Moki’s Hawaiian Grill offers a taste of Hawaiian and Pacific Islander food in Salt Lake City

Story and slideshow by GEORGE W. KOUNALIS

Moki’s Hawaiian Grill brings the food and atmosphere of Hawaii to Taylorsville, Utah, from the 808 to the 801. Located right next to an Indian market and a True Value hardware store, the restaurant’s bright yellow sign sticks out as one drives by on Redwood Road.

The atmosphere of the restaurant is laid back and family-oriented. Family is a cornerstone of many Pacific Islander cultures, and Moki’s is able to make many customers feel like they’re part of the family.

Bele Tukuafu, 19, has been working at Moki’s for six months.

“My uncle owns the restaurant,” she said. “My uncle’s sister started the restaurant in 2002, and he took it over.”

Tukuafu said the Moki’s in Utah is the first of two locations, with the second restaurant located in Mesa, Arizona.

“We try to make simple, good Hawaiian food,” she said.

The food is simple and basic, but explosive with flavor. It is a tour of the Hawaiian Islands and many other Pacific Islander cultures.

Each plate comes with a choice of meat; two mounds of white rice; a Hawaiian salad consisting of chicken, cabbage and rice noodles with a house dressing. The flavors of each respective item had a story.

Kristian Naone of Honolulu was at the restaurant with Ted Camper, a University of Utah student from Chicago. Growing up in Honolulu with Hawaiian cuisine, Naone had a lot to say about the food.

Naone ordered the chicken katsu plate. Katsu is very similar to the fried chicken many Chinese restaurants make prior to coating it with a sweet sauce.

“It’s a dish that one could eat a lot of without getting full too fast and is complemented by the macaroni salad that Moki’s makes,” he said.

“That’d be good on a sandwich, it’s real crispy,” Camper said about Naone’s order. Both diners offered the writer a piece of each respective dish.

Camper ordered the teriyaki beef. Moki’s dish is more authentic than anything one can get at Rumbi Island Grill, Naone said. The teriyaki beef at Moki’s is marinated prior to being cooked, unlike many other restaurants’ interpretation of teriyaki where a sauce is coated on the meat after cooking.

The marinade reminds one of Korean bulgogi, a dish that consists of thin sliced marinated beef that’s been grilled.

“Modern Hawaiian food is a culmination of multiple ethnic foods,” Naone said.

“It’s because of the sugar plantations back in the day,” he said. “There were a lot of different cultures from Asia that were living with each other, but had no way to communicate with each other, except using food.”

“Prior to colonization,” he added, “Hawaiian food was simple. Taro was the big starch for people. It was the potato for the islands.” Colonization had brought problems with it, such as the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy in 1893, but also created a fusion of food.

The Spam musubi is an example of this. The dish is comprised of a piece of cooked Spam covered in teriyaki sauce, put in rice that was pressed with a musubi press, then wrapped in seaweed.

“Spam is a big part of Hawaiian cuisine,” Naone said. World War II “created a lot of meat shortages on the islands, but Spam was abundant and easy to access and quickly became part of the cuisine.”

Lokomokos are also a popular Hawaiian dish, he said. “We call it surfer food because it’s simple to make, but hearty and gives you the energy to go out and surf all day.” Lokomokos consist of rice, brown gravy, hamburger patty and egg. The meal is served with a side of macaroni salad.

The theme of this fusion of cultures is very apparent with the kalua pork and kalbi ribs. Hawaii’s history can be told by its cuisine.

Naone said, “Kalua pork is made in a slow cooker. You put your pork and cabbage in and let it cook. The cabbage absorbs the juices and turns almost translucent, but is filled with the pork flavor.”

One bite into the kalua pork shows the flavor of the seasoning salt used. The pork has the consistency of almost melting in one’s mouth.

“The cabbage in this dish almost acts like noodles,” Naone said. While eating the pork, one has to mix it with the cabbage at the same time to make sure that all the juice is eaten.

The kalbi ribs are a dish very similar to Korean BBQ short ribs. “You have to make sure to eat all the meat around the bone,” Naone instructed. “Be sure to bite around the bone to get the sinew as well.”

The kalbi ribs at Moki’s explode with the flavor of the marinade and the cooking technique used. The smell of the marinade prior to taking a bite builds the flavor as one takes a bite of it. The flavor is a rich experience of sweet and smoke along with the fat melting in one’s mouth. It is similar to eating meat candy.

“There was a place across the street of my high school that offered comfy memories,” Naone said. “They’d serve kalua pork, rice, chicken katsu, all the comfort foods were there. This was the food we would have served in school as well. Katsu, rice, kalua pork. This is local food to me.” 

The Hawaiian salad offered a mix of sweet and salty flavors that pair well. The sweetness of the vinaigrette against the crunch and saltiness of the rice noodles offered an equilibrium that made the dish a good go-to in between the kalua pork and kalbi ribs.

The rice at Moki’s is served in two big mounds, topped with black sesame seeds, and can be mixed with the restaurant’s own rice sauce. The sauce offers a flavor similar to the Filipino condiment toyomansi, which is a mix of soy sauce with lime juice.

To finish the massive lunch, the two placed an order for malasadas, mango otai and a pineapple split.

