Heshima Kenya

Heshima Kenya is a 501(c)(3) US nonprofit and registered Kenyan charity based in Nairobi, Kenya. Heshima is the Swahili word for "respect" and we specialize in identifying and protecting separated and orphaned refugee children and youth living in Nairobi. Our innovative shelter, education and community outreach services enable and empower unaccompanied refugee children, especially adolescent girls, to live healthy lives.
Jul 7, 2010

Finding Solace

This month we have housed 37 residents in our safe house, including 23 young women and 14 children. We still need your support to keep providing a secure and peaceful place for our young women and their children. Two months ago, we reached our capacity and now there is a waiting list.

A recent arrival is Faith, who is 17 years old and lost her parents during the war in Sudan, when she was young. For several years, she bounced around to different protection units in the refugee camps. In the last year, when Faith received continuous threats of forced marriage from men in the camps, she decided to sell all of her belongings and came to Nairobi. Faith was supported by Heshima Kenya after living with a Sudanese-Rwandese family for couple months. Now that she has a safe and stable place to live she is actively engaging in our other education and case management programs.

For these young women, our safe house is a peaceful and safe space where they can dream and rebuild their lives. By donating to the Safe House Project, you are not just providing for their basic needs - shelter and food; you are giving them the security that has been taken away from them.

Thank you for your continued support!

Apr 21, 2010

The Power of Resilience

Girls' writing articles for their newsletter

The Girl’s Empowerment Project tells a diverse story of poverty, war, hope and peace. These girls and young women make their way into the classroom with incredible courage. Returning to school at 16 or 19 years old, many for the first time, without their families to motivate them while also carrying the exceedingly heavy burden of trauma, insecurity, statelessness, and fear, is extremely challenging. Coupled with this, many were sexually assaulted and are new mothers.

Many participants struggle with a myriad of hardships and learning challenges. Some girls were pulled out of primary school because of war, poverty, or gender discrimination; others never attended school. With such a gap in their education, these girls battle with their confidence and motivation on a daily basis. Some live with host families that don’t value education for girls and women; others have peers in the community who relay that if they commit to their education in Nairobi, they will stay refugees forever.

After a day, some weeks, or months at Heshima, most of these girls recognize their new community as the most stable and supportive influence in their lives. What makes our Girl’s Empowerment Project especially unique is that its’ designed to identify and respond to these challenges with sensitivity, flexibility, and understanding – core requirements for empowerment.

Zahra, a GEP participant and 17 year old refugee from Somalia said, “Life in Somalia was so hard for a girl because of education. They believed that you get married and have husbands, you don’t go to school. I believe I am a leader because I don’t have to be old to have my voice heard. It all depends on how much I believe and use my brain.”

Much of Heshima Kenya’s success and progress is due to the intensive and specialized support we provide to every girl we assist. Our progress throughout 2009 points to the 105 refugee children and young women supported in our programs: 11 had infants that accompanied them on their journey to Kenya; 9 were enrolled in formal schools; 8 were united with their families outside Kenya; 5 gave birth to healthy babies; and 18 enrolled in our vocational program.

During this past quarter, 10 girls, 1 teacher and the Girl’s Empowerment Project Youth Coordinator voluntarily underwent HIV testing. The process encouraged other participants to be tested and be informed of their status, and in response to this interest, another testing session will be planned in the near future. To build their critical thinking skills, girls also continued to develop their newsletter, Midnimo (Somali for unity). With the support of a newspaper journalist invited to speak to the girls about reporting skills, participants wrote articles about maternal health and how it has impacted their communities. They are currently preparing articles about w omens' leadership for the next edition and will be interviewing leaders within their communities. As a needed break during the week, participants are also playing football and volleyball in a nearby arboretum every Wednesday morning. To test their skills, they played a volleyball match against women of the University of Nairobi’s volleyball team. Participants also had an outing at the Kenyan National Museum.

We also recently launched the Maisha Collective as the final transitional component of the Girl’s Empowerment Project. The Collective will act as an economic springboard for graduates of our tailoring program where they will form a business collective to produce and sell a collection of tie and dye scarves. Participants will apply for positions and be accepted into the Collective by a committee of ‘employees’ and a project leader; they will learn to save their earnings and grow their skills as they transition into self-sufficiency. All profits are returned as wages to empower their success. Visit heshimakenya.org in early summer to learn how to support the project.

Join Heshima Kenya on facebook and twitter and learn about our daily activities and success! Thank you so much for your incredible support and we look forward to sharing more experiences with you.

Nov 13, 2009

A Volunteer's Perspective..

As we continue to build our Girl's Empowerment Project, we like share our impact through the eyes of our volunteers. Joe Steele has been passionately working with Heshima Kenya for the past four months:

I had been in Nairobi for 85 minutes when Amina laid the groundwork for what has been a humbling, inspiring lesson in strength and perseverance. I’m a NYC public school teacher come international non-profit volunteer searching for an understanding of the issues facing our world. I found it in Amina, an Ethiopian refugee, who participates in Heshima Kenya's Girl's Empowerment Project.

Amina's story and struggle—flight, abandonment, exploitation, violence—is one that the HK staff have taken on with incredible passion. At HK, a safe house provides the security, structure and consistency that allows each girl to focus on their future, an education program that gives them the tools to define and defend their rights and pursuits and a tailoring and dying course that harnesses the unquestionable skill, drive and dedication that each girl possesses.

But Amina is relentlessly hard on herself for her past and present struggles. She carries the burden of those experiences and the responsibilities of raising two young children in every classroom lesson, every trip to the UNHCR and each beautiful scarf she labors to create. I began to understand in my first few hours here in Kenya the entrenching psychological effects that an unequal and indifferent social system creates—crying, stupid, useless—but also witnessed firsthand efforts to heal those wounds. Each day Amina and the other girls are given the tools they need to control their futures, even if they can’t control their pasts. Each day they help a group of our society’s most vulnerable girls wake up in a safe place, learn skills that demand both respect and recognition and show them that their dreams have value.

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