Skip to main content

Sugar House Journal

‘WoW’ an appropriate acronym 
for Women of the World 
annual fashion show

Mar 29, 2019 10h14 ● By Jennifer J Johnson

Millie Rivera is the daughter of a Panamanian mother and a Lebanese father. Representing Lebanon fashion at the event, she said, “The amazing, humble and friendly people of Salt Lake City” make her feel like she “is at home.” (Jennifer J. Johnson/City Journals)

By Jennifer J. Johnson | [email protected]

On March 6, guests driving to the ninth annual Women of the World fashion show were treated to a stunning rainbow sky.

It was foreshadowing for the spectacularly colorful night ahead where more than 250 attendees packed a reception room at Salt Lake City’s The Falls Event Center at Trolley Square. 

Guests and donors learned about cultures around the world and enjoyed culture-specific fashions and foods. They were invited to open their pocketbooks, their hearts and their camera lenses to contribute to the evening and to the future. And, perhaps most important, they had the unique opportunity to learn perspective from 23 women, two women emcees, a woman keynote speaker, and the woman organization founder about how to help change the world.

A key word there is “help” and that is essential to the mission of the Women of the World organization, whose nonprofit mission is to support the Salt lake area’s women refugees by giving them education and necessary tools to forge the lives they desire. 

Replenishing hope, fortifying determination

“The fashion show is an expression – it expresses the culture, the art, the way for women to get together,” explained Samira Harnish, the founder and CEO of the Women of the World organization, which has received global recognition for its programs to help refugee women become self-reliant. “Working with different women results in a bond, a friendship, a relationship that lasts a lifetime.”

Women of the World (WoW) recognizes that refugees to this country have “lost everything, except their hope and determination,” she added. WoW seeks to replenish the hope and fortify determination by providing skills and tools necessary for self-reliance. WoW’s unique three-pronged strategy to help refugee women includes customized service to tend to unique issues in healthcare, housing, etc., community building and economic empowerment.

Harnish herself understands the difficulties of being a refugee. According to KSL, Harnish left her native Iraq and came to Utah in 1979, where she received an education and went on to have a successful career in engineering.

Proceeds from ticket sales will help fund WoW programs for refugee women. The evening also raised money with a unique auction mechanism, where the audience was given bidding paddles, like those at Christie’s auction house, then told to either flash their paddles or yell out donations to sponsor specific tools for refugee women.

Donors were asked to contribute at least $200 to provide “legal advice for a day;” $100 to cover the cost of a business license for an entrepreneurially spirited refugee; $40 to fund a college application, and other specific requests for needy recipients.

Women of the World declined to indicate how much money was raised by the event. However, the most recent annual report indicates the organization gains approximately $50,000 from fundraising events such as the fashion show.

“Refuge? [It] means safety,” asserted keynote speaker for the event, Erika George. “My invitation is for fearless friendship, and that we stand as one.”

George, a professor with the S.J. Quinney School of Law at the University of Utah, articulated WoW’s contribution as “education, inclusion, mentoring.”

Talking the talk and then walking the walk – that night and every day

In many ways, the runway walk of 23 women, representing countries around the world, who were there to be mentored, actually ended up mentoring the audience in inclusion.

Representing her native Ethiopia, Jojo Beyene indicated she will change the world by returning to her home country and starting a boarding school for “street kids.”

Desange Kuenihira from the Congo wants to also return to her home, seeking to economically empower villagers so they do not need to resort to marrying off young children for family survival.

A young woman from North Sudan, Noon Taha, indicated that she is interested in studying medicine so that others are well cared for. The goal is to heal her loss of her own mother, due to inadequate medical care. Taha is set to attend Westminster College this fall and then hopes to go on to medical school to study oncology.

Runway of dreams

Rashmi Raut from India wants to forge a career in either automotive or aerospace industries.

Her country cousin, Priyanka Singh, wants to become an entrepreneur “and employ thousands.”

Other dreams seem informed by the refugees’ stay in the United States.

Amara Munir from Pakistan who modeled the “shalwar kameez” traditional attire for Pakistani women, wants to be more “modern, educated and professional,” and Nour Bilal from Syria is interested in trying out for the police academy.

A model only going by her first name, Faranak, surprised the audience by indicating that Salt Lake City’s weather is similar to that of her native Iran.

Beyond the runway to a more important platform

While incredibly beautiful, the young women, with just a few exceptions, were reluctant to linger on
the runway, and perhaps more interested in their platforms to change the world than be praised for their beauty. Watching the show is a case of wanting more – wanting to see the beautiful clothes up close and wanting to able to learn more about hope and determination from these women.

This is all part of the program design of WoW founder Harnish. “Network with the models,” she told the crowd. “Help them become more self-reliant.”

Ridwan Ali, who modeled a cultural wedding dress from her native Somalia, had an incredibly powerful goal, one which all can emulate: “I can change the world, one positive word at a time.”

And a final thought, offered by a woman dressed as a living goddess worshipped by Hindus and Buddhists, with a single-word name, Anju, from Nepal: “I can change the world by loving its differences.”

Individuals wanting to donate or volunteer for Women of the World or direct refugee women to such can contact Samira Harnish at (801) 953-0008 or access the “Get Involved” section of the nonprofit’s website via