The malasadas are very similar to a donut, but not as dense. “This is food you would get at a carnival,” Naone said. Malasadas are covered in semi-wet granulated sugar with a very crunchy outside, but a warm doughy inside.

Camper said, “The best part about the malasadas is they’re not as floury and you don’t have to drink a sip of something after every bite.”

Naone pointed out, “It’s very important that they use granulated sugar to coat the malasadas.” He also said that the way the granules stick to the outside surface of the malasada creates the texture necessary when one eats malasadas. “Usually when you order these back home, they give it to you in a brown paper bag and you just eat it straight out of the bag.”

For the pineapple split, a pineapple is cut in half and served with Dole Whip, whipped cream, and strawberries on top. The quality of Moki’s Dole Whip, a soft serve pineapple-flavored frozen dessert, is very similar to the Dole Whip served at Disneyland.

“When my family came to California for the first time, we went to Disneyland,” Naone said. “We saw the line for the Dole Whip and I was just thinking to myself that I can get this anytime I want at the Dole Plantation.”

The mango otai is one of Moki’s non-Hawaiian dishes that shows the Tongan roots of the Tukuafu family. Naone said, “Otai isn’t necessarily a Hawaiian drink, but it’s still present in Hawaii.” The otai consists of shredded mango, coconut cream, sugar and mango juice. Naone pointed out that the use of a boba tea straw is important for this drink because of the shredded mango.

Camper said, “There’s nothing like this in the Chicagoland area. Pacific Islander culture feels like it’s missing in Chicago.”

Salt Lake City’s Pacific Islander community is big. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, Utah is home to one out of every four Tongans who live in the United States.  

Moki’s also offers a Polynesian plate. “The plate has samples of Tongan, Fijian and Samoan food,” Tukuafu said. The restaurant’s mixing of Pacific Islander cuisine offers Utahns a unique chance to get an authentic taste of these cultures. “We just try to make it as close to home as we can,” she said.

Hawaii’s history is marked by colonialism, the sugar plantations and the impact of World War II. The islands’ story is not only told through what’s been recorded but also through its cuisine. The use of Spam, teriyaki and lokomokos tell Hawaii’s post-colonial history through food. Moki’s is a testament to that history by serving its cuisine.

[Editor’s Note: Salt Lake City’s growing demand for Hawaiian and Polynesian food was the subject of a recent New York Times article. Reporter Priya Krishna focused on one local chain, Mo’ Bettahs, owned by brothers Kalani and Kimo Mack.]

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Business group leads minority members of the Utah community

Slideshow and story by WOO SANG KIM

Salt Lake City Pacific Island Business Alliance (SLCPIBA) opens the door for minorities by giving people networking and mentorship chances.

Tracy Altman, manager of government programs at the University of Utah Health Plans, said the business alliance connect Pacific Islanders and the rest of minority members to this community. In short, SLCPIBA bridges communities in finance, business, retail, service, real estate, mortgage, nonprofits, government entities, healthcare, insurance and food service.

Altman also said training, learning, podcasting and profiting are the goals of this group. The members exchange employment chances, startup ideas and interviewing tricks with each other. Altman said mentoring happens too.

“Companies get together to help new organizations become popular and stronger and to access the mayor of Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County. They teach skills for small business owners and find jobs for refugee groups,” Altman said.

Pioneer Rugby 7s, a rugby tournament for men, women, and youths of all ages, was sponsored by this group to distribute 600-1,000 T-shirts. “It teaches people how to get along and work as a group. It also helps to build character and teach kids to learn how to follow through an example. It helps the underserved community,” Altman said.

The tournament also hosts an afterschool program. “Children with autism talks to us to play rugby. It’s a success story because we show them that the work can be done. We sponsor more opportunities than just handing out T-shirts,” Altman said.

The group typically meets from 8-9 a.m. on the first Thursday of each month at different locations. One meeting took place at Oish Barbershop at 4300 3500 South in West Valley City. “We plan the event, conduct the meetings and facilitate the business. It is a community locale where people come out to hang out. They have pool tables and a lounge. People go there and just relax,” Altman said.

Susie Feltch-Malohifo’ou, executive director of Pacific Island Knowledge 2 Action Resources (PIK2AR), and Agnes Lomu-Penitani, employer coordinator at the Refugee Services Office and secretary of PIK2AR, created this group in 2016. Lomu-Penitani said it serves to teach blue-and white-collar workers available resources and services of many departments.

Lomu-Penitani connects refugees to possible employers. “I focus specifically on employers willing to partner with us in helping refugees with transportation, culture and English.”

However, this friendship is not for everyone. “We look for something else. We look for employers who give up their time to contribute to the community and people. If not, the business alliance is not for you,” Lomu-Penitani said.

Altman said four types of membership exist: volunteer, emerging, enterprise, and enterprise plus. Emerging is $195, enterprise is $295 and enterprise plus is $495. There are about 30 members.

SLCPIBA is divided into groups. “African-American and Hispanic chambers are focused more on generating profits, but we are focused in education. We look to recruit those who want to give back to the community,” Lomu-Penitani said.

Puanani Mateaki, a substitute teacher at Granite School District and Salt Lake City School District, connects with those in her field. She said she plans to speak to a real estate broker because his team has an opening. She is interested in working in Park City markets, so her appointments are based in that area.

