“To be called a refugee is not an insult; it is a badge of strength, courage, and victory.”
-Tennessee Office for Refugees
My role with Heshima Kenya as Grants Manager is to both capture the strengths, challenges and data of the organization, as well as capture the moments, stories and genuine impact of our programming on the girls and young women through writing. This is my first trip to our campus in Nairobi, Kenya. After spending two weeks here getting to know the wonderful, hard-working staff, sitting and talking to the girls who are part of the programming, and spending time on our beautiful campus, I know I will never truly be able to fully capture the resilience and restored hope of our little corner of the world in Nairobi.
During our two-week stay here, we were lucky enough to attend a field trip to the nearby Lake Naivasha with the girls that are part of the Girls’ Empowerment Project (GEP) and the Safe House. Many of the girls said it was the best day of their lives. They were so happy to have a field trip outside of the Safe House and outside of the GEP. Their energy and happiness were so contagious. After everything that these girls and young women have experienced and gone through, to have a day like was the perfect way to decompress and just be themselves. It was also the best day of the trip for me because witnessing the girls’ happiness and free-spirit in person reassured me that the hard work that we put in each day to better our programming and include more girls is all sincerely worth it.
I sat next to 17-year old Esperance from the Congo on the bus ride there. Her English was very good and we talked about the different sights we saw along the way, what she liked to study in school the most, and the fact that she wants to be a nurse when she grows up. She spoke softly, but with a sense of confidence and unparalleled optimism that she would achieve her dreams one day. I told her that I was originally from Sarajevo, Bosnia and that I, too, had been a former refugee but was now living as a citizen in the United States. I saw myself in her eyes – the hope and yearning for something better is the very same search that I went through when I was younger. I asked her about how she felt being a part of the Safe House and going to classes at the GEP. She said that the Safe House provided her with a sense of safety that she has never felt in her life so far, and that the ability to go to school here and make friends and learn at the same time is something she cannot thank God enough for.
Every refugee may come from a different country and have a different story, but just as I connected with Esperance because our stories are very similar, we are all connected by our hope and dreams for a peaceful future and better world. Nairobi has forever changed me and I feel now, more so than I ever have, the push and motivation to continue to advocate for our girls’ rights and create better opportunities for them to live a happy and normal life, just as I am blessed to have after my days as a refugee.