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Voices from Nairobi on World Refugee Day

World Refugee Day

JUNE 20, 2013

In celebration of World Refugee Day, we would like to highlight Halima, a Heshima Ambassador who participates in our programs and serves as a project leader in the Maisha Collective. Many of the young women we support arrive  without a voice and Halima was no different when she fled Ethiopia and joined us in 2009. Today, we are proud to report that she and seven other young women are serving as peer mobilizers in our Junior Ambassadors Group. They lead workshops with other refugee girls and young women throughout Nairobi to share information about reproductive health and human rights, and other lessons they've learned from our Girls' Empowerment Project.

These young women are fostering a movement of leadership among their peers. With 11 million refugees worldwide, 80% of whom are women and children, leaders like Halima are committed to inspiring peace through education. This is Heshima Kenya’s vision in action, and we couldn’t be more proud. 

Please consider making a donation or purchasing a Maisha scarf today to celebrate these young women on World Refugee Day.


I am team leader at Heshima Kenya through the Maisha Collective and I attend the Girls’ Empowerment Program where I continue my studies. I was fortunate enough to be chosen among the seven girls who were trained on community mobilization. I participated in a three-month certification class that taught me how to mobilize and create awareness. 

I live in Eastleigh where many Ethiopian and Somali refugees live. I believed what better way to start than within my neighborhood. I therefore talked to three of my neighbors’ about the benefits of attending the training. The three called their friends and we made a group of 10 and I was able to start training them. All this took place at my humble home since it was convenient for all to attend.

The training kicked off with everyone discussing their expectations. I introduced myself and talked about what will be happening every time we met. This included the services offered by Heshima Kenya and other organizations and what topics would be covered through out the meetings. The age group is 14-27 with refugees who are Somali and Oromo. 

We discussed all the topics in the curriculum and conducted pre-and post evaluations to understand what the ladies learned from the session. I asked many of the ladies why they wanted to join the group and this is what they said: “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.” Another lady said, “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.” Another said, “If you educate a woman; you educate a generation.”

While leading trainings is inspiring, it also has its challenges. I have a lot of difficulty teaching about FGM [Female Genital Mutilation] because many of the women believe girls must undergo FGM and refuse to listen to the difficulties that come about because of it. I also taught them about STDs but I found that they were shy about this topic and they were not willing to talk too much. I think this is because they are not used to talking about STDs and in the past have not been given much information about them.   I’m confident they will open up as we become closer as a group.

Overall, 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 each. 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. 

World Refugee Day (Part 3)

Today, June 20th, is World Refugee Day, a single day each year where we are urged to think about the worldwide refugee crisis, what our leaders are doing about it, and what we as individuals can do to advocate change and action on behalf of the world’s 15 million refugees. In the United States, this day often brings increased attention and awareness to the refugees that have been resettled and welcomed on behalf of United States, who arrive with nothing and struggle to restart their lives as urban refugees in a new context. Heshima Kenya encourages us to think outside of these borders, despite the fact that there are ten girls who have been resettled and moving their lives forward in the United States. We advocate for increased attention to the bustling city of Nairobi, Kenya, home to the world’s largest urban refugee population. We advocate on behalf for these refugees, and more specifically unaccompanied women refugees. We give voice to refugee issues surrounding women and children, the Horn of Africa, and urban refugees. We give voice to these women and issues where there was none before.

Moreover, our advocacy for these refugee women must begin with our own government, the largest international funding source for refugees, including the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM). In the United States, we are fortunate to live in a country that singlehandedly resettles more than half of all the world’s resettled refugees and supports refugee issues internationally. Reviewing  the FY2013 United States Department of State’s budget for Populations, Migration, and Refugees, the department that is most responsible for international refugee support, the there is a proposed $20,700 drop in funding from FY2012, not including the suspension of funding for Overseas Contingency Operations in American-conflict related areas including Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Specifically looking at assistance programs in Africa, we see continued support for Africa assistance aims to provide a predictable level of support for African refugees, IDPs, and conflict victims at minimum international standards. Maintaining first asylum and providing life­saving assistance in the Horn of Africa is a top priority. At the same time, keeping refugee camps secure and neutral and combating gender-based violence (GBV) will continue to be key components of this critical humanitarian programming.

Despite the continued support of refugee programs abroad, we advocate for increased funding for at-risk young women refugees, perhaps the most vulnerable of the most vulnerable of the world’s population. Furthermore, we see a $30,000 dip in the numbers of refugees admitted into our borders from the FY2012 budget. We would like to see both numbers of admitted refugees and funding increase, not remain stagnant of decrease.

We invite you to advocate alongside of us, for increased awareness and funding, for refugees around the world, both within and outside of our borders.