Mateaki also gained a lot through participating. “A conference channeled me to meet Mitt Romney and a wide variety of people. Real estate is all about contacts. Increasing the contact and networking has been a great help,” Mateaki said.

Other members gained, too. “I got connected to businesses through our department. I helped those in power to connect to refugees and to get refugees hired,” Lomu-Penitani said.

SLCPIBA even created an online shopping network. “We connected a woman who sells jewelry to online shopping center. She gathered a lot of customers,” Lomu-Penitani said.

The organization offers free training in many fields. “We offer free photos, business cards, and trainings that cost thousands of dollars. We also offer access to the city council and national entity representatives,” Altman said.

The group, however, is still setting up and has imperfections. “I think that the weakness is getting more memberships and not having an establishment of our own. The problem is all of us work. We have full-time jobs. It’s hard to juggle regular jobs and family lives continually so not having an office is negative. It is something we should work on. Signing up people to be a member is the most difficult part,” Lomu-Penitani said.

Feltch-Malohifo’ou tries to set up a system. “Susie sends out emails inquiring people to work for us. She makes sure that the organization is working by sending out surveys to make sure people get something out from us,” Altman said.

The members are fond of the organization. “This group is unique and positive. It doesn’t matter what else is going on. This is a way for people to get together, no pressure, in the business community. It’s really positive,” Altman said.

Mateaki commented, “I love it so far.”

A strong, interdependent atmosphere creates a synergy overall. “You come in, give hugs, different from handshakes. Culturally we hug or kiss on cheeks when we meet someone for the first time,” Lomu-Penitani said.

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Utah restaurants provide traditional Hawaiian food

Story and photos by SHAELYN BARBER

The traditional Hawaiian plate lunch is a rich fusion of foods from many countries. When Hawaii’s pineapple and sugarcane industry began people came from all over the world to work on the farms, and they brought a variety of cultural foods with them. When workers took their lunch break they shared their food with each other, and the Hawaiian plate was born.

Keni Aikau, the owner of The Hungry Hawaiian, and Masa Tukuafu, the owner of Moki’s Hawaiian Grill, are two men who brought this tradition to Utah with their restaurants.

The Hungry Hawaiian

 

The Hungry Hawaiian is a hidden gem. Tucked away in an unassuming strip mall at 1492 S. 800 West in Woods Cross, the tiny restaurant packs a punch with its full-flavored meat plate.

“For us, food is the other emotion, you know? You’ve got happy, sad, food,” Aikau says.
He was born in Hawaii and raised in Utah, and his childhood was filled with food.

“At a very young age we started learning and we just cooked. Everything we did was based around food,” Aikau says. He began learning at family luaus and celebrations. The young children in the family would carry out simple tasks, and as they got older they became more involved in the process of making food.

In 1978, Aikau’s father opened the original Hungry Hawaiian restaurant in Provo, Utah. It didn’t last long. Despite the popularity of the restaurant, it ran into financial difficulty and was forced to go out of business. He was never able to re-open his beloved restaurant.

But Aikau’s love for food led him to pursue a culinary education at Western Culinary Institute, now called Le Cordon Bleu, in Portland, Oregon. He brought his traditional food with him.

“You can’t tell me that Spam isn’t a meat!” Aikau exclaimed. Spam, though popular in Hawaiian cuisine, comes with a negative stigma on the mainland. His colleagues at Western Culinary Institute scoffed at the canned meat. That is, until Aikau gave his classmate a Spam and egg sandwich for breakfast. He ate the whole thing, and part of Aikau’s as well.

After his father’s death in 2010, Aikau returned to carry out his father’s dream himself. He modified his father’s original recipes and on June 23, 2017, the restaurant opened once again — this time in Woods Cross, north of Salt Lake City.

His goal was to keep the menu as simple as possible. Each plate comes with two scoops of white rice, a scoop of macaroni salad, and a choice of beef, chicken or pork.

“We just keep hearing how good it is from everyone around us,” Michelle Benedict says. She was drawn to the restaurant for the first time after hearing about the food from her neighbors.

“I just adore Hawaiian food,” Kristin Yee says with a laugh. “I know it’s rich so I have to be careful how much I come.” She has been a regular at the restaurant since its beginning. She was initially interested when she noticed Aikau’s children on the corner holding signs during the first week they were open.

Yee loves local food places but says, “It’s not just support, it’s really good. So, you’re getting the benefit too.”

Moki’s Hawaiian Grill

 

From the minute you step into Moki’s Hawaiian Grill, the warm smell of Hawaiian barbeque greets your nose. Mellow ukulele music hovers underneath the friendly chatter of customers, and the staff greet you with a smile from behind the counter.

“Food is what brings people together,” Masa Tukuafu says. He started Moki’s in 2002 and now owns two restaurants: one in Mesa, Arizona, and one located at 4836 S. Redwood Road in Taylorsville.

“In the beginning I just wanted to burn the place down,” Tukuafu says. “And, as time goes, you figure things out. So, you learn from your trials and you just keep going at it.”
Despite his trials, Tukuafu says the biggest benefit of owning Moki’s Hawaiian Grill is being able to provide for his children and his family.

