2010 First Annual Fashion Show
It has become an iconic photo of women refugees in Utah. Women and girls standing together, in traditional clothing of many different countries, arms raised, smiling.
This photo, taken by WoW’s first volunteer, Ruth, is still the most telling of all the Fashion Show photos we have taken. Its setting is the historic steps of city political power (The City County Building in downtown Salt Lake City), at once accessible and yet austere in the bureaucracy it houses. The women represent the hopefulness of new arrivals and of a new generation. The photo was serendipitous, showing the potential of the mission-based organization unsure of its funding or path.
That first fashion show was a public service. We set out to educate Utahns about the perils and persistence of the women we had just started to serve. The community came together this first time to celebrate beauty and togetherness and left knowing one another a little bit better.
On the eve of our tenth fashion show, I sit writing this post from an office on South Main Street as an intensive English class works through the forms of “be” in the classroom in front of me. One of the students smiles and offers me food from Yemen, food that immediately reminds me of the flatbread of my maternal grandparents home, and this connection, through the medium of food and learning how to ask for things correctly, makes me nostalgic for home.
I can go home. My family is a days drive away. This kind woman—and most of the women that WoW helps—will likely never be able to go home. Even in her mind, home holds horrible memories. Her kindness, like so many of the home-cooked morsels that I have shared in our new neighbors’ homes and the offices of WoW over the years, is a small act of overcoming the horrors of trading home for safety. Each bite or sip of tea percolates a positive memory through a barrier of traumatic ones.
In our tenth year, Women of the World remains a boutique, where appreciation and compassion is at the heart of every interaction. We might have a better plan, but we still customize the case work for each woman; we might have an office that doesn’t move on wheels, but we meet our ladies where they are and offer a safe space when they have nowhere else to turn; and our Fashion Show might be a fundraiser, but our objective is still to educate, to share a bit of the joy presencing itself in each interaction with our new neighbors.