Education and Empowerment for Refugee Girls

by Heshima Kenya
Irene looks forward to exams next month!
Irene looks forward to exams next month!

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world,” Nelson Mandela.

Heshima Kenya strongly believes in the power of education, and continues to provide opportunities to many vulnerable refugees, like Irene. Irene is a young and energetic girl who is determined to fulfill her dreams of becoming a journalist, so she can fight for justice including equal treatment, fairness and peace for all. Being a journalist has been her dream and aspiration ever since she was young.

Just this past spring, at 16 years old, Irene fled from her country of Burundi due to political conflicts that resulted in the loss of her parents. She escaped the fighting and met another refugee in Rwanda who offered to take her to Nairobi, Kenya. After a long journey, Irene arrived at the UNHCR in Nairobi, where she was referred to Heshima Kenya. She was immediately given a safe place to live in our Safe House; she also received food, medication, transportation, counseling and medical services. This summer, Irene enrolled in our education services, where she began her basic literacy education. She plans to continue through the primary levels in order to pass the exams and enroll in high school; she plans to eventually attend college where she can study to become a journalist. Reflecting on her time at Heshima Kenya so far, Irene says, “I feel good about my education, I believe that I will move forward in my higher level of education.”

In a few short months, Irene has been able to advance in reading and writing in English, which was initially one of her biggest challenges. “My English has really improved ever since I joined Heshima Kenya, I have been able to read and understand the meanings of different words in English,” she says.

Today, Irene loves reading English storybooks and the Bible as part of her hobbies. She is now able to participate in class, compared to her first day at Heshima when she was still traumatized and afraid because of her past. She feels safe and happy; she attends school every day and has made many friends in school and at the safe house.

Irene will be sitting for her final examinations for the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (K.C.P.E) in November 2016, passing this exam is required to enter High School. She says that Heshima Kenya has helped her with many things; “Heshima Kenya has offered me education, food, shelter, medication, transport and mostly a place I can call home because I find hope for my future through the support Heshima Kenya has offered me. Heshima has started the family tracing process for my two sisters who are still missing after the political fights and am hopeful they will be traced so that we can reunite,” she says.

“I feel like I have found a family in Heshima Kenya since I lost my parents, I have also found people who sympathize and empathize with me despite them being from different backgrounds and this makes me feel better and I have hope in life,” she says.


Thanks to supporters like you, girls like Irene are able to find hope and strive to acheive their dreams everyday. We thank you for your support. 

Irene in class
Irene in class
Zumba class at the GEP
Zumba class at the GEP


Chantal working at the Maisha Collective
Chantal working at the Maisha Collective

Chantal was enrolled in Heshima Kenya at 16 from the Democratic Republic of Congo, where she experienced a series of tragic events after rebels took over her village. She witnessed the death of her parents and was separated from her siblings while fleeing. She located her cousin, but both girls were abducted by the rebels and held for 2 years. Both young women became pregnant as a result of abuse at the hands of the rebels, and finally managed to escape their capturers. They traveled to Kenya, where they found a Congolese woman to stay with for a few days while she helped each girl to register as a refugee. During the resettlement process, our partner organization referred both young women to our programs. Chantal was assessed by program staff and placed in our Safe House, and enrolled in the Girls’ Empowerment Project. Chantal was provided with access to medical care, and gave birth to a healthy baby boy two months after arriving at Heshima Kenya.

Chantal was very withdrawn and aggressive when she was initially enrolled into the programs. She was enrolled for counseling sessions and later she also received more sessions after giving birth, with a focus on acceptance for her child.

Chantal is now 19 years old and has graduated from the GEP’s basic education and vocational training classes. She then joined our income generation project, the Maisha Collective, and because of the income she earned, she was able to move out of the Safe House and rented a house with her cousin and their children. Her son, James is currently enrolled in our Early Childhood Development Center (ECD) and is doing very well.

Chantal has grown into a very confident and outgoing woman, serving as one of the leaders in the Maisha Collective. Chantal says, “I am looking towards being enrolled into college after fulfilling a dream of mine – finishing school. School and the Maisha Collective are teaching me about discipline and how to relate to people from different backgrounds. I’m gaining skills and earning money at the same time. I’m very happy with where I am right now.”

Chantal is now looking forward to pursuing her life in a new environment, as resettlement has been arranged for her with her child, cousin and nephew in the United States.

Chantal and her friends
Chantal and her friends
Chantal at graduation
Chantal at graduation


Claire at GEP class with classmates
Claire at GEP class with classmates

The participants of the Girls Empowerment Project need your support. For the month of May Heshima Kenya is asking for contributions to help our GEP participants by providing them clothing and shoes. Your donation can provide for girls like Claire. 