“Being a first-generation here and struggling all the way through school and graduating from the University [of Utah], it was a challenge, and I didn’t want my kids to do that,” Tukuafu says.

Tukuafu is half Tongan and half Samoan. Traditional Polynesian food is costly to make, so he chose to run a Hawaiian restaurant instead. The ingredients for that cuisine are much easier and cheaper to find, and far more accessible than those required for Polynesian food.

“We wanted to provide something that was more for the majority instead of the minority,” Tukuafu says. He places an emphasis on health at his restaurant, altering traditional cooking methods to reduce fat and grease by using an open broiler for the restaurant’s meat.

“I heard about Moki’s because they’re one of the only places that sells musubi and I love musubi,” says customer Faitele Afamasaga. Spam musubi consists of a hunk of grilled spam and a block of rice wrapped in seaweed.

Afamasaga is a frequent visitor and usually comes for a cone of Moki’s ever-popular Dole whip ice cream.

“We like the cultural food from Hawai’i,” says Jennifer Selvidge, a first-time customer with her husband. She drives past Moki’s almost every day for work and wanted to try it.
“Everyone that’s had Moki’s or the style seemed to enjoy it and go back,” Selvidge says.

“Food is love” at the Pacific Seas Restaurant and Market in Salt Lake City

Story and photos by SHEHERAZADA HAMEED

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The entrance of the Pacific Seas Restaurant and Market, facing Redwood Road.

According to eua-island-tonga.com, living on the island of Tonga doesn’t mean all the food comes from the sea. The traditional cuisine of the beautiful tropical island consists of two main categories — “food from the sea” and “food from the land.”

The Pacific Seas Restaurant and Market makes it possible to experience Tongan flavors here in Utah. The restaurant is located at 1151 S Redwood Road in Glendale, a neighborhood not far from downtown Salt Lake City.

Family owned and operated for more than 28 years, the restaurant is a popular location for Tongans and other Polynesians to dine. The atmosphere is casual and friendly and pays a large tribute to Tongan athletes. Framed photos of football and rugby players line the walls of the dining room.

The aromas of cooking meat and chicken curry awaken a hunger in the shoppers who come to the market to purchase items such as canned coconut cream, long rice, mackerel fish and corned beef. People often complete their shopping and stay for a meal or a take out.

The kitchen and the counter are run by the family members and overseen by David Lavulo. He is recognizable from the framed newspaper articles that hang on the wall. In one of the articles, David and Leti Lavulo are pictured wearing Mormon missionary badges. In another picture, Lavulo is next to Kalani Sitake, the head coach of Brigham Young University’s football team.

Lavulo left Tonga in 1968 to study in Fiji. A year later he moved to the United States and settled in San Francisco, where he married his wife Leti Lavulo. After five years, they moved to Utah. He said they moved to Salt Lake City because they liked the slower paced lifestyle.

After working in construction and other jobs, he decided it was time to start his own business as a way to serve the local Pacific Islander community.

Lavulo said the restaurant serves almost the same food as in the American cuisine, especially the types of meats. Pork chops, sausage, lamb ribs, chicken curry, fried fish and raw fish are among the menu items. The one thing that distinguishes them is the use of different vegetables.

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Lavulo’s open kitchen at the restaurant.

The favorable climate, soil, rainfall and sunshine contributes to the growth of many fruits and vegetables, typical for the Pacific Islands, according to eua-island-tonga.com. 

Taro is a vegetable that grows under the ground. While it is growing, the leaves can be cut and used as greens. Lavulo said they are used instead of spinach.

Another typical root vegetable for the Pacific Islanders is the sweet potato, also called kumara. There are 77 different varieties. “I think you have seen some of those sweet potatoes … not the very soft ones, not the orange ones, but we have kind of white and almost green,” he said.

Another significant item on the menu is the green banana. “It is the remedy to the people in the Pacific that have diabetes,” he said.

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David Lavulo shows the green bananas out of his refrigerated walk-in storage.

The animal protein on the menu comes from the variety of fish, chicken, lamb, pork and beef. Although these are relatively lean options, Lavulo reduces calories by healthy cooking. He wraps meats in taro leaves, adds coconut milk and seasoning, then steams the dish. “It is really tasty,” he said.

The signature dish, which is Lavulo’s favorite, is the Rainbow Sushi. It is similar to the Japanese sushi and is prepared with tuna, mahi-mahi, snapper, mixed with coconut milk, tomatoes, onions and cucumber. “All the Polynesian likes to eat fish,” he said, smiling. He opened the walk-in refrigerator and showed boxes of fish from Taiwan.

Lavulo said they cook everything from scratch daily. He took a visitor on a tour of his kitchen. Everything from the ceiling to the floor is spotless. Containers are labeled and vegetables are fresh. He imports his produce (taro, green bananas and yams) from Costa Rica.

“The flavors of the yams from there are different,” he said. He buys his lamb from New Zealand. “We don’t eat the lamb over here, it is not tasty. We also import the taro leaves from Hawaii,” Lavulo added.

To the right of the open kitchen are chafing dishes with steaming side options of taro, yams, yuca and green bananas. The Pacific Seas Restaurant and Market kitchen staff are dedicated to serving fresh meals. The restaurant is open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., but at 5 p.m. they stop cooking. “We don’t want the leftovers,” Lavulo said.

