Samira Harnish left Iraq in 1979 amidst turmoil and tension in the Middle East. As a bride in an arranged marriage, she struggled to learn English, to overcome ethnic stereotypes and eventually to thrive in a profession dominated by men. After overcoming significant adversity, Harnish went on to found Women of the World, a foundation that focuses on empowering women to achieve their dreams.
“When I came to Utah five years ago, I saw Iraqi women coming to Utah as refugees,” Harnish said in an email. “I knew I had to do more for them since I knew the language and culture they were coming from.”
Not only does Harnish’s foundation help turn refugees from countries such as Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan, Jordan and Lebanon into active citizens, but it has also inspired the theme for this year’s annual Hunger Banquet: “Heal the half, unite the whole.”
“Women represent the heart and soul of the family,” Harnish said. “Without a strong, capable woman in the house, a family will falter.”
This year’s Hunger Banquet will take place on Saturday, March 16, in the Wilkinson Student Center ballroom at 6 p.m. The event will highlight the importance of empowering women and feature Harnish as the keynote speaker.
Students planning the banquet asked Harnish to speak after Chloe Litchfield, a junior studying sociology and French from Jupiter, Fla., became involved with Women of the World last semester. Litchfield said she was impressed by the things Harnish and the Women of the World foundation were doing for female refugees in Salt Lake City.
“The theme ‘heal the half, unite the whole’ is based on the assumption that the problems that women face in the world are pertinent to all of us,” Litchfield said. “If we empower women, we empower communities, we empower nations, we empower the whole world.”
Scott Braithwaite, a sophomore studying history education from Layton, got involved with the Hunger Banquet after becoming a member of Students for International Development during his freshman year. Braithwaite is the current president of Students for International Development, which plans the hunger banquet every year.
“There are tons of different issues and tons of different things that need to be addressed, so every year we try to pick a different thing that highlights one of those issues,” Braithwaite said. “This year the theme ‘heal the half, unite the whole’ is representative of half of the world being women and the idea that if you can find a solution to help women in poverty they can raise up the future generations. They will be able to take their families out of poverty, move them forward and unite the whole.”
Students attending the banquet will be randomly assigned to different classes once they arrive. About 70 percent will be assigned to the lowest class, who will eat from a communal bowl of rice and beans. Those in middle class will eat a simple meal of hot dogs and chips, while the small number assigned to the highest class will have a full meal served by waiters.
“It is supposed to represent the disparity of wealth that happens around the world,” Braithwaite said.
BYU dining services donates the food for the event, so all proceeds from the event will go directly toward a cause. That cause will be chosen by those who attend the banquet.
“Groups will submit their application saying this is what we do, this is our mission and this is what we need from you guys,” Braithwaite said. “We review them and pick what we think are the three most worthy causes, and then the audience will be able to vote on those who will receive the funding in the end.”
Students who wish to attend the event can purchase tickets in advance for $8 at the WSC information desk, or for $10 at the door.