Education and Empowerment for Refugee Girls

by Heshima Kenya
Halima laughs with her students
Halima laughs with her students

One of our main goals at Heshima Kenya is for each and every one of the young women we serve to become influential leaders – mobilizing other girls and young women in their communities, and teaching them about their own rights. Therefore, participants and graduates of Heshima Kenya’s education programs serve as leaders and advocates through our recently launched Junior Ambassador Program. This past spring we trained 7 graduates of our Girls Empowerment Project to lead their peers,  informing them on human rights, Sexual Gender Based Violence, sexual and reproductive health, and other topics. Halima is one of our young women who recently completed this training and now is now successfully leading women in her community.

 Halima is 24 years old and came to Heshima Kenya almost 4 years ago from Ethiopia. She was forced to leave Ethiopia because of war, as her family was targeted because of their ethnicity. Last year, Halima’s father and siblings went back to Ethiopia after living in Kenya for 2 years. Once they reached Ethiopia they were caught by the Ethiopian government, who accused them of being spies. Halima then learned that her father had been detained, and was subsequently tortured and killed. She does not know what happened to her siblings.

Since surviving these tragedies, Heshima has changed Halima’s life in many ways. She has worked very hard over the past several years to successfully complete her courses in the Girls’ Empowerment Project, and learning to tailor and successfully graduating to the Maisha Collective. This spring, Halima was one of the 7 young women chosen to participate in the 3-month community leader training. She recently held a series of several trainings in her own home in the Eastleigh neighborhood of Nairobi, convening a group of her neighbors, who are also refugees. When Halima asked why the women wanted to join the group, their responses included thoughtful, empowering statements such as:

  • “I am very proud of what the women in the group are doing and learning for each other and that every women in the group has inspired her in different ways.”
  • “It’s eye-opening for me because I am 19 years old and have a new baby girl. When I see Halima waking up every morning to go to Heshima Kenya, she inspires me because of the woman and neighbor she is.”
  • “If you educate a woman; you educate a generation.”

 Reflecting on her own experience, Halima shares:“I am encouraged by our women’s group and the discussions to come.  It wasn’t easy the first time, but I met a lot of really good ladies.  I am happy to teach.  There are many times we don’t understand each other, but I’m very happy to see that they are learning and opening up.   As for Heshima Kenya, I am really blessed to be a part of this organization and it’s the best thing that has happened to me.  I am very proud to become the leader that I am.”

Thank you again for your support and commitment to Heshima Kenya. Your generous donations make if possible for young women like Halima to become a leader and visionary in her community, increasing awareness of these important issues.  Please consider a donation today to ensure our young women can continue to meet their goals and become leaders. 

Halima teaching her peers
Halima teaching her peers
Elizabeth smiling and sewing
Elizabeth smiling and sewing


Elizabeth is 19 years old and from the Congo, she joined Heshima Kenya in 2012 after experiencing a life of challenges and hardship. Despite this, one of Elizabeth’s main goals is education, a goal she has continued to pursue throughout her life throughout the challenges she has faced.

When Elizabeth was just five years old, violence erupted in her village and her entire family was forced to flee. During the chaos,  she was separated from her parents and her siblings; she believes her parents were killed during this time and has no knowledge of where her siblings are now. Elizabeth was captured by the militia and held in a home with other children, where the unknown militia amputated two of her fingers. When Elizabeth finally managed to escape she was able to locate her cousin, and they both fled to Rwanda. Here Elizabeth was able to enroll in school and live with the pastor of her church, she also received physical therapy for her injuries. She attended school through level 5, when she moved to Kenya with the hopes of finding additional relatives; she arrived in Nairobi in 2011, living in multiple unstable locations.  Elizabeth suffered additional incidents of Sexual Gender Based Violence after arriving in Nairobi at the hands of acquaintances of her host family. She finally managed to escape and was referred to Heshima Kenya in 2012 by Doctors Without Borders.

