Suzanne Al Houby was honored as the first Outward Bound Peacebuilding Ambassador at Outward Bound Peacebuilding’s Annual Cocktail Benefit at The New York Times Building on May 5, 2014. Suzanne, the first Arab woman to summit Mount Everest, is head of Rahhalah, an environmentally aware adventure travel firm based in the United Arab Emirates. She is deeply concerned about violent conflict in the Middle East and a firm believer in the power of wilderness experiences to inspire people to make change in their lives and their societies.
As you know, the Outward Bound community often uses this quote from Kurt Hahn to describe the aims of our work: “There is more in us than we know. If we can be made to see it perhaps for the rest of our lives we will be unwilling to settle for less.” When did you find out that there is more in you than you knew?
I was in the death zone, two-thirds of the way up the south summit of Mt. Everest, and I could not move. Everything was in slow motion. I just lost it. But then I thought, “This can’t be it.” I dug deep inside just to get to the top of the next summit, one foot in front of the other. And then I knew I would make it.
As a mountaineer and a woman, you are a leader: How does that make you feel?
It is a huge responsibility. I am very humble to the idea of being a leader, but I also feel the need to share my experience with all the women who are dreaming of doing something different and all the youth who have no personal goals – I hope I can encourage them to take that first step as I did when I decided to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro years ago. There were so many barriers in front of me, I was not a professional mountaineer, I am a woman, I am a woman in the Middle East, etc, but I did it all anyway. I know from experience, when you start thinking big, it is impossible to shrink. I want to encourage people to think differently, to stop being scared of being different. We need diversity in thought; it is what makes this world beautiful.
How does the OBCP mission resonate with you?
I support the work to encourage people to get out of their comfort zone and see things from a different position – to start to question. I like the fact that the outcome of getting out of your comfort zone is up to each individual. By working with emerging leaders and widening their perspectives, Outward Bound Peacebuilding is creating opportunities for change agents.
Tell us about a moment when you were pushed out of your comfort zone.
In the 1980s, during the Intifada in Palestine, I was a college student in Iowa, and I participated in dialogues between Palestinian and Israeli students on campus. Those dialogues really pushed me out of my comfort zone, but I listened and I had to consider other viewpoints.
What does peace mean to you?
When I think of peace, I think of sitting in a hut in the Himalayas with a clear view and an open mind. My idea of peace is that we all live without confrontation and fear.