To 31-year-old Sahar Fathi, 24 hours in a day seems to be too short. Fathi’s day begins at five o’clock in the morning when she goes to the gym before going to her full-time job as a policy, strategy, and programs lead analyst for the Seattle Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs. Her work begins around 8:30 a.m. when she maps out the day before heading to meetings and drafting policies.
But her work does not end there. As a professor at Seattle University, Fathi teaches a community service leadership course on Wednesday evenings. She is also planning a wedding with her fiancé.
Fathi’s busy schedule is nothing new to her. In 2008, she graduated from the University of Washington, concurrently earning a master’s degree in international studies and J.D. law degree.
That same year she also co-founded the Middle Eastern Legal Association of Washington, a non-profit legal organization that seeks to provide a legal voice for the Middle Eastern community in Washington. Three years later, she launched the first Middle Eastern Legal Clinic in the country. Fathi also has worked with Councilmember Mike O’Brien as a legislative aide in 2010.
Mary A. Hotchkiss, Senior Associate Dean for Students at the UW School of Law, said she worked closely with Fathi when she was a student. Hotchkiss said Fathi was energetic, ambitious and passionate about whatever was on her mind at that moment. She also said Fathi was always trying to find ways to make something better for the community.
“The UW Law school mission is to educate leaders for the global common good, and I can’t think of anybody better than Sahar,” said Hotchkiss. “Having met her, is she a leader for the global common good? I think so.”
When Fathi was 25 years old, she worked at the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, tackling subjects such as the use of rape as a weapon of genocide.
“I dreamed about being a lawyer for an international court, and that is what I studied for and what I did,” said Fathi. “That was all I wanted since I was 8 years old.”
During that time, Fathi visited Kigali, Rwanda, where she saw kids who were orphaned as a result of genocide. They were living in the same house where their parents had been killed. Fathi said she wanted to know who made the decision to house those children so close to the place where their parents were murdered.
“If you created a system in which they [children of genocide] could be included, we could have a much better situation than having a kid wake up every morning and say ‘right there is where mom died’ and then go back to sleep,” said Fathi. “That is not going to fix anything. It is probably going to make them feel like that is their identity.”
This experience continues to play a part in Fathi’s role at the Seattle Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs.
“Talking to the refugees as part of our Refugee Women’s Institute is work,” said Fathi. “Making sure that they know where they need to be, and that we support them in a way that helps them be equal to everybody else.”
Fathi said it is important to make sure the refugees have childcare and a trusted interpreter in their community. The Office also needs to make sure the refugees know how to use the public transit system.
“We had a refugee who didn’t know how to use a bus pass, they didn’t know you need to tap it, they just hold it,” said Fathi. “It challenges your very concept of how you exist. You are consistently trying to think through somebody else’s lens.”
Fathi’s career has given her a lot to share. She spoke at the UW on Jan. 21, 2015, as one of the speakers of the Leadership Firesides series sponsored by the Husky Leadership Initiative and Starbucks.
Malika Garoui, a senior who studies mathematics at the UW, said what she learned from Sahar is the mindset that things will all come together and not to be afraid to take risks and try new things.
“What I really took away was keep moving in a direction–you don’t necessarily have to have a straight path,” said Garoui. “Just being open to opportunities and taking advantage of things that come to your way, and also applying to things that you may not be qualified for.”
Hotchkiss said she wants students who participated the event to be inspired by Fathi and to follow their own passions.
“You don’t have to be a president in the United States to make a difference,” said Cameron Cumberland, a junior who studies International Studies at the UW. “You can just make a difference down your street, in the neighborhood association, or in the city of Seattle.”
“If you have something you feel strongly about, and you actually commit to that idea, you can make a difference.” Hotchkiss concluded. “I am very grateful for students like Sahar who have followed their passion and still take times to mentor current students.”
This article was written by Katy Wong, UW Journalism major and Law, Societies & Justice minor.