On 5 March 2013, Women of World Founder and President, Samira Harnish, interviewed on KTalk AM Radio program “Celebrating Women” with Cate Allen. Women of the World programs that support refugee women and anecdotes about them in this heartfelt interview. What is the objective of the organization?
Women of the World strives to support women of all nations to achieve their dreams.
In order to do this, we must develop women’s skills
and as the head of the household)
and give them a voice
(by advocating and serving them in their
and legal needs).
What motivated you to start the organization?
As a young girl in Iraq, I dreamed of the day where I would be able to help women that had struggled against cultures that did not give them an equal chance or that had oppressed them.
I have always served women and girls, even before starting Women of the World,
but as I saw Iraqi women coming to Utah as refugees, I knew that I had to do more for them since
I knew the language (Arabic) and the culture they were coming from.
How long ago was it started, and how many people participate in the organization?
I started Women of the World almost 2 years ago and there are about 10 volunteers supporting over 150 refugees, mostly women and girls.
What kind of activities does your organization hold, and what is the purpose of those activities?
Women of the World holds numerous activities that educate and entertain, that support women’s issues and develop their skills.
Some of these include our English Language Learner classes and tutoring sessions, that each occur twice per week.
We also have a mother’s day event and an International Women’s Day Event that celebrate women’s roles.
Our Refugee Fashion Show celebrates the beauty of women and the diversity of refugee cultures.
We also have workshops on
and have recently spoken out and educated on domestic violence with our 1 Billion Rising Events.
Tell me about some of the women you have helped through the organization.
Women of the World has helped some amazing women. I want to stress that while we have certainly done some “big” things which I’ll talk about, we also assist with the much needed little things that add stress to our refugee ladies.
I get asked to
read and explain a lot of mail,
to call into the food stamps program,
or to attend parent-teacher conferences.
One of the ladies that I have done all of these “little” things for and some big things like
translating in her ongoing fight against cancer
and helping her to get her driver’s license
is now volunteering with Women of the World, using her driver’s license to transport refugees in need.
Her son, came to America as a teen and fell behind in school and in with a bad group,
but seeing his mom empowered led him to pursue a different path – he is now studying nursing
Another of the women I nurturingly call “my ladies” started in a room in her nieces house.
Afraid to disrupt the family balance, she never went out of her room or took meals with them.
She came to me, desiring a job, and quickly we got her one.
Through her hard work as a hospital janitor,
she was able to rent a small apartment
and we worked together with immigration to get her husband to America
and I’m glad to report that just this last Monday, he arrived from Ethopia where he was greeted by his independent, loving wife.
Because my path to success as a new immigrant was through education, I have a special place in my heart for those that succeed in school.
I have worked tirelessly with the financial aid programs at the universities and community colleges in Utah to get grants for women refugees.
I happily report that we are getting women into school for 100s of dollars per semester, 10X reductions in pricing.
These women are succeeding in their studies.
8. What are WOW’s goals for the future?
We want women to be empowered to achieve their financial, family, and community goals.
We want women refugees to be equipped for the future,
to be able to use their skills and talents to improve their situation,
get a good job,
and contribute in the community.
We want them to be healthy in their minds, bodies, and spirits.
We want them to support one another against domestic violence and discrimination.
We want them to achieve their dreams.
9. How can someone help WOW achieve those goals?
Womenofworld.org slash donate or slash get involved are the best ways to find out what opportunities are available for monetary donations or volunteering.
As a nonprofit started from the heart and not the wallet, we are always trying new ways of fundraising as we have many needs and few resources.
Top on our list is to secure the lease on an office in Salt Lake City,
a safe place for our women to build community with one another and develop job skills and English.
Every donation helps to support a refugee woman torn from her home due to war or genocide that arrived in America with nothing except their hopes for a better life.
12. Why is it hard for a female refugee from abroad to transition into America?Imagine for a moment that in the middle of the night, your brother or husband came to you and said, “wake the kids, we have to leave now.” What would you try and bring in your one bag? That is the best case for our refugee ladies. The constant violence in their homeland, often forced on them and their families, scars them for life with severe PTSD, sexually transmitted disease, and even physical war wounds.Then they stay in camps, filled again with dangers and disease. Sometimes this lost time in the camps can last decades where they fall behind, don’t get a good education, and get very depressed and ill.Finally they come to America and don’t understand any of the languages or the customs. They are quickly forced to work or lose their home, but don’t have the skills to support themselves or an understanding of the beuracracy of the welfare system that is trying to keep them afloat.13. How do you hope WOW will change the lives of women refugees?
By giving them a voice and being their friend.
In other words,
we educate them,
serve their social welfare needs,
and advocate on their behalf.
All of this in an attempt to empower them
to not balance two cultures but to blend them, the best of both
And anyone that can tutor English or be a friend can help.
Service is such an important part of our humanity.
The generosity and gift of friendship of our clients to our volunteers,
the sharing of experiences and sense of purpose
are great reasons to befriend one or more of our clients.
14. Why is helping female refugees important?
As I have said before, any service to others less fortunate then ourselves is the truest display of our humanity, the inherent goodness in us all.
But why female refugees?
No one is more oppressed by war at home and discrimmination abroad.
Women refugees are more likely to have had rape used as a tactic of war,
have faced a family honor killing,
and those from Africa are often genitally mutilated.
They are mothers in danger of losing their sons and daughters to gangs speaking English they can’t understand.
They are battered wives who often face their husband’s frustration in their new life.
They want to work and use their talents to help their families.
They want the best for their families and that is why they are here.
And since they want to succeed, they will, with just a little push in the right direction. Just a little guidance and help.
15. Tell me anything else about WOW that you’d like to share.