Claire, a 15 year old girl from the Democratic Republic of Congo who fled Congo as a child. During her departure, she lost her mother, two sisters and a brother. With the support of community members Claire and her remaining sister fled to the Congo-Rwanda boarder and were later brought to Nairobi by a family friend. While in route to Nairobi, Claire and her sister met a Congolese man who brought them to a Congolese church. The Pastor of the church took them in, and later a church community member volunteered to support Claire and her sister, provide them housing, and food.

Adeline, one of Heshima Kenya’s participant encouraged Claire to visit Heshima Kenya. Claire joined the Girls Empowerment Project and is learning English and Swahili as well as basic math skills. But Claire still needs support for basic necessitates such as clothing and shoes. This May, with your support, we can raise funds to provide Claire and other GEP girls new clothing and shoes. 

Thanks to supporters like you, Claire can have dreams of a better world for herself through education and skill. We thank you for your generous contribution

Divine (left) and a fellow member
Divine (left) and a fellow member

In an effort to increase the participant’s self-esteem and practice life skills, the Girls Empowerment Project staff and students recently created an elected Student Council. Members of the council were elected through a democratic process and were selected to represent the four countries, which participants originate- Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia and Congo. GEP students voted for candidates based on their confidence, achievements in class and critical thinking skills. The Student Council serves as a space where members can feel empowered to participate in the decision making process and functioning of the GEP. Members explore questions regarding the educational process, layout and structure of classes, how they may improve the courses for students, and address any issues that may arise.

Divine came to Heshima Kenya in 2012, she was pregnant and alone after losing her parents to the Rwandan genocide. After fleeing war in Rwanda, Divine and her sister migrated to the DRC – sadly, Divine and her sister were separated and her host parent passed away, prompting Divine to leave for Nairobi. Upon entering Nairobi, Divine was exploited and experienced assault. Finally, a community member referred her to UNHCR, and she was brought to Heshima Kenya.

At Heshima Kenya, she received psychological care for her trauma and was soon enrolled in the Girls’ Empowerment Project, where she began her education. Divine worked hard and excelled in school, quickly progressing and enrolling in our tailoring program. She is currently enrolled in the Maisha Collective, where she is earning an income to support herself and her baby boy. Divine now serves as a positive role model for all of our GEP girls, offering support and kind words. She leads by example, showing the young women they can achieve anything and that they have each other’s support in succeeding. Divine was recently elected to the Student Council, where she has been proudly serving and representing her fellow students. Currently, Divine and the other members are working on creating a fund for the women who need emergency funds, or need loans to start their own businesses.

Divine continues to serve as a leader in education; she recently registered for the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education Exams (KCSE), the formal test offered by the Kenya Ministry of Education that is required to graduate from high school. Divine is very focused and determined to continue with her education to university level. During an interview, Divine stated: “No matter the terrible circumstances that one goes through in life, just sitting down and jotting down your dream and Making It Happen is the biggest achievement in life. I know that 4 years to come I will be able to complete my University education and get a good job. I want to educate my child and see him reap in future”.

Divine is thrilled with her success and is looking forward to leading and supporting her fellow classmates. Thank you for helping Heshima Kenya. By helping us, we are able to support Divine, her child and many other girls who have similar stories to re-write their future and Make it Happen.


Heshima girls performing together.
Heshima girls performing together.

 Dear Supporters,

Since 2012, Giving Tuesday has been providing donors like you an opportunity to show support and jumpstart the giving season. It is a growing global movement to celebrate generosity and give to organizations to multiply their impact. With the holidays upon us, we can share in our thanksgiving through sustaining organizations that invest in the future, like Heshima Kenya.

How can you get involved? This Giving Tuesday, consider donating to one of Heshima Kenya’s programs that supports the most vulnerable of our global society, unaccompanied refugee girls and women. Share why you chose Heshima Kenya using #GivingTuesday and #Unselfie on social media.

Thanks to your continued support, Heshima Kenya has already been able to provide protection, education, and opportunity to nearly 650 refugee women and their children. We were able to safeguard the human rights of girls and young women who have experienced, and are at continued risk of homelessness, gender-based violence, and other protection issues. Since 2008, nearly 500 girls, young women and their children, were provided with safe shelter in a unique environment where they began to regain their physical and mental health, built important life values, created a network of peer support, and built self -sustaining skills through life-skills training and support through Heshima Kenya’s other programs. But we have a lot more work to do and that’s where you come in. Thank you for supporting refugee girls and women; thank you for your continued support of Heshima Kenya.

Thank you from all of us at Heshima Kenya
Thank you from all of us at Heshima Kenya

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Organization Information

Heshima Kenya

Location: Chicago, IL - USA
Website: http:/​/​
Project Leader:
Alisa Roadcup
Executive Director
Chicago, IL United States
$63,191 raised of $95,000 goal
877 donations
$31,809 to go
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