When Elizabeth joined Heshima Kenya, she complained of persistent pain, which was found to be psychological caused by the extreme trauma that she faced. After 2 months of counseling, she finally felt strong enough to approach the Youth Coordinator and request to be enrolled in the Girl’s Empowerment Project. Elizabeth was determined to continue her education.  Though still struggling with her trauma, she would always come to class and do her best to concentrate. She is now among the best participant in class and was enrolled in the tailoring. Elizabeth was initially very insecure about her disability and felt this may keep her from learning how to tailor, however with her hard work and determination, and encouragement from the Heshima staff, she is now thriving. Her tailoring instructor describes her performance as “superb”.  Elizabeth still has many challenges to overcome, but with her ability to focus and her impressive self-awareness, we are convinced Elizabeth will continue to make amazing strides.

Thank you again for your support and commitment to Heshima Kenya. Your generous donations make if possible for young women like Elizabeth to work persistently to overcome seemingly insurmountable challenges to thrive. Please consider a donation today to ensure our young women can continue to meet their goals. 

The Latest Newsletter from the Journalism Class
The Latest Newsletter from the Journalism Class

Newsletter Published

This week, the eight intrepid reporters who make up Heshima Kenya's afterschool journalism club produced a brand-new edition of Midnimo, the Heshima Kenya program newsletter, all about human rights. You can flip through and read the articles here.

“Sometimes the girls say that they cannot be journalists because they are refugees,” says Imgard, the wonderful volunteer who has headed up the class for the last three months. “And I simply tell them that they have gone through great adversities to be where they are, and nothing can bar them from achieving their dreams."

Journalism Augments Traditional Curriculum

“I don’t see the class as only about journalism," she adds. "It’s also about building self-confidence and learning to understand the world around them.”

The class is held after the regular Girls' Empowerment Program schooling and is optional for the girls to take part in- but the interest so far has been great and the students who signed up for it rarely miss a class.

The class was started to augment what the girls learn in their regular curriculum including reading, writing, and critical-thinking skills.

The girls are also learning about human rights issues that affect them and about current affairs. For example, Imgard says that from day one the students were yearning for information on their home countries like DRC and Somalia, and that reading and discussing the newspaper together was not only good for reading comprehension skills but provided lessons in geography, history, and politics.

Learning Photography

The girls have also been learning to use cameras and the art of photography. For most, this is their first exposure to even holding a camera - and they are very excited to learn more skills.

Just the other week they had their first photo "exhibition" at the offices where a few of each of their photos were printed and hung on the wall. The other students from Heshima Kenya gathered to view their photographs on display and it was a proud moment for both the photographers and everyone in attendance.

Saying Goodbye and Giving Our Thanks

And sadly, this week marks Imgard's last week of volunteering. Thankfully, we have two new volunteers - a photojournalist from Canada and a communications volunteer from the US- here in Nairobi who have offered their time and expertise to take over the class.

On Imgard's last day, each girl read aloud a letter of thanks for her instructive lessons and kind mentorship. It was very heart-warming to hear as many girls in the class had not been able to even write their names before joining Heshima Kenya.

"You'll never be far from my mind, and you'll always be a part of my family," said Imgard.

By leveraging the pro-bono support of volunteers- and your generous donations - a huge difference is being made in the lives of girls who would otherwise not have the opportunity for an education. Thank you!

Learning about photography
Learning about photography
Saying goodbye to the jouranlism teacher
Saying goodbye to the jouranlism teacher


Safe and happy at our nursery
Safe and happy at our nursery

This summer, Heshima Kenya was honored to receive a grant from our long-time supporter, the Manaaki Foundation, to support our nursery, an initiative of our Girls’ Empowerment Project.  

