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HH Sheikha Intisar AlSabah on Giving Hope and Light to Victims of War Trauma in the Middle East

Since the beginning of time, Arab women have unified families, grounding them with the pillars of faith and community. Now, marking the historic reunification of the GCC countries, royals from Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE come together for the first time in four years, in our February issue, to show their people – and the world – that they are one. Below, meet HH Sheikha Intisar AlSabah, the Kuwaiti royal giving hope and light to victims of trauma.

HH Sheikha Intisar AlSabah

HH Sheikha Intisar AlSabah photographed by Djinane AlSuwayeh for Vogue Arabia February 2021. Kaftan, Dagla; Jewelry, Intisars

When Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait on August 2, 1990, HH Sheikha Intisar AlSabah’s life was forever changed. During a week that would live in infamy, the Kuwaiti royal fled her family’s home. As bombs targeted a site near her hideout, she found herself dancing and singing for her two small daughters, in the hope that her positive energy would somehow conceal the destruction and horror just a few steps away. Flashbacks from those days still haunt her. One such indelible memory involves stumbling upon an Iraqi soldier’s lifeless body. She remembers how shocked she was by her own stoicism when the man’s helmet was pulled back and she realized he was dead.

The princess eventually fled with her children to Saudi Arabia with just a few random items of clothing and forged passports. She would spend decades tackling the symptoms of her post-traumatic stress disorder, eventually making it her life’s work to help other victims of war overcome the same mental health condition through her eponymous foundation, founded in 2018.

HH Sheikha Intisar AlSabah

Dress, Hamsa; jewelry, Ebbarra. Photo: Djinane AlSuwayeh

While the breakthrough reunification of the GCC sees the renewal of diplomatic and economic ties with neighboring Qatar, the fighting that endures in Yemen, Syria, and Libya continues to perpetuate the mental health crisis. “We have never had so many wars in the Arab world. I think our region has the most refugees, the most displaced people, and the most violence,” she says, adding that all Gulf nations are connected in some way to the ongoing destruction. “Leaders fight, people suffer,” she comments. Yet Sheikha Intisar is hopeful and wishes that the GCC countries coming together in unity will promote peace and healing in the region.

At 94, her father, HH Sheikh Salem Al-Ali Al-Salem Al-Sabah, is the commander of the Kuwaiti National Guard and the most senior serving member of the royal family. Her mother, who married him in her early teens, continued to study nights in pursuit of her own education. As a young woman, HH Sheikha Intisar says she was undeterred in pursuing her own ambitions. After attending Kuwait University and studying physics, she also married young at 20 and had two children by the age of 21. When her youngest daughter, who is now 21, entered pre-school, Sheikha Intisar began her career as a board member of the Refrigeration Industries and Storage Company, one of the first air-conditioning companies in the Gulf. In 2011, she founded Lulua Publishing and Lulua Production House, dedicated to promoting mental health, wellness, and self-empowerment.

HH Sheikha Intisar AlSabah

Dress, Hamsa; jewelry, Ebbarra. Photo: Djinane AlSuwayeh

Keeping herself busy with social-impact enterprises (cosmetics line Prismologie and jewelry labels Intisars and Ebbarra) as well as non- profits (Alnowair and Bareec), is a form of therapy in itself. Alnowair is an incubator for national programs that help bring about positive social behavioral changes, while Bareec is an educational project that trains teachers how to empower students through positive thinking and battles social ills like bullying. All of this comes from a very personal place. At her lowest point, after the war, Sheikha Intisar’s own feelings of low self-esteem as well as violent tendencies and anxiety began to emerge. “Mostly it was self-worth issues. I was a pleaser,” she recalls. She decided to seek help when she discovered that she wasn’t able to control her violent tendencies around her children. “Some people might say I am oversharing and that one shouldn’t share these things in public. But this is life!” she exclaims. She sought help and learned breathing meditation exercises and various energetic therapies, including color and crystal therapy, Reiki, and writing.

The only thing that breaks down the trauma and that has been successful in rehabilitating victims, she remarks, is long-term drama therapy, the cornerstone of Intisar Foundation’s success – an approach that tackles the physical, emotional, and intellectual fallout caused by PTSD and/or abuse. The program is active in different areas and camps in Lebanon and Jordan and involves 12 weeks of weekly sessions and one year of support. Intisar Foundation also recently started to rehabilitate victims of the Beirut blasts. “Women are bystanders of war. Violence directed at them as well as suppression of their voices and being is what creates violence among women and therefore inevitably within the family and society as a whole,” she considers. Through it all, she remains staunchly optimistic with her work anchored in collaboration. “Divided we can do very little,” she states. “Together we can accomplish a lot.”

Read Next: February 2021 Cover: Ruling Families of GCC Member States Convey a Powerful Message of Togetherness

Originally published in the February 2021 issue of Vogue Arabia

Photography and production: Djinane AlSuwayeh 
Photography assistant: Dania Merdashti
Videography: Abdullah Al Failakawi
Style: Yousif Abdulsaid
Makeup: Fatima Al Naqi
Hair: Momtaz Shaikh, Terra Salon & Spa
Hair and makeup assistant: Souad Al Rafrofi
Studio: Triangle Creative

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