The Safe House: An Enclave of Peace and Hope

by Heshima Kenya
Jolie on her graduation day at GEP
Jolie on her graduation day at GEP

Jolie Nyampundu was referred to the Heshima Kenya Safe House on April 13th, 2016 by the International Organization of Migration (IOM) and UNHCR. She was due to be resettled to the USA the same day but her flight was cancelled the last minute due to unresolved issues. It was extremely difficult for Jolie to accept that she would not be resettled after many years of waiting to finally become resettled. As Jolie recalls when she fled the DRC, it was late at night when her father had just returned the cattle back home after a long day of herding in the field. All over sudden, they heard sounds of guns and screaming of women and children. As they ran for safety, Jolie witnessed her parents and other siblings being shot dead by militia men. She hid herself behind a tree only to be captured by the rebels and taken to their camp. After many months of suffering, a good friend of her mother recognized her and helped her escape from the torture of the militia men.

Jolie was brought into Nairobi and lived with a host family for a few years. Luckily, UNHCR recognized her as unaccompanied child who needed a better life. She started her resettlement process, which was very successful. After being in Kenya for two  years, Jolie was ready to be resettled to the USA. She was happy. She bid farewell to her friends in Kenya but shortly after boarding the plan, she was escorted back out. A case worker had come to the airport and told her that there was something wrong with her paperwork and that she would be unable to be resettled after all. She broke down and was extremely sad and confused because the case worker would not give her more information.  Immediately she was referred to Heshima Kenya’s Safe House for protection and care.

For the first two months, Jolie was reserved and quite because she was still processing not being able to be resettled to the US. She spent most of her time in bed crying and feeling hopeless. She insisted on going back to the IOM to ask them more questions about her resettlement case. The waiting turned into weeks, months, and now almost a year.  The Safe House staff and the Heshima Kenya counsellors helped counsel her through her grief. Jolie started to focus on her studies and participating in activities on the GEP campus and at the Safe House.

After months of counselling, Jolie became more open and calmer. She started to seem happy again as she started making friends with the other Safe House residents. She was enrolled into the vocational training. After lengthy discussions and follow-ups with UNHCR, Jolie’s resettlement case was referred to Australia.  She has now graduated and attained her certificate in tailoring and furthering her education. She is being considered for resettlement in Australia by April 2017.

Jolie is now hopeful that she will have a bright future. She is encouraging other girls not to give up on their dreams. In January 2017, Jolie requested to be exited from the Safe House to join her friends living in the host community in Nairobi. She is much more independent and happy now. She just turned 18 years old and is now enrolled in the Maisha Collective.

“I look at my life and I thank Heshima Kenya for helping me deal with my situation. I found hope in life and I look forward for better things in my future. Thank you.”

Rachel with her baby Nina
Rachel with her baby Nina

Rachel was referred to the Heshima Kenya Safe House in November 2015. She was reffered with her little daughter Nina. Rachel was 16 years old when she was raped in her native country the DR Congo. She was rescued from the Mai Mai rebels after being abducted and enslaved for 8 months. The rebels raped her, tortured her and tormented her for months. One night, the government ambushed the Mai Mai camp and rescued Rachel. They were able to run through the thick forest with other women and children until they found a truck that carried goods where the driver helped them to reach the nearest town in Congo. Rachel collapsed in the middle of the journey and woke up after a few hours only to find herself held by an old woman who had tears in her eyes.  Rachel felt very weak. She was later informed that she was three months pregnant.

Eventually, Rachel found herself in Kenya with the help of many good Samaritans. They travelled with her miles and miles until they reached Nairobi. She was handed over to a Congolese family who lived with her until she gave birth to her baby. Unfortunately, all through her pregnancy, she was sick and very frail. She did not receive any kind of immunization and medication.  The child was born with many complications by the time of her referral to the Safe House, the child was sick and severely malnourished.  Rachel was very thin as well and always seemed stressed and had low self-esteem. She used to cry all the time whenever one of the case workers tried to talk to her. It took the Case Workers a long time to make Rachel understand herself and accept the situation she was in. She had countless counseling sessions with the case workers. Her baby was assessed and enrolled to the nutritional clinic. Her baby has since been on medical follow up and undergoing occupational therapy sessions at Association of People with Disability in Kenya (APDK).  Baby Nina was also taken to Kenyatta National hospital for further review and treatment. Rachel is also attending an orthopedic clinic to assess her back which was diagnosed with scoliosis.

Rachel was very worried for the health of her baby but through the collaboration and help of the Heshima Kenya Case Workers and Safe House Staff as well as medical facilities, her baby was able to stabilize.  

It’s has almost been one year now that Rachel has lived in the Safe House. She is a happy girl now who is stable in her weight and health and has a healthy growing baby as well. She has regained her smile back. She thanks Heshima Kenya for the help she has had so far. She has learned to appreciate the help she has been receiving especially with her baby who has grown teeth and can sit on her own now. Rachel has improved in her relations with the other residents and she enjoys their company.

Rachel hopes to become a nurse in future, she wishes that her child will be well and grow up healthy and strong just like other babies.

Ariella is a 16-year old girl from Burundi. She fled her country in January 2016 because of civil war that erupted due to the heavily disputed presidential election. Ariella lived with her parents in Bujumbura city. She was studying in a good school and had just completed her Level 1 of education.

As the war started, things got worsened quickly in Burundi. Killings and blood shed erupted all over the country. Ariella and her family were forced to flee for safety and were quickly separated due to the chaos and swarms of citizens fleeing the country. She found herself alone with no one to turn to and limited resources.

