In March, the San Antonio Council for International Visitors (SACIV) welcomed “International Woman of Courage” awardee Ms. Aliyah Khalaf Saleh of Iraq to our city. Affectionately, known as “Umm Qusay” in her home country, she is considered a national hero in Iraq, where she was brought to national attention after rescuing dozens of military cadets from a fate at the hands of ISIS. It was a humbling experience to be in the presence of someone who acted so selflessly to save strangers, without prejudice against faith or ethnicity, despite endangering her own life. Umm Qusay truly personifies what it means to act altruistically: she grew up enduring the many hardships facing Iraq over the decades, in addition to more recently suffering the tragic loss of her son and husband to ISIS militants, yet still maintained the clarity of mind to act in the face of evil.
We had the chance to introduce her to various entities serving veterans and their families San Antonio, known as “Military City, USA”, where she was encouraged by new ideas that she hoped to share with her countrymen in Iraq. Not only did she take home with her some tools to implement upon her return, but inspired all she met with her incredible story.
SACIV also hosted an event in her honor, where community members were able to listen to her share her moving story of bravery. When asked about what she foresees as the future and hope for her country, she answered that the success will rely on the strength and triumphs of women. If women are empowered, she stated, there is hope for our country.
It was a true honor to spend time with such a remarkable woman, who has prevailed through her strength, despite all the odds against her, exemplifying courage in her every action.
The International Women of Courage (IWOC) Award was established by the US Department of State in 2007 to honor women who are making a substantial difference in the lives of women around the globe. Nominated by US embassies and NGOs, the candidates are selected by the State Department for their courageous and selfless efforts advocating for human rights, women’s equality, and social progress, often in the face of great personal risk. Honorees travel to the US for an award ceremony at the State Department and an opportunity for cultural exchange across the country. The award recognizes women around the globe who have demonstrated exceptional courage and leadership in advocating for peace, justice, human rights, gender equality, and women’s empowerment, and since its inception, has honored over 100 women from more than 60 different countries.
SACIV's award recipient is a volunteer humanitarian who works to resist sectarian and radical ideology. During a terrorist ambush of a military academy, she hid cadets in her home and prepared them for safe transport. She regularly cooks for soldiers and visits wounded soldiers in hospitals. She also meets with tribal leaders, military officials, and interfaith leaders to foster dialogue on interfaith and ethnic diversity.