Megan Sidhu

The Rights of Refugees Like Me

salomeThe essay below was written by 18 year old Salome, who fled the DR Congo in 2009 and eventually made her way to Nairobi in 2010. When she arrived at Heshima Kenya, she had experienced a great deal of trauma and had limited schooling. Today Salome is a dedicated student, loves to read and write, and is known by all as a considerate and helpful member of the Safe House. She is currently awaiting resettlement in the United States. She wrote this essay as an assignment in journalism class about the right to freedom of expression. The Rights of Refugees Like Me

My name is Salome and I am 18 years old. I ran away from my country, Congo, because of war. I came here without knowing where I was going. I had hope when I finally reached Kenya and I began to look for asylum. I was told I was going to be safe but life didn't happen like that. I was kidnapped by unbelievable people for a month and a half.

When I was kidnapped I thought I might die but I thank God I lived. Somehow, someone helped me to escape and took me to Heshima Kenya. Here I found people who have helped me with shelter, food, clothes, medicine and education. Now I am safe and secure.

One day I was watching the news and the government of Kenya said that all refugees should go to the camps! I felt so scared when I heard that. I wonder why the government has to do this to us.

We as refugees already face so much: discrimination, violence, hate speech, arrest, and sexual harassment. I didn't expect to be in Kenya or be a refugee. I didn't come here because I wanted to come. I was run out of my country with nowhere else to go.

I came to Kenya looking for safety in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I learned in class about Article 14. It says that everyone has the right to seek asylum from persecution.

Sometimes I worry if I had to leave. How am I going to survive without my family or knowing anybody? In the camp I don't think the government will be able to protect girls like us.

I hope the government understands we don't have be degraded or punished just because we are refugees. We should be treated as equals and have recognition as people with rights.

Former Heshima Kenya Participant is 2013 Voice of Courage Honoree!

2013-voc-landing-page-headerThis year, at the Women’s Refugee Commission’s Voices of Courage Awards Luncheon on May 2, Dahabo Hassan Maow – a former Heshima Kenya participant - will be one of two women honored who are developing or leading programs that benefit refugee and displaced persons with disabilities. Each year, the Women's Refugee Commission honors leaders who are working on behalf of refugee, internally displaced, migrant and resettled women and young people. The organization selected Dahabo recognizing her as “a role model for the ability of persons with disabilities to live full lives.”


Orphaned as an infant in Somalia, Dahabo lost her leg after she was caught in crossfire at age 14. After being denied sufficient assistance at the Dadaab and Kakuma Refugee Camps in Kenya, she was eventually referred to Heshima Kenya.

It was Dahabo’s enthusiasm and leadership that inspired the creation of Heshima Kenya’s Maisha Collective, an entrepreneurship-training program where girls design, produce, and market a line of hand-dyed textiles, allowing them to begin earning and saving money.

Although Dahabo is now resettled in the United States, her designs are still produced in Nairobi and she continues to work with Heshima Kenya as a Maisha Collective Ambassador. You can find out more about Dahabo and watch a short video featuring her on our new website.

We are so proud of Dahabo and we hope you’ll join us on May 2nd to honor her achievement! You can find out more info about the event here.

The Journalism Class' Newsletter: Human Rights Edition


journalismblog1 This week, the eight intrepid reporters who make up Heshima Kenya's journalism class produced a brand-new edition of Midnimo, the Heshima Kenya newsletter, all about human rights.  You can flip through and read the articles here or by clicking the image below.


This week we also had to say goodbye to Imgard Rop, the wonderful volunteer who has been heading up the journalism class for the last three months. At the Heshima Kenya offices we held a little goodbye party where each girl read aloud a heart-felt notes of thanks for her instructive lessons and kind mentorship.


"You'll never be far from my mind, and you'll always be a part of my family," said Imgard.

On behalf of all of us at Heshima Kenya - we'll miss you, Imgard!

Journalism Class at Heshima Kenya

By: Imgard Rop

Maya Angelou said it best ‘when you learn, teach, when you get, give’. This phrase is my philosophy on how I approach life and it has inspired me to share my experience in journalism with the girls at Heshima Kenya. I get to teach journalism to a group of girls who are amazing! Journalism gives them the opportunity not only to exercise their freedom of expression but also the ability to access information. My job is to guide them in utilizing that freedom. Sometimes they quip that they cannot be journalists because they are refugees and I simply tell them that they have gone through great adversities to be where they are, hence, nothing can bar them from achieving their dreams.

Every day is a different experience simply because we strive to learn from each other. Our class sessions give the girls the opportunity to converse and interact on issues such as human rights. Due to the fact that the girls come from different backgrounds, they are able to share what they have experienced and learn from each other. For instance, Fatuma, who is one of my students, is writing a story on the challenges of refugees who have different forms of disability. Such experience not only boosts their confidence but also gives them the opportunity to creatively come up with stories that educate and inform different audiences.

Currently the journalism class is creating a newsletter and news pieces that could be shared with audiences and readers. Hopefully people will become more aware of the issues that surround refugee girls as these stories emerge from their point of view. A report by Graca Machel on the impact of conflict on children recognizes that media and communication can be used to engage adolescents in their own survival and development. Once young people are empowered and motivated by information that is relevant to their lives, they can be more easily engaged and involved in decision making and program planning.

