my way.

I love you, sistoutch!

The Real Wonder Woman Challenge: Day 2

Naima Kheil Dalak

My Mama and a Real Wonder Woman

My Mama was born 1948 in Jaffa, at the time when Palestine was being divided by the United Nations into two countries: Palestine and Israel.

She constantly inspires me with her strength, unconditional generosity and love for her children, her family and her community. She is an amazing caretaker, but – like most mums – not very good at self-care. However, this enlightened me to the importance of self-care for mothers, and for women in general. It also made me realise that a lot of women’s resentment and frustration comes from the lack of self-care, lack of taking care of their own needs first, before caring for the others.

My mother taught me how to be strong and how to fight for my rights, how to pierce through the tight rules of our Muslim religious society.

She taught me how to be strong and how to fight for my rights, how to pierce through the tight rules of our Muslim religious society. She didn’t articulate it as such, but being raised strictly allowed me to dream of freedom and learn to be even stronger and more perseverant.

At the age of ten I said that when I grow up I will travel to France to study the law. My Mama’s response that stuck with me was: You are living an illusion. At the time, it wasn’t conceivable in our community for girls to pursue their education beyond primary school, let alone to travel and live alone, as the expectation was for them to settle down in a convenient marriage.

Growing up in reactionary mode allowed me to forge a strong character and perseverance in pursuing my dreams and now I finally understand that resistance to what is different calls for crafting one’s own personality. I understand now that one has to go through the confrontation with what is acceptable to allow for that which is perceived as impossible to become possible.

This helped me to bring every single dream that I ever had to reality, as I went ahead with my life to prove that everything that can be imagined and dreamed of can become reality.

I feel so loved and supported by my mum even when she doesn’t necessarily agree with my life decisions, my way of being, my choices, my rebellious nature and in a way I think she even encourages it.

I am grateful beyond measure to have had the honour to be raised by such a strong woman.