Our global sisterhood can be seen as connected stars that shine “even in the darkest of places,” shedding light of comfort and hope and love. I have recently seen this beautiful connection of women who live in Utah, some who have been here for generations, and others who have come here from countries far away.
Imagine being a teenage girl whose parents send her out of the country and away from her family to give her a future of safety and happiness. Sweeta Hashemi left Afghanistan and her family. She was all alone. She only spoke Farsi. She first went to Europe and eventually made it to Utah, facing and overcoming her trials through exemplary courage and determination.
Here in Utah, Sweeta has become a friend and mentor to many refugees from Afghanistan and other Middle Eastern countries. Because she has an excellent command of the English language, Sweeta has helped many families find housing and social services. She interprets for the new refugees and connects them to people who want to help.
I met Sweeta almost two years ago when Big Ocean Women was notified that a few families from Afghanistan had just come to Utah and needed almost everything to set up their homes. Our call for donations resulted in cars full of bedding, pots and pans, dishes, cleaning supplies, and even furniture. We went first to Sweeta’s home because she would be our interpreter and lead us to the new refugee family’s home. Sweeta introduced us to the mother and two children of the Mahmsoria family. The father had left to take the third child to the doctor. I remember Sweeta being friendly and sweet, but also very efficient. She directed us to bring all the donations into this home, and then she left because she had something else she needed to do.
From that day, Big Ocean Women members have continued their friendship with the Mahmsorias. And in a separate article, you will read about how Shukria Mahmsoria has been helping Big Ocean Women.
Sweeta told me about another woman from Afghanistan whose name is Fareda. Fareda is raising her four children by herself in Utah because her husband had a mental breakdown and is in a mental institution in New York. Sweeta helped Fareda get an apartment and housing assistance.
I learned that Sweeta was expecting a baby boy and Shukra Mahmsoria was expecting a baby girl. I thought it might be fun for Big Ocean Women to have a baby shower for these two women and mentioned this idea to our Riverton Cottage leader, Diane Fisher. I called Sweeta to tell her about the shower and also tell her that Diane would be calling her to set up the baby shower. I learned that Sweeta had been very ill during the entire pregnancy and that just the night before she had been to the Emergency Room because she was in so much pain. She said, “I thought it was my last night to live.” Sweeta is so sick that the smell of food makes her vomit. It is Fareda who is making food each day and bringing it to Sweeta and her family. Sweeta told me how her husband was going to school and only working part time. They are struggling financially. I realized that the baby shower should be for Sweeta and that Big Ocean Women could help their family in a meaningful way. Diane is connecting the women in her cottage and neighborhood to Sweeta and her family.
A few days after I spoke to Sweeta, I received a call from her. A refugee from Iran was at her home. She had been beaten and kicked out of her apartment by her young adult children. Sweeta was so sick that she couldn’t do much to help her and wondered if I could help. Not knowing much about the system, I called Holly Sweeten who is also on the Big Ocean Women board. She just happened to know Carol Hollowell, the founder of an organization called Switchpoint Community Resource Centers. The centers provide shelter for the homeless and help them become self-reliant. Miraculously, the Iranian woman was able to get into the new Switchpoint shelter in north Salt Lake City
The shelter provided clothing for the woman, but it didn’t fit. I was able to drive the woman to her apartment to get her clothes and her medications and then get her back to the shelter. While at the woman’s home, I was able to speak to her daughter.
This young woman opened up to me about the trauma she had experienced in her life. When I looked her in the eyes and told her that she had a future to look forward to, she began to cry. She told me that in four days it was her birthday and that she would be 21.
Our Provo Student Cottage was going to have a cottage meeting the next night. I told Samantha Clinger, the cottage president, about this young woman. Samantha got the members to bring birthday gifts to the meeting. During the meeting they tied a quilt to give to this young woman and made cards for her. I had the privilege of placing in front of this young woman’s door a large box filled with the quilt, several gifts, and many cards.
I love realizing how this connection of women in Utah is a microcosm of the network of Big Ocean Women who live throughout the world. Even though we live across the world from each other, we love each other and care deeply about each other. We strive to help each other shine in our own way and in our own location. Our natural sisterhood connects us. We work together to lift and strengthen each other and those within our sphere of influence. As stated in our website, this network allows us to “shine our light in a more powerful and focused way. The world has need of our light, and as women, we are especially set apart to gather and work harmoniously together in ways that will bring about much goodness and light. We can illuminate a better path for the rising generation.”