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. 

Explore Our Programs with Heshima's Director of US Advocacy and Development, Alisa Roadcup

Meet the young refugee women we serve and learn more about Heshima's programs on a virtual journey to Nairobi with Alisa Roadcup, Heshima's Director of US Advocacy and Development. Check it out in Today's Chicago Woman Magazine  at http://www.tcwmag.com/heshima-kenya-empowers-refugee-girls 

Global Giving's Bonus Day!

It’s time for Global Giving’s second Bonus Day of the year! Starting at 12:00 AM EDT on June 13th, Global Giving will match your donation up to $1,000 per donor at 30%!

Please go to the Global Giving website on Wednesday, June 13th to donate to Heshima Kenya’s Safe House (http://www.globalgiving.org/projects/heshima-safehouse/) and our Girls Empowerment Project (http://www.globalgiving.org/projects/a-sanctuary-for-empowering-refugee-girls/).

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!

Women are the peacemakers

Natalie only recently arrived at Heshima this spring from the Congo, but already has blossomed amongst new friends and new books, growing more confident with each passing day. An eager student of 16 years, Natalie is a quick learner and constantly asked me for more books and assignments to write. While she is naturally shy and reserved, with a pen in her hand Natalie is at no loss for words and commands a mastery of English far beyond her 8 years of formal schooling. Her father was a professor years ago and inspired her intellectual curiosity as well as intuitive understanding that only some men resort to treating women poorly.

“Living hell is this world in the absence of women,” Natalie writes, and she has seen hell on Earth. Fleeing her childhood home in the dead of night after rebels sacked her village, Natalie saw her father killed while trying to reason with the attackers. Women are peacemakers, she insists, but they are not able to fulfill this vital role when they are treated like objects. Natalie notes this objectification has plagued women in the Congo even before the rebel war that destroyed her family and her home. She explains that “most men in my homeland treat women as their objects since they have to pay a bride price or dowry before marriage,” literally degrading women to a commodity to be traded between father and husband.

Natalie relishes the opportunity to voice her opinions so freely now in Kenya, producing a long list of the Congo’s gender disparities. Women cannot eat all types of meat that men can, cannot go to school without male permission, are married off young at men’s behest, and possess no freedom of movement.  It is little wonder that Natalie so relishes the educational opportunities at Heshima; were she still in the Congo, she understands that she would likely be married off by now at the age of 16 and denied the right to continue her education. Natalie is passionate about going to college someday. “Congolese men still believe that a man must have the last say,” she explains, and despite her shy demeanor, Natalie today possesses a confidence that will permit no man to stop her from attaining her education.

Written by Beth Goldberg