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Utah Woman Receives Award From United Nations For Work With Refugee Women

Sep 21, 2018, 9:36 PM | Updated: Sep 22, 2018, 1:13 am

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – There are nearly 60,000 refugees currently living in Utah – trying to make a new life in a land they don’t know. Many of them are escaping unspeakable pasts and hoping for a brighter future. One Utah woman has devoted her life to helping them and she is now receiving worldwide recognition for her efforts.

Samira Harnish is specifically helping refugee women. About half of the refugees in Utah are women and young girls, who often times are looking for work outside the home for the first time in their lives.

At the Salt Lake City headquarters for Women of the World, space on the walls is running out. It’s not exactly a bad problem for Harnish to have. After all, each photo represents a successful refugee story; a moment captured when a woman’s life changed for the better.


“It was time for me (to live) my dream and my dream has always been to dedicate myself to help women.”


“They’ve been treated really badly,” Harnish said. “We’re talking war, oppression, poverty, rape and mutilation.”

Harnish began the non-profit, ‘Women of the World’ back in 2010.

“My car was my office for seven years,” she said.

Harnish began in life in Utah in 1979 as a refugee. She left Iraq and came to Utah where she received an education and went on to have a successful career in engineering; a career she chose to walk away from.

“It was time for me (to live) my dream and my dream has always been to dedicate myself to help women.”

She’s helped nearly a thousand refugee women learn English, apply to school, gain employment, and most importantly: find somewhere they feel safe.

“Women coming from a different country (can be) afraid to speak up around a group of men,” she said.

It’s her work that led her to be recognized by the United Nations.

“I am, of course, very humbled,” she said. “This award represents all the amazing, resilient women from all over the world.”

On Oct. 1, in Geneva, Switzerland, Harnish will be among four other women in the entire world who will be honored for their work with refugees. Harnish will be the only one from the United States. Though she’s honored to receive the recognition, Harnish says the thing that brings her the most happiness can’t hang on the wall.

“When women tell me they can’t pay me, I tell them they are giving me something,” she said. “When they learn, when they become independent and self-reliant. Then they can pay it forward. This brings the most happiness in my life.”

Harnish says the nonprofit doesn’t take any money from the government. They completely rely on donations. They are in need of money, bus passes, clothing gift cards, or anything to help a woman start over. If you would like to help, go to Womenofworld.org.

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Utah Woman Receives Award From United Nations For Work With Refugee Women