Rita Zawaideh 2020 “Spirit of Liberty” Award


Rita Zawaideh
The Ethnic Heritage Council of the Pacific Northwest has recognized the work of Rita Zawaideh for her significant contribution to her ethnic community and ethnic heritage, as well as to the community at large.

By Ethnic Heritage Council | July 16, 2020

She is a ‘one-person community information center for the Arab community,’
— Huda Giddens

For decades, Rita Zawaideh has been an advocate and change-maker on behalf of Middle Eastern and North African communities in the United States and around the world. She is a “one-person community information center for the Arab community,” according to the thousands who have benefited from her activism and philanthropy. “The door to Rita’s Fremont office is always open,” says Huda Giddens of Seattle’s Palestinian community, adding that Rita’s strength is her ability to see a need and answer it. “She doesn’t leave a stone unturned in search of a solution,” says Giddens.

Rita was born in Jordan and grew up in Seattle. Through the years she has maintained close ties to the Arab world, as well as to the Arab-American communities throughout the U.S. She founded the Salaam Cultural Museum (SCM) to raise awareness of Arab American cultures and provide support to refugees and immigrants both locally and internationally. Rita is owner and founder of Caravan-Serai Tours, a Seattle travel agency specializing in the Middle East and North Africa. Through her travel agency network she has organized volunteer trips and donation drives for refugees in the Middle East and North Africa since the 1980s. She often labors into the wee hours of the night to solve a person’s problem, putting that person in touch with a lawyer, a city council member, a school principal, a church contact, perhaps even someone who lives on the other side of the country. No one is turned away.

Leader in Resettlement of Newcomers. When the first influx of Iraqi refugees arrived in Seattle in the mid-2000s, Rita raised money to support them and helped them feel welcome. Since the beginning of the war in Syria in 2011, she has advocated for refugee resettlement in Washington State, succeeding in welcoming families as well as members of persecuted populations, such as the Middle Eastern LGBTQ community. Rita marshals the efforts of vast networks of resettlement agencies, community organizations, activists and volunteers, arranging donations or fundraisers to provide school supplies, winter clothing and furniture while also assisting them in learning English and finding jobs.

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