A lot has been going on with our Girl's Empowerment Project – it has been growing in strength with 45 girls and young women being empowered to further their education and become leaders. Just this last month, students participated in Life Skills training on HIV/AIDS Stigma and Discrimination. A visiting HIV/AIDS Officer from the organization, GIZ, led the class with background information about HIV/AIDS figures and statistics, the impact of the disease, HIV prevention, stigma and discrimination.
This topic really captured the girls and women’s imagination and they brainstormed questions to ask the visiting program officer and spoke from their own knowledge and experience of HIV and AIDS. The girls and women were so captivated by the discussion and the issue that they did not take a break from the class but kept learning and discussing from morning until lunch time.
‘I was so happy to see the students so active and asking questions and answering, unlike previous classes they would shy away from certain areas,’ says Fatuma Abdullahi, the Girls’ Empowerment Project Youth Coordinator, ‘even the non-Kiswahili and English were never left out. It was one of a kind training where the participation was very high.’
The success of the Girl’s Empowerment Project is grounded in four transitional components that address the various learning, social, economic, and emotional challenges experienced by unaccompanied refugee girls and young women. It fosters confidence and builds their capacity to respond to their experiences and begin healing, demand their rights, and seek a life of dignity.
The Girl’s Empowerment Project model includes:
- Basic Education
- Life Skills Training and Discussion
- Vocational Training
- Financial Literacy Training and Income Generation
The Maisha Collective is a major component of the Financial Literacy Training and Income Generation section of the Girl’s Empowerment Project. Graduates from the Girl’s Empowerment Project are invited to join the Maisha Collective where they will participate in an intensive tailoring course where they learn the art of creating designs and the technique of ‘tie and dye.’ All scarves are hand-made and use one-of-a-kind designs that are created by the girls and women.
‘It makes me feel happy and proud to know American women are wearing our scarves. To know there are people out there who are listening to our stories and wanting to help makes me very happy,’ says Grace, one of the participants in the Maisha Collective.
In the last month Heshima Kenya has opened an office in the heart of Chicago to further the advocacy and development of Heshima Kenya’s programs and the Maisha Collective. The office is open for our supporters who are interested in finding out more about our work and the issues that has driven many of the girls and women to Nairobi as unaccompanied urban refugees. Heshima Kenya is also using the Chicago office to showcase and sell our line of Maisha scarves produced by the Collective in Nairobi.
To continue supporting The Girl’s Empowerment Project and Heshima Kenya, please make a donation and follow Heshima Kenya on Facebook and Twitter
It's been an exciting couple months and we are happy to share our progress with you!
With staff and volunteer support, participants of the Girl's Empowerment Project formed a drama group to write and perform dramas addressing issues of leadership and the importance of education. We also developed a cultural show with the aim of the students sharing and understanding their different cultures. The idea of cultural show was sparked by a participant because she experienced other students asking one another about their countries, clothing, food, dances, and traditions. The cultural show helped students recognize, showcase, and appreciate their diverse backgrounds from Somalia, Burundi, Rwanda, DR Congo, Ethiopia and Sudan!
The Girl's Empowerment Projects participants have also been supporting their peers on decision-making. For example, whereas previously the participants would divide themselves into informal groups and engage in conflict with one another relying on the Youth Coordinator and Mental Health Counselor to resolve their issues, the participants are now more patient with one another and work together toward conflict resolution. Team competitions have given the girls opportunities to engage in a variety of different games and sports and further facilitated interaction between students and other schools. The GEP participants continue to engage with State House Girls Secondary School! The inter school sports activities has also served in increased socialization and friendly relationships. The Maisha Collective, Heshima Kenya’s income generating project, continues to be extremely successful! We continue to experience an influx in orders, which keeps the girls busy! Their standards of professionalism and excitement regarding their participation in the Maisha Collective is remarkable, and remains a source of inspiration for incoming girls! Please visit the Heshima Kenya website in the coming weeks to learn how you can purchase a scarf!
Thank you so much for your support!
In our last report, we mentioned that Heshima Kenya had launched the Maisha Collective as the final transitional component of the Girl’s Empowerment Project. In just a few months, five graduates of our tailoring program have joined the Collective and have made hundreds of beautiful, unique, handmade tie & dye scarves. Members have also begun selling their scarves at a local Maasai Market in Nairobi and a store that promotes local Kenyan artisans and crafts. In addition to honing their scarf-making skills, members meet weekly to discuss important business and financial issues such as budgeting, wage payments, savings, and investing in the future of the Collective. I was impressed to learn that they had all agreed to use some of the money earned from selling their scarves to pay for childcare, as 4 out of the 5 Maisha members have small children that they must care for while working full-time.
In addition to the important skills gained in participating in the Maisha Collective, 15 girls from Heshima Kenya’s Girl’s Empowerment Program (including the Maisha members) have been meeting every Saturday morning for financial literacy trainings. Each training has been focused on different aspects of financial literacy ranging from budgeting to short term & long term savings plans. These trainings will help prepare all participants for their future independence.
Several girls at Heshima Kenya also created the most recent issue of Midnimo, where they explored what it means to be a leader and examined the important leaders in their lives. One girl, Zulekha Juma, a 15 year old refugee from Somalia, wrote beautifully about her mother, saying, “My mom is a good leader and she brought me to this world. Unfortunately, we are separated. She is good because she judges cases fairly and is kind to everyone… She has inspired me with many things like showing love to other people and helping those in need.” Other leaders that the authors wrote about included political figures, family members, and even our own Anne Sweeney and Talyn Good!
As we have said before, participants in the Girl’s Empowerment Project struggle daily with learning challenges, feelings of trauma and insecurity, and remembering a tumultuous past. Recognizing the daily stresses of these girls’ lives, we decided that it was important to give them mechanisms to deal with their stress. In addition to the one-on-one counseling that every girl receives at Heshima Kenya, we also had two life-skills trainings on stress management that focused on breathing exercises and practicing stress-release outlets such as writing and drawing. In addition, Heshima Kenya decided it was high time to take the girls out and have a little fun, so we planned an exciting trip for all of the GEP participants to visit the Giraffe Center at Nairobi National Park. The girls had a wonderful time learning about Rothchild giraffes and feeding them food pellets, but what was most important was that they got a chance to bond together and get their mind off of some of their daily challenges.
And to learn more about Heshima Kenya, you can now visit our new blog! Go to heshimakenya.wordpress.com to hear from our volunteers and interns about their observations and experiences at Heshima Kenya. And please feel free to post your comments!
Without your support, none of what we mentioned above would be possible, so from the bottom of our hearts we thank you and look forward to sharing more of Heshima Kenya with you!
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.
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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