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Sama Alkilani needed a push.
"Growing up, I was identified as a smart kid," Alkilani, 23, said Saturday, at a celebration for Women of the World, a Utah volunteer organization that helps refugee and immigrant women achieve self-reliance.
Finding motivation was harder for Alkilani, who was born in Iraq, grew up in Jordan, and came to Utah with her family in 2007.
Through Women of the World, Alkilani met other refugees like herself. One of them, she said, "worked three times as hard as I did. … I decided I owed it to myself and my family to do my best."
That push will pay off in May, when Alkilani is set to graduate from the University of Utah with a bachelor's degree in material science and engineering.
Alkilani was one of 11 women honored at Saturday's event at the Salt Lake County Government building in Salt Lake City. According to Samira Harnish, the group's founder, honoring these women also serves as motivation for those still working toward their goals to learn English, further their education and find meaningful, well-paying jobs.
Some of the women honored Saturday told stories of how the group has helped make Utah their new home.
For Syntishe Ngaba, 22 and a native of the Central African Republic, the group has been a lifeline.
Women of the World helped Ngaba learn English so she could graduate from high school and prepare for college. They help her figure out her bills. They took her mother to the hospital. They helped arrange it so she could earn money caring for her 80-year-old grandmother and they helped that grandmother get her U.S. citizenship.
"I don't call 9-1-1, I call Women of the World," Ngaba said with a laugh.
For Diane Tougma, a refugee from Burkina Faso who came to Utah in 2012, the group made her feel she wasn't alone.
"I'm fighting for something," Tougma said. "I'm not the only one who has struggled."
Harnish, a civil engineer who came to the United States from Iraq as a student in 1979, said she was inspired to start Women of the World when she was a volunteer for other refugee-aid organizations.
"I heard women say, 'We wish we had women who understood us,'" Harnish said.
As this year's presidential election played out, with President-elect Donald Trump riling up anti-immigrant sentiments, Harnish said the refugees she works with grew fearful.
"They asked me, 'Oh, what are we going to do? Are they going to kick us out?'" Harnish said. "Muslim women said, 'Do I take off my scarf from now on?'" She heard from a Syrian woman who said that someone pulled at her daughter's hijab at school, and cited Trump's victory.
Harnish said she offered those women her group's support. "We told them, 'We're all in the same boat.' We don't want it to be happening to our country as Americans," she said. "We don't want it to be going backward."
Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski, who delivered the keynote address at Saturday's event, echoed that support.
"Our city is an example to others because we support the many diverse cultures, traditions, languages, beliefs and cuisines of our newest residents," Biskupski said. "We know refugees and immigrants add strength to our community, and it is our responsibility to carry on our proud tradition of being a welcoming city."
Citing Trump's "highly charged and often hateful language" during the campaign, Biskupski reiterated "my commitment to stand against all forms of oppression, and support all who live, work or visit Salt Lake City, is stronger than ever."