The Safe House: An Enclave of Peace and Hope

by Heshima Kenya
Dance performance at the Safe House
Dance performance at the Safe House

Last month the Safe House Program held a Talent Night!

The girls regularly take part in drama and role playing activities so it was a natural idea that came to them to develop a Talent Night to showcase their talents. 

The girls, with support from the Safe House staff, spent a week preparing and practicing for the big event. They were broken up into five different teams to practice their routines.

On the big night, staff and friends gathered to watch the show, which included performing skits, reciting poems, and choreographed dances. All teams were given small token gifts for their efforts.

“We had so much fun that day,” said one participant. 

“It was nice to dance and show the girls what I learned,” said another. 

“It is a good day to come together and do what I like best: singing,” said yet another girl.

They also held a group birthday party, which are held quarterly to celebrate all the girls and their children who had birthdays in the last several months.

In addition to events like the talent show and birthday celebrations, the girls keep busy with a variety of regular activities.

One of the Safe House program's main goals is to promote psychosocial healing and a sense of community by structuring a daily routine.

For example, the girls have daily reading assignments as well as time and guidance to complete their school assignments. Reading is a big deal at the Safe House- the goal being to develop a reading culture where reading is encouraged and exciting for the girls. Thanks to supporters like you, the Safe House now has a small library of books for girls at different reading levels.  

Other activities include playing sports and spending time on communal household chores like cooking, tidying, and gardening - and for those that have babies and small children, childcare.

On the weekend, time is devoted to rest and relaxation as well as life-skills sessions on relevant topics such as reproductive health and self-esteem. Life at the Safe House continues to be busy and productive!

Thank you for your support of this project. The girls are thriving in this safe, caring environment thanks to your generosity!

Birthday party - blowing out candles
Birthday party - blowing out candles
Margaret and Alex playing at the Safe House
Margaret and Alex playing at the Safe House

This past year Heshima Kenya piloted The Doli Healing Project, a doll making art therapy program offered to Heshima girls who are survivors of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV). SGBV is defined as “violence that is directed against a woman because she is a woman, or violence that affects women disproportionately.” Of the 295 girls and young women Heshima Kenya has served since 2008, one-third of Heshima’s cases are SGBV related.

The Doli Healing Project was held in May of this year and consisted of 16 classes held over an 8-week period. All participants were Congolese mothers between the ages of 15 and 20 who were struggling with the demands and responsibilities of motherhood. Participants were also seeking higher self-esteem and support for symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression.

Margaret participated in the Doli Project and demonstrated some very positive outcomes.  Margaret was 18 years old when she fled violence and war in DR Congo. Her harrowing trek took her from the forests of Congo, to Uganda, and finally coming rest in Nairobi, Kenya. When she arrived, Margaret was able to locate her maternal uncle and began living with his family. While there, she became pregnant after being sexuality assaulted by a neighbor. Forced to leave her uncle’s house because of the shame her unwed pregnancy would bring to her family, Margaret was devastated and without a home.

All this changed when Margaret found Heshima Kenya. She was referred to Heshima Kenya’s Safe House and began to receive counseling, support, and medical care. She found safe and supportive community with the other girls and staff. And on November 11th, 2011 Margaret gave birth to a beautiful baby boy, Alex.

Margaret shares that her participation in the Doli Project was a challenging and an exciting opportunity. With the assistance of a consulting art therapist, she learned how to make the doll step by step, teaching her to be patient with the learning process. Margaret expresses that the Doli Project provided relief from thinking and worrying about her problems and her son Alex, and that she felt safe and supported surrounded by the other girls in the program. “Working on my Doli released stress and anxiety from my mind. I am so grateful, “ she states.

As the Doli Project progressed, Margaret began to feel more confident and better able to relate to the other Heshima girls and to her child. Margaret also has gained new parenting skills, saying that she knows how to better hold and love her baby. Currently, Margaret is engaged with Heshima Kenya staff to prepare her for transition back into the community. Soon she will be reintegrated back into city and community life with her 10 month old son.

Margaret is very independent-minded and says she now has the confidence to pursue her dreams of becoming a very successful business entrepreneur.

It is support like yours that enables Heshima Kenya to provide therapy and other services to our young women in need. We thank you for your crucial support!

Residents of the Safe House relaxing.
Residents of the Safe House relaxing.

Recently, we received a written testament to the power of Heshima Kenya from a young woman who moved through our program and is now resettled in the U.S.

Candide’s background is one of many struggles – filled with war and loss. She was born in 1992 and lost her entire family to the genocide in Burundi at only 10 months old. She was moved to a refugee camp, where she remained for 6 years of her life until she was able to move in with a foster family. Candide was forced to leave this home when she found her life was in danger and moved around from country to country seeking shelter, safety, and any distant relatives that may have remained. She entered Kenya by bus, all alone with nowhere to go, until she was referred to Heshima Kenya.

