Refugee fashion show, auction inspires hundreds of donations to Utah refugee effort


The Salt Lake City-based nonprofit, Women of the World, held their 13th refugee fashion show on March 9th.

Models representing 20 different nations and cultures wore traditional clothing from their home countries. Many of the models are refugees themselves and others are their mentors.

The event was sold out, with 500 people filling the event center. However, the event has not always drawn such large crowds. Organizers said the first refugee fashion show was held in 2010 with a crowd of under 50 people, most of them family members.

The founder of the organization, Samira Harnish, moved to the U.S. from Iraq in the 1970s to study engineering. When she arrived, she said she struggled to connect with a community that often misjudged her to be Iranian during a time when Iran and the U.S. had high tensions between them.

Harnish said she founded the organization to help people find the community she didn’t have.

“I thought, well one day, when I am done with my study and work, I really like to have women coming from a different country to stand up with them, to help them, to guide them, to show them the resources that they need,” Harnish said.

Event emcee Norah Abu-Dan said her family also needed a community upon arriving from Palestine.

“The biggest thing that supports men and women is having a sense of community, having a sense of someone you can go to for those questions,” she said.

Thirteen years later, female refugees in Salt Lake City now have access to resources and mentoring through the nonprofit. Some of these resources include English lessons, citizenship preparation and mentoring.

Many of these efforts are funded through donations. This event included a live auction where tens of thousands of dollars were donated to the organization.

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