Education and Empowerment for Refugee Girls

by Heshima Kenya
Mireille and her diploma
Mireille and her diploma

One very important aspect of our Girls’ Empowerment Project is the Vocational Training component. Once our young women demonstrate a commitment to the basic courses in the GEP, they are invited to join the training courses and attend each afternoon after completing their basic classes in the morning. In this seven-month tailoring course, participants gain skills in hand and machine stitching, measuring and cutting of fabrics, and sewing. Participants also learn a variety of stitch techniques like embroidery. In the latter two months before graduation, participants are enrolled to pre-production training where they learn advanced designs unique to the Maisha Collective. They also receive a small stipend to jumpstart their savings and transition into independence. These lessons have proven vital in teaching the girls valuable, marketable skills they can rely on for life, and help prepare them for the Maisha Collective, where they will earn an income and graduate to economic independence.

One of our recent graduates, Mireille, has worked very hard in her time at Heshima Kenya and is thrilled to have recently graduated from the tailoring program. Mireille is 21 years old and from Rwanda; her parents were killed during the genocide and a neighbor took her in.  The neighbor was elderly, and had a hard time caring for a child and the people who killed her parents began to look for her, so Mireille had to leave. She found another woman who was leaving Rwanda and joined her in the journey. Mireille finally ended up in Nairobi in 2007 and was fortunate enough to be enrolled in primary school – one day while she was at school, the neighbor left and Mireille was all by herself and homeless. Her neighbors allowed her to stay with them while she was in school. However, soon after she moved in, she was ordered to complete all of the chores and no longer had time to attend school. The husband of the household coerced her saying if she wanted to continue to live there, she must engage in a sexual relationship with him. Mireille refused, however the man raped her and she became pregnant. She consulted with other neighbors and decided to report the incident, at which point she was kicked out of the home.

She finally accessed the UNHCR who referred her to Heshima Kenya; she enrolled in the GEP and gave birth to a healthy baby boy. Heshima Kenya was able to provide her with the life skills courses toterach her parenting skills, and child care so she was able to continue her schooling. She enrolled in the vocational training course, and graduated earlier this month. Mireille has also been registered for the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education and is receiving tuition.

Mireille’s dreams of finishing her education, finding a job and becoming financially stable. It is very important to her to provide for her son and give him what she never got in life. Through the tailoring skills that she acquired, she believes she will become a designer. She looks forward to participating in the Maisha Collective and continuing to learn and add to her skills. We’re so proud of you, Mireille!

Your support helps girls like Mireille go further in life than they ever thought they could. Your investment is truly investment in the life of our young women and their families. We thank you very much for your thoughtful donations. 

Mirielle's classmates
Mireille and her friends
Mireille and her friends
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. 


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Organization Information

Heshima Kenya

Location: Chicago, IL - USA
Website: http:/​/​
Project Leader:
Alisa Roadcup
Executive Director
Chicago, IL United States
$62,282 raised of $95,000 goal
856 donations
$32,718 to go
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