An Ordinary Day at Women of the World

A parable of what we do at Women of the World

There has been a little bit of rain overnight but not enough to water the plants outside the office. The plants are freshly planted, some of the first from Home Depot’s fresh stock. The pots in front of the office will be replanted three times this year, something fresh, alive looking… most people won’t consciously notice.The open sign goes up on the handle of the north-most door. The puddles in the parking lot and on most of Main Street are still undisturbed.

Samira runs past the corkboard and front desk, disturbing the papers that announce the CCS’s, IRC’s, or RSO’s latest event, a survey to take, someone’s PhD thesis collecting data. Anti-gossip proclamations in Arabic and English – a policy to protect this vital place – settle as Samira strides by.

There is an Arabic saying that you never enter as a guest in someone’s home by pushing open the door with your hands… instead you enter with your rear-end first – because your hands are full of gifts. Samira leaves a trail of keys, purse, computer bag, and the various food, gift, and work-product du jour.

She is on her way to her second cup of sometimes countless cups of tea. This is a fact none of you likely know, Women of the World started with a tea party in the cafeteria of the Horizonte School on 13th and Main. We did our tea party at the same time “the Tea Party” was coming into prominence – it was clear then, as it is now, that we would have to grow up as an organization in an interesting political climate.

Tea in hand, Samira is across the world. Justin gives her a terrible time about her Facebook habit, but, by-and-large it is done to aggregate the refugee news of the day for the 3,500 followers of the Women of the World Facebook page. That is where the refugee story starts. It is easy to see the resettled refugee as another hand outstretched in need until you understand how they got here.



Samira Harnish, Executive Director and Founder of Women of the World with women from the Salt Lake community
Samira Harnish, Executive Director and Founder of Women of the World with women from the Salt Lake community


Samira Harnish, Executive Director and Founder of Women of the World with women from the Salt Lake community


Refugees are the unluckiest people in the world. Due to no fault of their own, refugees have been presented with suffering we are incapable of understanding, that we are afraid to imagine. It is hard reading the specifics because the pain – simply written on the page – alters you in ways we are not comfortable with…

The working world is awake and Samira is fielding calls. Citizens of Utah, teens and retirees ask for education, media outlets seek expertise, partners rework plans for clients, individuals donate goods or seek out ways to improve their time as mentors, yoga classes or workshops form, and community leaders seek us out in hopes of unity.

Then the bell rings and the door opens.

Early in the morning it might be on of our ladies, but most likely it is Abby, starting her day.

She and Samira’s greeting is warm. Theirs is a female relationship of living eulogy. Samira’s pride in her role in forging Abby’s increased tough-love is matched by Abby’s willingness to reason through the most emotional issue. There is laughter, irreverence, and above all, respect. Abby is patient in a way that conveys years working with English Language Learners, Samira is nurturing in a way that is deep, lasting, and personal – a commitment of her whole-self.


In an earlier iteration of the Board of Directors, we questioned what would we call our clients. Clients seemed like something too cold, too quota driven, too non-profit industrial complex. That committee came up with new neighbors and it stuck. When I think of Utahns, I think the majority just want to be good neighbors. The other way we talk about our new neighbors – and this is all Samira – is as “our ladies.”

The first person to come into that door is the luckiest refugee or partner of the day. The office is freshly clean, the staff is smiling, and the mood is not one of problem and solution but of neighborliness – the perfect fit for Utah.

In an earlier iteration of the Board of Directors, we questioned what would we call our clients. Clients seemed like something too cold, too quota driven, too non-profit industrial complex. That committee came up with new neighbors and it stuck. When I think of Utahns, I think the majority just want to be good neighbors. The other way we talk about our new neighbors – and this is all Samira – is as “our ladies.”

Most people don’t remember before Starbucks came to prominence, but one of the things they tried to do with their early stores was to become the “third place” for their customers. Everyone has home and work, but if that third place could be Starbucks, they figured they’d sell more coffee. Women of the World is that third (and sometimes second or only-other) place for our ladies. Comfort and confidentiality characterize this special place.

The first client of this ordinary day in May does not initially share in the mirth of a new day. N– is one of our long-term clients. Our services have improved her life but, as a single mother, the deck was already stacked against her; that she and all of her teen children suffer PTSD increase her need.

N– has an appointment with Abby and this is a positive sign. Planning is one of the intrinsic values Women of the World tries to instill in our ladies. N– is Abby’s biggest fan, she will cry for over an hour on the day Abby leaves to medical school.

N–’s appointment is not any easy one today, she has received a collection notice for $822, the total bill for childcare during her pregnancy. Her contract with the state’s welfare agency was to pay a percentage of this bill based on her income but her pregnancy prevented her from working for the last month and neither the state’s portion nor N–’s portion was paid.

N–’s improvements has been thanks to the collaboration between all of WoW’s staff and its partners. The two hour phone hearing was complicated but resulted in the removal of the bill from N–. For a single mother expecting a new child, the removal of this debt is truly a life-saver.

The next person to come into the office is the other Case Manager working at Women of the World at this time, Courtney. Courtney has an infectious smile and is the nicest person you will ever meet. She has a calm effectiveness that allows her to manage a heavy caseload and maintain our volunteer mentor program including all of the interest forms, the orientation meeting, client match meetings, and the followup on necessary case management issues. Courtney and Abby seamlessly communicate about life, cases, and politics.