APEX Event: Samira Harnish

Samira Harnish, founder and president of Women of the World, spoke Jan. 16 in the Hunter Conference Center’s Great Hall about how her humble beginnings inspired her to help better women’s lives.

Women of the World is a nonprofit organization that began in Salt Lake City in 2010. This organization mentors female refugees, asylum seekers, and immigrants in the United States on how to reach self-reliance and create a more fulfilling life. Harnish’s unique background sparked feelings inside her that would help to create this beautiful organization. 

She grew up in Iraq and noticed during her early life that she experienced inequality because the right to choose who to marry was taken away from her. After an arranged marriage during her teen years, she moved to Utah with her husband. There she graduated from Utah State University with a degree in civil engineering and has since won the United Nations Award.

“All of my experiences as a woman, immigrant, professional, and the needs of forcibly displaced women caused me to start Women of the World. We offer the capacity and the goal of getting our ladies to self-reliance. We mentor our ladies until we see they are capable of being independent,” explained Harnish.

Harnish talked about how essential learning English is for these women to be able to reach self-reliance. In 2018 alone, the organization helped mentor 400 women, which included 140 hours of English lessons.

“We advocate for our ladies and their immgiration, housing, and health issues. We help them gain education, employment, or to start their own business. We help women move from a job to a career,” Harnish said.

She focused on the idea that she wanted Americans to understand that these women and their families are new neighbors, not just immigrants and refugees that are taking their tax money. These women are actively working each day to gain an education so that they can better the community.

“Everyone is a human, just like you and I. Forcibly displaced people have suffered many misfortunes, losing their home, country, and loved ones, but never their dignity and determination,” stated Harnish.

She feels blessed to work with such a variety of incredible women. Harnish has a front row seat watching these women’s lives change for the better right before her eyes. 

SUU student Max Morley stated, “It was interesting to hear of her experiences and how she started WOW since she too was a refugee from Iraq.”

A lot of the women that Harnish works with want to know how they can repay her for what she has given them, and she simply tells them to “pay it forward.”

You can also “pay it forward” by learning more about what WOW is and what you can do to help here

Story by: Lacy Truman


Photo courtesy of: Lacy Truman