When Candide arrived, she was tired and her spirit was broken, however she was welcomed into the Heshima Kenya Safe House with open arms; Candide felt the staff and residents of the Safe House were truly happy to have her there. Candide reflects upon her entry: “The people of Heshima Kenya warmly (welcomed) me and all the Heshima Kenya officers continued to work with me to make my life better.  The Heshima counselors helped me to accept my past and begin building my future. At Heshima Kenya my life was good and quiet.  I felt safe.  It was a wonderful place for me to live.” Candide began a new life at Heshima – in the Girls Empowerment Program she learned Swahili, English, Math, and life skills – such as cooking, cleaning, and other household responsibilities.

Finally,  Candide was able to be resettled in the United States. While she was thrilled because her life would no longer be in danger, and she could continue school to pursue her dream of becoming a criminal lawyer, she was greatly saddened to leave her Heshima family. She reflects upon her last night saying, “That night I celebrated with my wonderful Heshima Kenya girls, but everyone there was crying. I loved them. They loved me, too. Heshima Kenya was my safe place, my home because I was living with family who understood me and I understood them. Through our pain we reached out to each other. Together we began rebuilding our lives.”

Candide is currently living happily in the U.S., while it’s not easy to be in a new place with new people she loves her family here and is looking forward to graduation next year. She states why she feels it’s important to tell her story: “I’m sharing my story with you to show you how much Heshima Kenya has positively impacted my life. Please continue to help other young women who are faced with what appears to be insurmountable challenges and an uncertain future. With Heshima Kenya at their sides, miracles will happen and dreams can come true.”

Thank you again for your support and commitment to Heshima Kenya, which makes it possible for girls like Candide to begin to lead empowered lives. 

One of our Heshima girls  - happy and safe!
One of our Heshima girls - happy and safe!

It’s time for Global Giving’s first Bonus Day of the year! Starting at 12:00 AM EDT on March 14, Global Giving will be matching your donation to Heshima Kenya! That’s right - on March 14th only, Global Giving will match your donation up to $1,000 per donor at 30%! Please go to the Global Giving website on Wednesday, March 14th to continue to support Heshima Kenya’s Safe House. Or consider a donation to our other project, the Girls Empowerment Project. Additionally, Heshima Kenya can earn an extra $1,000 by raising the most funds or having the most donations. Global Giving has a limited amount of matching funds available, so be sure to get your donations in early!

Thanks so much for your support and commitment to empowering our Heshima Girls!

One of the most rewarding things about our work is realizing the positive outcomes from our young women who have worked so hard to overcome their traumatic experiences and strive for a better life. We cannot emphasize enough our pride in their resilience and endurance, and would like to thank you, the donors, for making these impressive gains possible.

Margaret’s Exceptional Strides

In November, Margaret shared her powerful story that told of the trauma she experienced before arriving at The Safe House. Margaret was forced to flee the Congo due to violent soldier attacks on her village, during which she was separated from her mother, uncle, and the rest of her family. Despite the adversities she experienced, Margaret thrived at The Safe House and in her school. We are happy to report her hard work has had extremely powerful results. Margaret has successfully exited The Safe House and is now living with two other girls also enrolled in Heshima Programs.  She is currently working as an assistant teacher with Heshima Kenya and continues to go to school at night.  Margaret is a wonderful example of the strong capabilities our young women possess.

Natalie: A Natural Leader

Natalie is 17 years old and arrived in the Safe House from the Congo ten months ago.  Despite the hardships she experienced, Natalie persevered to succeed and become a leader to others at the Safe House. Her support and assistance of her fellow peers led to Natalie’s election by the young women to be their representative – they come to her when they have issues, concerns, or questions.  She uses her role to engage the others in unique, positive ways – such as creating a cleanliness competition, where many girls were rewarded with trophies and gifts. She also acts as a liaison for staff, working to sensitively advise young women who are having trouble adjusting to the rules of the Safe House and briefing staff on the outcome.  Most recently, Natalie was elected as the President of the Girl’s Empowerment Program and received a sponsorship to pursue her education. She continues to work hard to further her education and be a strong leader to her peers in the Safe House.

Jeantile’s Courage

Courage can be defined as the power or quality of dealing with or facing danger, fear, or pain. Jeantile, 16, demonstrates courage in action.  In her very short time at the Safe House, Jeantile has shown courage to overcome her struggles and has improved immensely. Upon arrival, the horrors and trauma she and her son experienced in her recent past caused Jeantile to exhibit low self-esteem, be reserved around others, and be very possessive of her son. She constantly felt unsafe, and was anxious that she and her son would be displaced and need to make another long journey at any moment’s notice. After continuous counseling, providing assurance, and constant assessment, Jeantile has developed higher self-esteem and a sense of safety and confidence that she and her son are in a secure place. This has led to a healthy detachment from her son, allowing him to attend nursery school to further his development, as she attends education classes at the Girl’s Empowerment Program.  Jeantile demonstrates the bravery and potential that we work to uncover in all of the young women in The Safe House. 

Thank you again for your support and commitment, which makes it possible for girls like these to begin to lead empowered 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

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