Contact: Anne Sweeney, Heshima Kenya (773) 574-5548; [email protected]

Mother's Day Gift Evokes Deeper Meaning: Hand-crafted Scarves
Made in Kenya by Young Women Refugees Turning Lives Around,
Thanks to Chicago Non-Profit

Chicago (April 30, 2014) – The latest shipment of Heshima Kenya’s popular Maisha scarves has arrived fresh from Nairobi, Kenya, as part of a continued movement by the Chicago-based organization to turn around the lives of young refugee women in Africa. The new Spring Collection features a special-edition scarf designed to celebrate mothers around the world in honor of Mother's Day. U.S. online orders entered by May 7 will arrive in time for the May 11 holiday.

The Spring Collection’s rich color palette evokes the diverse natural en­vironments of East Africa and the shores of the Indian Ocean. Anne Sweeney, Heshima Kenya’s Chicago-based Executive Director and co-founder, said: “We always say that every scarf tells a story, and that is certainly the case with the Amina Mother's Day scarf.” [See the collection.]

The Maisha Collective: Creative Outlet & Path Toward Independence

Every scarf is handmade by young refugee women in Heshima Kenya’s entrepreneurship-training pro­gram, The Maisha Collective. The reasonably priced scarves -- which come in multiple shapes, sizes and colors -- are painstakingly tasseled and dyed by hand, then named for their designer. In addition to serving as a creative outlet, the program teaches tailoring and financial literacy. Artisans earn a monthly stipend, open savings accounts, and are eligible for a small seed grant to start their own micro-enterprises when they graduate from the program. “Our goal is to empower refugee women to become leaders in their community,” Sweeney said.

The Amina Scarf Speaks to the Power of Mothers Everywhere

Named for its designer, this spring’s Amina scarf represents the strength of mothers everywhere. Amina fled with her infant daughter to Nairobi from her village in Ethiopia. She and her daughter were living on the streets of Kenya’s capital when they were referred to Heshima Kenya just over two years ago. At Heshima Kenya they have a safe place to live, Amina attends school, and her daughter participates in Heshima’s early education program.

After she joined the Maisha Collective, Amina became a leading creative force among her peers. She also learned business skills and was able to save money. Soon, she will use these and a small grant to begin a business of her own. Sweeney said: “Amina wants to give her daughter a better life, and, like mothers everywhere, it was her love for her daughter that helped her survive in times of great adversity.”

The Amina scarf is a rich mocha color with floral-inspired accents. Together with the rest of the spring line, it is available online through Etsy, select Chicago boutiques, and other ethnic fashion outlets. All online orders received by Wednesday, May 7, for delivery within the domestic United States will arrive before Mother’s Day. Sweeney said that 100% of sales proceeds are reinvested into Heshima Kenya’s programs and the savings of Maisha Collective members.

Heshima Kenya is a Chicago-based nonprofit with operations in Nairobi, Kenya. The organization pro­tects and empowers refugee women and girls ages 13 to 23 years old who have fled their countries to live in Nairobi and have no parents or other family to protect them. One out of four has children of her own.

Heshima Kenya provides shelter, education, case management, advocacy and a healing environment for girls and young women who experienced the trauma of war; loss of family; and, in many cases, kid­napping, rape, trafficking and torture. At the core of Heshima Kenya’s holistic model is the creation of a social network that empowers girls and young women to gain economic self-sufficiency and become community leaders in their own right. To date, Heshima Kenya has helped more than 500 young women turn their lives around. Learn more at HeshimaKenya.org.

heshima. (n). Swahili. respect, honor, dignity


Launched in 2010, Heshima Kenya’s Maisha Collective is a peer-driven initiative that grows leadership, business skills, and economic self-sufficiency through the design, production, and sale of hand-dyed scarves. One hundred percent of proceeds are reinvested into Heshima Kenya’s programs and the savings of the artisans. Scarves range from $29 to $34 and are worn by women all over the world -- not only as a beautiful fashion statement but as an expres­sion of solidarity and support for refugees. See the whole collection at HeshimaKenya.Etsy.com.

The Maisha Collective has been featured on national fashion and lifestyle blogs including Martha Stewart, Daily Candy, Refinery 29 and Time Out Chicago. Corporations and foundations often purchase the scarves as gifts for their employees and supporters.


Sweeney co-founded Heshima Kenya in 2008. She brings a multi-di­mensional understanding of refugee protection and resettlement, combining her work with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program, and positions in human rights agencies in Kenya and the United States. She has lived for extended periods of time in Nairobi and has traveled extensively throughout the region. A frequent speaker on the needs of refugee women and children, Sweeney was recently profiled in The Chicago Tribune. She lives with her husband in the Andersonville neighborhood of Chicago.

[Editor’s Note: Before May 3, Anne Sweeney is available for interviews, along with Zahara, a 23-year-old beneficiary of the Maisha Collective program who has her own line of scarves. Zahara recently relocated from Nairobi to Chicago and is preparing to start a job in a restaurant. A video about Heshima Kenya is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MM3_tYw-8t0.]