As conflicts continue to intensify throughout the region, Heshima Kenya has received an increased number of cases involving girls and young women who have experienced sexual assault and as a result have become pregnant. Other girls arrive with infants and toddlers who are frequently malnourished or suffer from other illnesses or afflictions. In response to this growing need of mothers and their children entering our programs, Heshima Kenya has developed an on-site childcare program at our education site, in addition to a parenting curriculum that teaches new and expectant mothers about topics such as child nutrition and development, post-partum depression and emotional wellness, breastfeeding, and hygiene. The presence of this childcare program enables mothers to attend their education courses on site while also attending to their children throughout the day.

17-year-old Cledestine joined Heshima Kenya in January after fleeing Congo.  After making the courageous journey to Nairobi, she was assaulted after finding shelter at a local church. Pregnant and alone, Cledestine was referred to Heshima Kenya and gave birth to Patrick, a healthy baby boy one month after arriving.  She joined our Girls’ Empowerment Project where she is learning to read and write. Patrick is able to stay in our nursery while Cledestine is attending class. This allows her to focus on her learning, while being only steps away when she is needed for feeding, changing, or playing with Patrick.   

A strong foundation has been built for our childcare program, however, additional resources are required to accommodate the increased number of infants and toddlers and their development needs as they grow. Currently, Heshima Kenya is supporting 25 infants and toddlers of young mothers in our programs, two children whom have serious physical and mental disabilities, including cerebral palsy and cystic fibrosis. Your generous support helps to provide for competing needs including, including food, supplies, and additional resources for young children supported through our Girls' Empowerment Project.

Thank you again for your support and commitment to Heshima Kenya, which makes it possible for young families, like Clendestine and Patrick to begin to lead enjoyable lives. 

Annette and her son, Lucky, hard at work.
Annette and her son, Lucky, hard at work.

The Girls Empowerment Project has helped our young women in so many ways. We are very proud of our young women who overcome many struggles to successfully complete the income generation component of the Girls Empowerment Project. The Maisha Collective is a 14-month apprenticeship that serves as the final component of the GEP. The Collective not only teaches the young women financial literacy and management skills, but also provides them with an income for their work, with the goal of living independently and providing for themselves and their families. Euphrozine’s story perfectly displays the outcome we aim for with all of our Maisha Collective participants. 

Euphrozine fled Rwanda in 2008 after her parents were killed. She became pregnant as a result of sexual assault while staying with a host family in Uganda. Upon learning of her pregnancy, her host family forced her to leave. Euphrozine gave birth to a beautiful baby boy, Kevin who was born with an array of complications – he is partially blind, deaf, and requires regular therapy because he has cerebral palsy and is epileptic.  Caring for Kevin made it difficult for Euphrozine to find a safe home, receive an education or earn any income. Her situation seemed hopeless.

 Then Euphrozine and Kevin found Heshima Kenya.  Upon entering, Euphrozine and Kevin were supported in the Safe House, and utilized a variety of case management services that Heshima provides. When Euphrozine was ready, she joined the Maisha Collective, the income generation component of Heshima Kenya. While enrolled in the Maisha Collective, Euphrozine worked extremely hard to earnestly save her money so she could live independently. 

 Euphrozine’s hard work proved successful - on March 9th, she and Kevin moved to their first home as a family, a challenge Euphrozine assumed she would never achieve because of her son’s disability. She will continue to participate in the Maisha Collective and Heshima Kenya will support Kevin’s medical care. Reflecting upon the joys and challenges of her recent independence, Euphrozine shares “I wanted to be independent - to take care of my baby, and feed him with my own money.  At first I was so scared of the unknown - I was scared that I would be out there with my child as a refugee in a city that is still very foreign to me. Then I finally said, let me try.  Now, I'm proud of myself - and it’s not scary, because I'm not alone - I still have Heshima Kenya.”

Euphrozine laughing with friends.
Euphrozine laughing with friends.

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Organization Information

Heshima Kenya

Location: Chicago, IL - USA
Website: http:/​/​
Project Leader:
Alisa Roadcup
Executive Director
Chicago, IL United States
$61,987 raised of $95,000 goal
847 donations
$33,013 to go
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