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2011 Utah Refugee Conference – Panel on Refugee Community Successes and Challenges

On Friday morning, in front of 500 refugees, refugee community stakeholders, benefactors, and members of the press, Women of the World President Samira Harnish spoke on the successes and challenges of the Iraqi community in Utah and her vision for a future in which all refugee women are propelling their communities forward through improvements to women’s health, socio-economical standing, and self-confidence.Samira’s positive message for the refugee communities comes from her Utah-based work on behalf of the refugees from her native Iraq whom she’s worked tirelessly for over the past three years.  She has seen them pick themselves up from the horrors of war to get educated, get employed, and use their off-time to serve the incoming Middle-Eastern refugees.  Iraqi refugees desire a quick integration into American society because of their high level of education and degree status coming from the Middle East and Samira has worked to ensure that the are quickly brought into contact with academic and business networks to enable their  success.Samira also addressed some of the challenges facing the Iraqi refugees and their social organizations.  Of primary concern is the unequal treatment tharefugee women are subjected to in startup service organizations.  The biases of the homeland are often shifted to the new country and for Iraqi’s, strong female voices are pushed aside for the more comfortable, even if inadequate, leadership of men.  Women must rise to be more than secretaries, and service organizations must rise above being social clubs where only one gender feels a sense of unity if success is to be long-lasting and economically significant.

All refugees must learn that, for better or for worse, America is only the land of opportunity for those who are willing to help themselves. Samira recounted a story passed to her from her mother about the yogurt maids that, through humility and focus, carried 5 to 10 trays of yogurt on their heads. Women refugees are now equally burdened by the need to balance culture and progress, family and future on their heads and strive while remaining grounded in their heritage.

Samira Harnish would like to thank Joe Nahas for his invitation to speak on behalf of Iraqis in America and women refugees.  As his “Iron Lady,” Samira promises to continue her steelyresolve in the face oppression of women everywhere.  Samira would also like to thank Gerald Brown and the rest of the Department of Workforce Services Refugee Service Organization.  Finally, a special thank you to all of the panelists and refugees in attendance and in service of one another. full text of Samira’s speeches are available at 2011 Utah Refugee Conference Panel Women Refugee Unique Needs

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