Unique beverage options are available. Otai is a beverage made of mango, coconut and sugar; it is a traditional drink made fresh daily at the restaurant.

Lavulo recently visited Tonga and said he was amazed by how much the island has been developed since the last time he was there, 11 years ago. When he first left his homeland, there were still houses made of coconut fronds and today there are modern multistory buildings. ”The [Mormon] Temple was the most beautiful building,” he said.

While Lavulo shares his memories of his trip to Tonga, four family members cook and serve to customers who wait in line to purchase lunch.

On the north wall, there are frames of Tongan beauties and pageant queens. One of Lavulo’s five daughters, Anamarie Lavulo Havea, discussed the female beauty standards in Tonga. The heavier-set women are found to be beautiful. Thin women are considered unattractive. But, she said, when women move to the U.S. they consume a lot of junk food and become even heavier.

Tongan food, however, is particularly wholesome and healthy, because the main ingredients are fruit, vegetables and lean proteins.

Havea is the youngest of Lavulo’s five daughters. She is married and already has children of her own. She has worked in the family business since she was very young. She and her siblings ran the restaurant while their parents served an LDS mission in Papua New Guinea in 2014. Now Havea cooks. On a typical day, she said, 100 to 150 patrons dine at the restaurant. As many as 250 meals are served on a busy day.

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Anamarie Lavulo Havea and her nephews work behind the counter, while David Lavulo is overseeing the restaurant.

There is a large poster with an autograph from Will Tukuafu, a Tongan player, from Salt Lake City, who played for the Seattle Seahawks with number 46. His message is “To Pacific Seas, thank you for the great food and continued support for the community.”

Havea added, “This is that food, that you would find in the South Pacific and is what a lot of our NFL players eat.”

According to Susi Feltch-Malohifo’ou, the executive director of Pacific Islanders Knowledge 2 Action Resources (PIK2AR), food in the Pacific Island is related to family prestige and prosperity. She said, “People with more weight, and why we are overweight, signifies that your family has money to feed you. If you are thin that means your family is poor, and there is no food to feed you.”

The Pacific Seas Restaurant and Market is where Pacific Islanders meet for an authentically cooked food and mutual support. Customers seem to be regulars because they know each other and the Lavulo family. The sound from the football game on TV is mixed with lively conversations in the native language. The large pots of steaming taro leaves and cooking meat fill in the dining room with aromas.

For them, the peaceful islanders, Feltch-Malohifo’ou, said, “Food is love in the Pacific Islands culture, and it shows everything with food and service.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Women of the World: a safe haven for Salt Lake City’s refugee and immigrant women.

Story, photos and slideshow by DEVON ALEXANDER BROWN

Thanks to the steadily rising influx of technology companies, the Salt Lake City metropolitan area is becoming affectionately known as Silicon Slopes, a burgeoning parallel to California’s Silicon Valley.

But it wasn’t career advancement opportunities that brought Samira Harnish, a former semiconductor engineer for Micron Technology Inc., back to Utah. It was the chance to make a difference and fill a necessary void.

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Samira Harnish standing in her office at Women of the World, located at 3347 S. Main St.

Harnish immigrated to the United States from Baghdad, Iraq, in the late 1970s. She studied engineering at Utah State University, but frequently suffered discrimination due to her race and gender. She also endured depression because she felt isolated in her new community and found it difficult to express her feelings. The need for female advocacy and empowerment drove her to establish Women of the World, a nonprofit organization based in Salt Lake City, in 2010.

Harnish knew from an early age that she wanted to help others. As a result she’s amassed over two decades of volunteer experience and before founding Women of the World, she served as a medical interpreter for local organizations like Catholic Community Services, the International Rescue Committee, the Huntsman Cancer Institute and the Refugee and Immigrant Center – Asian Association of Utah.

But it wasn’t until her stint as an interpreter that she came to realize the true wants and desires of refugee and immigrant women.

“I actually listened to them to know what they want,” Harnish said. “They say, ‘I wish we had a woman that could hear us and guide us.’ When you are foreign in a country you don’t know anything. You need someone to guide you and to give you advice.”

And as she listened to the desires of refugee women from disparate cultural backgrounds, Harnish said they came to the same conclusion: they wanted a space of their own. Where they could freely share their concerns, interests and dreams without being overshadowed by the men in their lives.

Although Harnish stepped up to meet their needs, for a while she was alone in her efforts. For five years she operated without an office or case managers, simply visiting refugee homes, gathering contacts and securing much needed donations.

Salt Lake City is the nation’s second largest resettlement site for refugee women. It also has the largest proportion of single mothers and women-at-risk of any resettlement community. Four out of five refugees are women and many are survivors of teen marriage, domestic violence and rape. Once resettled they must juggle the effects of these traumas with unique economic and social challenges.

Yet, until Harnish founded Women of the World, there was no local organization dedicated to assisting such a notable demographic. And the women are grateful.

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Thank you letters displayed in the Women of the World office.

Apiel Kuot, a refugee from South Sudan, is one of these women. She said she was stressed and scared when arriving in Utah in the fall of 2016, but Women of the World helped her with winter clothing, a television and other essential household goods. She also learned to start thinking positively.

