By Stephanie Nehme
The Daily Star, Beirut, Lebanon.
BEIRUT: For an accomplished woman with distinguished titles, including the first female Ecuadorian ambassador to the United States, Ivonne Baki exudes humility. An artist, painter, negotiator and diplomat, Baki told her inspiring story to supporters last week at the Young Women’s Christian Association. They learned of her lifelong dedication to serve her fellow citizens throughout the course of her decades-long political career.
Baki spoke to an informal gathering organized by the YWCA Beirut’s Leadership Committee, as part of their Inspire Program, which hosts a leading lady figure once a month.
“The aim of this program is to inspire other women and allow them to see that nothing is impossible with hard work, dedication and perseverance,” Rola al-Khoury, president of YWCA Beirut, told The Daily Star.
Born and raised in Guayaquil, Ecuador, to Lebanese parents, Baki got involved in the arts at the tender age of 3 with ballet and classical music. “We are born with art. Art speaks to the heart. It unites people because it is a universal language, a silent but eloquent language,” Baki told The Daily Star ahead of her talk.
Baki attended school in Beirut during her adolescence, a time that coincided with the most violent chapter in Lebanese history.
“It was ridiculous to see people killing one another over religion. The first question I was asked when I came to Lebanon was ‘What is your religion?’ Frankly, I didn’t know! I thought I was Catholic like most people in Ecuador. So, I asked my father what my religion was.”
“My father told me to never to answer that question. ‘Tell them that you believe in God, if you believe in one, daughter,'” Baki said.
She would eventually marry a Lebanese man. “My kids saw only war here. I couldn’t speak out so I started painting to express myself. I was using women, in my paintings, as a symbol of unconditional love and peace,” she said with a smile, dressed in a signature black and white pencil dress.