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.
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