“I can’t count the things they’ve helped me with because there are so many things I have received from them,” Kuot said in a telephone interview. “And they give me encouragement which is much better than anything else someone can give.”

Now a year later, she is confident and self-reliant and is planning to earn a social work degree.

“There are some women who are at a camp that will soon be in this place, but they don’t know where to go with their issues,” Kuot said.  “I trust Samira and Women of the World and I will tell them because they (WoW) always give me positive things, not negative things.”

The Women of the World office, located at 3347 S. Main St., is considered a second home by women like Kuot. Women hailing from countries like Iraq, Nepal, Myanmar, Iran, Rwanda, Somalia and Uganda come there for help navigating community resources and often engage with one another over hot tea and desserts, sharpening their conversational English skills in a pressure-free setting. Most of the women learn of Women of the World through word of mouth.

“We love to warm everybody’s heart,” Harnish said, while preparing a cup of hibiscus tea. “I love the way everybody comes in here and feels comfortable. Some of them that wear hijab, they take it off because they know the windows are tinted and there are no men so they feel very secure.”

Women of the World seeks to empower women by promoting self-reliance through service, education and economic development programs. As a nonprofit, Women of the World operates without government funding, instead relying on charitable donations and an annual fundraiser held the day after International Women’s Day. Harnish says she prefers to operate without federal assistance because it allows her to tailor Women of the World’s services without worry of a pushed agenda.

“When the government gives you the money, they always tell you to go that way or this way, you know, their way,” Harnish said. “I’m here to listen to them (the women) and do whatever they ask.”

Harnish and the case managers she employs work to help women create resumes, tighten interviewing and job skills, plan for entrepreneurship and acquire mental health and legal assistance. More importantly, they help instill in participants a deeply rooted sense of self-confidence through their practical English program. Launched as a two-month pilot program for six women with no English skills, by its conclusion all six women were able to gain employment.

When discussing self-reliance, terms like education and employment tend to rank paramount. While earning potential is indubitably connected to the ability to provide for oneself and family, Women of the World knows it is only one aspect and it differs by individual.

McKenzie Cantlon, a case manager at Women of the World, worked with refugees in Buffalo, New York, and the United Kingdom before relocating to the Salt Lake Valley. She says the economic and social support refugees receive has been phenomenal in all areas, but she’s noticed a problematic pattern: proximity to services.

In Utah, voluntary agency affiliates like Catholic Community Services and the International Rescue Committee are based in Salt Lake City. That means refugees located farther north or south do not have the same access to essential resources. For this reason, Women of the World stresses self-reliance above all else.

“For some women self-reliance might be having the courage to leave the house and go grocery shopping or taking their children to the park,” Cantlon said in an email interview. “For other women this might mean going to school, getting a job and supporting their children without the help of others. Women of the World works to promote every kind of self-reliance.”

Courtney Bullard began working as a case manager for Women of the World in the summer of 2016. She lived in the Middle East for five years and attended graduate school in London. Bullard said she’s seen tremendous success from refugees working with Women of the World, but true economic independence isn’t always an option. Regardless, self-confidence is the first step to its path.

“There are a lot of barriers that refugees face upon coming to the USA because of how the resettlement process is set up,” Bullard said in an email interview. “We have women who might always rely on government assistance because of their various situations, however, when they advocate for themselves whether it might be asking for higher pay at work or looking the cashier at the grocery store in the eye at the store — I consider them on their way to self reliance.”

Regardless of definition self-reliance does not manifest overnight. Rather, it’s often an arduous journey that requires discipline and dedication. For Kaltum Mohamed, a Sudanese refugee, it’s taken four years to reach her dream of opening a restaurant.

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Kaltum Mohamed standing in front of her food truck “Mother of All.”

Mohamed was resettled in 2013 after years of moving between refugee camps. After receiving assistance from the IRC for 10 months, she met Samira Harnish. Through their shared Arabic language, they quickly formed a powerful friendship.

Harnish said Mohamed approached her early on with the desire to open a restaurant — refusing to allow any obstacles to deter her confidence. However, after attending a few practical English classes she stopped showing up.

“The last day she got really upset and said she just wants to find someone to give her a loan,” Harnish said. “I told her, ‘No one is going to give you a loan unless you finish that program. You go in there and finish.’”

So Mohamed persisted. She now operates Mother of All, a food truck that can be found at The Black Diamond Store and The Front Climbing Club in Salt Lake City.

“They (WoW) help me too much,” Mohamed said reflectively in her South Salt Lake apartment. “And I always tell everyone, don’t give up on the things you need. Continue doing it and face everything with confidence.”

To commemorate the successes of refugee women like Mohamed, Women of the World holds an awards banquet and social mixer at the end of every year. In addition to inspirational stories, small ethnic meals are brought and shared by members of the community and musical entertainment is provided.

This year’s event will be held Dec. 9, 2017, from 2-5 p.m. at the Salt Lake County South Building Atrium on 2100 S. State St. It is Women of the World’s 7th Annual Celebration for women who achieve their goals and is free and open to the public.