With nowhere else to go, Ariella found her way to a bus and stopped in Nairobi. A good Samaritan, as she describes, helped guide her to the UNHCR to register for asylum.  She felt lost, confused, and could not contain her tears as she remembered her family and friends who were lost.

Ariella was referred to the Heshima Kenya Safe House in February 2016. She needed shelter, basic needs, and protection. When she first arrived, she was very ill due to fatigue and physical and emotional distress. She was taken to the hospital by Heshima Kenya workers for support. She was also offered counselling sessions in conjunction with her physical healing to help her heal emotionally and ease her anxiety. Ariella’s physical and emotional health improved quickly and, soon after, her spirit began to shine again at the Safe House.

In July, she joined the photography project that is offered at the Safe House to express herself and tell her story. The project has helped her explore her talent and skills in photo taking. She dreams of becoming a professional photographer, striving to highlight the powerful stories of young girls just like her. When she grows up, she wants to be a counsellor.

Ariella says “When a young girl goes through hardship, all she has is hope and needs to believe in rebuilding her life. This has been my strength throughout. I enjoy photography and telling stories and this has continued to build my self-esteem here at Heshima Kenya!”

"I finally feel like I found a new home in Heshima Kenya.”

Aisha is a 13 year old girl from Somalia. She used to live with her family in Somalia. Her mother stayed at home taking care of her younger sibling, while her father worked in a small shop in the nearby city. Aisha always dreamt of studying hard and becoming a teacher in future. Her parents could not afford to take her to a good school because most of the schools in their area had been shut down due to security issues. Aisha was told to stay home and help her mother with house chores as her father continued working hard to fend for the family.

In January 2016, some military policemen came to Aisha’s home and took her father away. The policemen harassed her mother with a lot questions and a lot of threats. Aisha could not understand what was going on and she cried all through the night. Her mother eventually disappeared without a trace as well. Aisha was taken away by her paternal aunt, who told her that she was not safe and needed to go to a safer place. They fled with the aunt to Kenya to seek refuge. On arrival in Kenya, Aisha was left stranded alone in city of Nairobi as the aunt claimed she had nowhere to take her. As night time drew closer, Aisha felt frightened and did not know what to do. Luckily, some good samaritan assisted her by taking to a police station where she was asked a couple and immediately reffered to the Safe House for protection and care.

Aisha cried all through the nights wanting to be reunited with her family. The child was taken to UNHCR for follow ups, registration, and tracing of her family. It was hard for Aisha to express her pain but with time, she has been able to talk about her worries. She was enrolled into counselling and life planning skills that enabled her build hope that one day she will meet with her family. With the education provided in Heshima Kenya, Aisha feels that parts of her dreams are being fulfilled. She always wanted to study and learn basic literacy skills to enable her to communicate clearly in English. She has developed friendship with girls in Heshima Kenya. She likes modelling and playing games. She enjoys going for team building events and taking walks in the park with friends. When she grows up and completes her education, Aisha wants to become a teacher.

*A picture of Aisha in April of 2016, Aisha with some friends at the Safe House during an event, and Aisha and her friends going for a walk in the gardens.

Solange reading her favorite book
Solange reading her favorite book

Solange is a 16-year-old girl from Burundi. She lived with her parents and four siblings in Bujumbura. Her father, a political leader in Burundi, was involved in organizing political campaigns, while her mother worked as a teacher in the local school. Solange resided at a nearby boarding school, where she enjoyed studying very much. She was an excellent student; her teachers would congratulate her for excellent academic performance and loved to boast her success to her parents during their frequent visits.

However, tragedy struck - in April 2015, her parents were abducted and killed by unknown people. Solange was in school and was not aware of what was happening at home. Once she was informed, she was released from school and taken to a safe place with family friends. However, due to her father’s political ties, it was deemed unsafe for her to remain in Burundi, so she made the journey to Kenya with a group of travelers. Upon her arrival, she was helped by a Kenyan woman to settle in and later was taken in by a Burundian family in Nairobi. Life was very hard and the family could not afford to take care of Solange’s needs. She cried every day, desperate to see her parents again.

One morning, Solange was heading to her appointment at UN refugee resettlement agency (UNHCR) and she was sexually assaulted by a stranger, who threatened to hurt her further if she told anyone. She was very scared and frustrated; she felt hopeless, and felt she had no one to turn to. Without her parents and her family, she was all alone without protection. Once Solange made her way to the UNHCR, her case manager there referred her to Heshima Kenya’s Safe House. At first, it was hard for her to cope. She was always thinking about her family, and would wake up crying, believing that her parents had just visited her in the Safe House. The overall trauma and grief she was experiencing affected her emotional stability for several months. Eventually, Solange was enrolled in intensive trauma and grief counseling. She slowly began to make close friends in the Safe House, and began to trust the staff. Her resilience began to emerge; she began to think positively about her future and focused on dealing with her grief through the support of her new family at the Safe House. She now reports feeling happy in her new home, and has hope she will be able to find her siblings some day.

Solange  says: “I feel safe being in Heshima Kenya. I could not share my experience before with anyone. But in the Safe House, I found friends, it’s my second home. I feel alive again. I love studying and working hard. I hope to become a pilot in future.” 


Donors like you ensure that healing and hopefulness is possible for girls like Solange. From the bottom of our hearts, we thank you. 

Solange loves the joy she feels from dancing!
Solange loves the joy she feels from dancing!



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Organization Information

Heshima Kenya

Location: Chicago, IL - USA
Website: http:/​/​
Project Leader:
Alisa Roadcup
Executive Director
Chicago, IL United States

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