 

 

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Social media fundraising for refugees: A dream nightmare come true

Story and slideshow by JACE BARRACLOUGH

The creation of social media has connected people worldwide. For some, it’s a tool used to help refugees of war-torn countries. Through various organizations, a person can simply click a link that redirects them to a donation site where they can send money to provide relief to refugees struggling to survive financially, medically and educationally. But, knowing where the money is going is crucial.

Humanwire is a website geared toward assisting refugee families. It claims 100 percent of donations go to the cause. It was founded by Andrew Baron in Boulder, Colorado, in November 2015. It has marketed itself by encouraging its followers to share personal stories of their supported refugee families and donation campaigns via social media. Just like most businesses, Humanwire understands that word of mouth from those you trust bridges the gap between hesitation and execution when it comes to buying a product — or in this case, donating money.

“I was made aware of it because of another friend who posted about it on social media,” says Molly Jackson of Park City, Utah, in a phone interview. “When I saw her experience and how easy it was … [I said] I’m going to do that.”

Humanwire allows donors to choose a refugee family to support by way of social media-like profiles on its website. The amount that is donated, whether all at once or collectively, allows donors greater or lesser degrees of interaction with the family. Individuals providing smaller donations are awarded limited information about the family they have sponsored, whereas larger donations allow you to interact with them via live-stream on Skype.

Jackson says she hasn’t donated or posted about it for months. However, she receives email notifications that friends and strangers alike continue to donate to her chosen family as a result of her old social media posts. She’s received single donations to her Humanwire account totaling $1,000 to support her refugee family. Some are from people she doesn’t even know.

“It’s as easy as posting an Instagram post,” she says. “You just say, ‘Look at these people. They are in need. I’m the host. Here’s the link. Donate your money.’”

Trusting that their friends and loved ones are vetting the organization, it has left little thought for many to follow through with the research portion of the company before handing over their hard-earned dollars.

In the summer of 2017 it was claimed in a YouTube video, posted by Humanwire’s co-founder Andrew Baron, that the director of its “Tent to Home” program, Anna Segur, had stolen $10,000 via ATM withdrawals.

“The theft was followed by intense slander, criminal activity and harassment,” Baron says in the description portion of his video. “She caused many people to join her cause, misleading volunteers to believe that she owns and controls Tent to Home, and causing many of our staff members to quit out of pure fear for her slander.”

The other co-founder of Humanwire, Mona Ayoub, was living in Lebanon, taking care of the company’s donations, schools, students, teachers, employees, and registering refugees. In August 2017 after the funds stopped, Ayoub said via Facebook Messenger, she flew to the United States to get to the bottom of the issue. Unfortunately, she discovered Baron had mismanaged the funds and misrepresented the way they were being used. She said Baron claimed the money had gone toward operating costs even though Humanwire had promised all donated funds would go to the refugees.

In September 2017, Baron later admitted to the Denver Post to have taken as much as $80,000 over the last two years. However, after a police investigation, it was discovered that Baron had taken over $100,000 from Humanwire and was arrested on felony charges of charity fraud and theft.

Ayoub submitted her letter of resignation on November 1, 2017.

“Had I known the extent of mismanagement and misrepresentation prior to traveling to the United States, I would have resigned immediately,” Ayoub said.

Yet more problems have surfaced since the claims against Humanwire. The organization has started to lose its partnerships with other organizations dedicated to helping refugees.

“Standing With Alana” is a group whose mission is bringing awareness and aid to the Yezidi people from Syria who are facing a genocide at the hands of ISIS.

On October 8, 2017, Standing With Alana announced via Facebook, “Standing With Alana is no longer working through Humanwire due to financial problems within the organization. We are now communicating directly through Yezidi Emergency Support (YES).”

Yezidi Emergency Support team leader Anne Norona was one of Humanwire’s contacts overseas. As Baron tried to extinguish the flames of ridicule on Humanwire’s Facebook page, Norona added more fuel by expressing her frustrations in a reply to Baron’s YouTube video, which he later shared on Humanwire’s Faceboook page.

“I asked you in JUNE to send the money when I last went to Iraq,” she says. “There are FOUR Yezidi families you owe a LOT of money to.”

With allegations publicized, both internally and from its partners, it has left donors wondering what happened with the money intended to help their refugee families.

“I did photo shoots and donated all the money I made to them,” says Terra Cooper of Syracuse, Utah. “It was a sacrifice for my family since usually that’s how I pay for our Christmas.”

Through Humanwire, donors like Cooper have their own financial account to hold money for their refugee family. Whenever the family needs certain items they can use that money to purchase them on Humanwire’s site and have it delivered by local representatives. At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work?

“I’ve released money for surgeries and medical bills and they’ll send me a picture of them holding the check,” Cooper said in a phone interview. “They’ve been good at sending that kind of stuff.”

However, she says she’s noticed over the last few months things haven’t quite been the same. Cooper has had approximately $1,000 left of the $3,000 she raised in her family’s account, but she has been unable to use it.

“I’ve been trying to release that $1,000 for their rent for three or four months and it still hasn’t been released,” she says. “I have been emailing them and I haven’t heard back.”

Cooper even went as far as commenting on Humanwire’s Facebook page asking for answers, but says her post was deleted by the company. When trying to get in touch with her point of contact, she was made aware that person had left the organization.

“I’m sick about it,” she says. “I don’t care about me, though. That money was supposed to be rent money for my refugee family.”

Cooper’s love for her refugee family, with whom she has kept in contact, is what has fueled her to investigate the dealings of her funds. After all, at the end of the day it’s the refugees, not the donors, who suffer the biggest loss.

“The organization did do a lot of good in the beginning,” says Laurel Sandberg-Armstrong, a donor of Humanwire. “My guess is they expanded too fast and lost control,” She said in a phone interview.

The Federal Trade Commission encourages anyone who is thinking about donating to a charity to do research beforehand. Well-known organizations such as the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Rescue Committee (IRC) are generally good options for those wanting to donate.

Humanwire was contacted for comment. An employee replied via Facebook Messenger saying the accusations were misunderstood and they still encourage people to support their organization.

“Humanwire is awesome,” a representative from Humanwire said in a Facebook message. “Please give it a try and see for yourself.”

 

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Fresh starts and fiscal success: refugee businesses are booming in Salt Lake City

Story and graphics by DANNY O’MALLEY

Refugees are opening new businesses and bringing new solutions to Salt Lake City, thanks largely to the International Rescue Committee and other local organizations that coordinate resettlement.

“The refugee and immigrant community has a higher rate of entrepreneurship than natural-born citizens,” said Natalie El-Deiry, deputy director of development and strategic initiatives at the International Rescue Committee office in Salt Lake City.

 

Her eyes light up when talking about the growth she has seen. While no one may be able to quantify the exact figures, she estimates that dozens of businesses owned and operated by refugees have opened since 2012.  “They’re a thread that weaves through the community and brings us closer together,” she said.

Immigrant-owned businesses in Utah employed over 31,000 people in 2007, according to a report from the Partnership for a New American Economy. Another NAE report shows that refugees and immigrants brought an estimated $56.3 billion of spending power to the national economy in 2015. They paid $20.9 billion in taxes.

Such colossal numbers also serve as a bittersweet reminder of greater struggles.

 

The global number of forcibly displaced people is over 65 million, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency. Refugees comprise nearly one-third of that number. On average, Utah takes in around 1,200 refugees per year through the two primary resettlement organizations: the International Rescue Committee and Catholic Community Services.

Aden Batar, director of immigration and refugee resettlement at Catholic Community Services, reports that the final fiscal quarter of 2017 brought less than half of the people expected.

“We take a capacity survey every year, and report that we can handle a certain number of cases. We only got 20 [assigned] for September. It’s normally more than 50,” he said. Utah is unlikely to receive any more refugees in 2017, although the groups within the state could help resettle many dozens more. The current administration is apathetic, the New York Times reported, to fixing the global humanitarian crisis through open doors. That story pointed out that the economic contributions of refugees were apparently censored by White House officials. The released document excluded anything but the cost burden presented by initial resettlement and government assistance. The White House is ignoring billions of dollars of income tax, discretionary spending and wages paid to employees by refugee business owners.

Fewer refugees means that fewer opportunities for integration of new ideas — not to mention potential jobs and workers — will arrive in the near future.

Batar said that about 85 percent of the refugees CCS works with are self-sufficient within six months, and generally start contributing to the local economy immediately. A report from the National Bureau of Economic Research estimates that refugees have higher employment rates than native-born citizens once they have lived in the U.S. for several years.

But as much as refugees want to work, they must be welcomed into a community to do so.

Batar, a Somalian refugee himself, is unwavering about this global plight of humanity. “It is the hardest thing a human being can ever do,” he said, referring to the journeys undertaken by refugees. “When you don’t have a choice, it doesn’t matter where you’re going, as long as it’s a peaceful place,” he said, his voice firm and insistent.

“Someone may come with a myth in their mind of the United States providing everything,” he said, so instilling new concepts like paying bills and making rent on time can take some adjustment. Programs such as those offered by the International Rescue Committee, Catholic Community Services and their partners are crucial for stability, smooth transitions and the livelihood of the community overall. Thanks to local initiatives, volunteer outreach and business incubators, refugees can start to lay a foundation for future success.

The Spice Kitchen Incubator has provided a hands-on educational workspace since 2012 to launch food service businesses. Refugees and underprivileged people prepare and profit from their native cuisines in a new place. With over 30 businesses introduced to the greater Salt Lake City region, including a baker’s dozen just since 2016, the results are unmistakably successful.

Ze Min Xiao, director of the Office of New Americans in Salt Lake County, has hope that the successes outweigh the challenges for the refugee population and the groups serving them. “Utah is doing relatively well compared to other parts of the country when it comes to refugee integration, but the situation always has room for improvement,” she said in a phone interview. “We’ve recognized the need to ensure groundwork is laid down early for long-term opportunities,” including mentoring and business resources for immigrant and refugee entrepreneurs.

“Government agencies can’t do everything,” she said. “My office right now is just me and a temp. But we are convening outside stakeholders and bringing a vision together.” Those outside stakeholders include businesses employing or founded by many of the refugees in Salt Lake City. The chance to work with new arrivals every year demands big-picture thinking, as evidenced by the New Americans Task Force Welcoming Plan.

The community has a lot to give to refugees. But refugees have even more to give back, whether it’s tax dollars or cultural diversity. They just need a safe place like Salt Lake City to start.