Imgard Rop is a communications intern with Heshima Kenya. She recently graduated from the University of Nairobi with a degree in journalism and is freelancing with various documentary projects.

The Doli Healing Project


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.

The Benefits of Childcare at the GEP

Image This summer, Heshima Kenya was honored to receive a grant from our long-time supporter, the Manaaki Foundation, to support our nursery, an initiative of our Girls’ Empowerment Project.

As conflicts continue to intensify throughout the region, Heshima Kenya has received an increased number of cases involving girls and young women who have experienced sexual assault and as a result have become pregnant. Other girls arrive with infants and toddlers who are frequently malnourished or suffer from other illnesses or afflictions. In response to this growing need of mothers and their children entering our programs, Heshima Kenya has developed an on-site childcare program at our education site, in addition to a parenting curriculum that teaches new and expectant mothers about topics such as child nutrition and development, post-partum depression and emotional wellness, breastfeeding, and hygiene. The presence of this childcare program enables mothers to attend their education courses on site while also attending to their children throughout the day.

17-year-old Cledestine joined Heshima Kenya in January after fleeing Congo.  After making the courageous journey to Nairobi, she was assaulted after finding shelter at a local church. Pregnant and alone, Cledestine was referred to Heshima Kenya and gave birth to Patrick, a healthy baby boy one month after arriving.  She joined our Girls’ Empowerment Project where she is learning to read and write. Patrick is able to stay in our nursery while Cledestine is attending class. This allows her to focus on her learning, while being only steps away when she is needed for feeding, changing, or playing with Patrick.

A strong foundation has been built for our childcare program, however, additional resources are required to accommodate the increased number of infants and toddlers and their development needs as they grow. Currently, Heshima Kenya is supporting 25 infants and toddlers of young mothers in our programs, two children whom have serious physical and mental disabilities, including cerebral palsy and cystic fibrosis. Your generous support helps to provide for competing needs including, including food, supplies, and additional resources for young children supported through our Girls' Empowerment Project.

Thank you again for your support and commitment to Heshima Kenya, which makes it possible for young families, like Cledestine and Patrick to begin to lead enjoyable lives. 

Feedback from the Field: an Interview with Livia Rurarz-Huygens


"No one else is doing anything like Heshima Kenya in Nairobi."

Livia Rurarz-Huygens recently worked as a resettlement consultant under the ICMC-UNHCR resettlement deployment scheme in Nairobi, where she specialized in children's rights and the Best Interest Determination for the child process. Previously, she worked with the UNHCR in the Resettlement and Gender Equality Units in Geneva, as well as in resettlement units in Lebanon and Kenya, where she worked with refugees from Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan and Congo. She studied Political Science at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva.

Earlier this summer, Heshima Kenya had the chance to interview Livia about her experience working with the UNHCR and refugees in Kenya and her thoughts on Heshima Kenya's work in Nairobi.

HK: Please describe your background in refugee resettlement.

LRH: I started working in refugee resettlement with LCFS [Lutheran Children and Family Services], based out of Philadelphia, during my undergraduate years. I became enamored with refugee work and wanted to work for UNHCR, but I realized I would have to do a few things first including, getting my masters and an internship with the UNHCR. So, I went to graduate school in Geneva and was able to get an internship with UNHCR there and meet the right people and became a Junior ICMC deployee in Lebanon. Then in 2010, I moved to Kenya and was offered another ICMC [International Catholic Migration Commission] position working for the UNHCR Nairobi branch office.

HK: Your work seems very in line with Heshima’s mission. From your experience, what are some of the major issues and challenges facing unaccompanied refugee women and girls?

LRH: For most women, exploitation is a really serious issue. These women have no power, legally or otherwise, and this puts them at a disadvantage and at risk of being exploited in terms of work. They’re never really reimbursed properly and many work under abusive conditions. Also, commercial sex is the only option that a lot of them have to support themselves, and this puts them at an even greater risk of abuse. There’s no way for them to get out from under the societal pressures placed on a woman traveling by herself, or a woman who is pregnant or has a child out of wedlock, like a lot of these women are.

HK: How did you originally hear about Heshima Kenya?

LRH: I heard about Heshima Kenya through the UNHCR in Nairobi. Our department was working closely with Heshima on child care and protection issues. Heshima works with young girls, and sometimes boys that were traveling with their sisters, and a lot of the girls were presented to the [UNHCR Best Interest Determination of the Child] panel as possible cases for resettlement, since they had suffered so many traumas and were so young.

HK: What stood out to you about our programs? In your opinion, why is Heshima Kenya special or exceptional in terms of who we serve and what we do?

LRH: The Girl’s Empowerment Project [is] something that [is] quite unique. Refugee children have the opportunity to go to Kenyan schools, but once again, girls that are traveling alone are often exploited and don’t have the chance to attend school. The Girl’s Empowerment Project [is] special in that it [gives] the girls basic life skills. Studies show that educating women grows a community and you can really see the community between the girls, not only because they learn basic English and math skills, but also because they’re surrounded by girls that have been through the same things as them.

HK: How does our organization as a whole compare to organizations with similar causes?

LRH: No one else is doing anything like Heshima Kenya in Nairobi. Their mission [is] to work with this particular population of refugees and what we have now is a real standalone organization.

HK: You spent some time with us in Kenya. How was your personal experience there?

LRH: I had a lot of interaction with the caseworkers at Heshima Kenya. Also, I interacted with the girls, as some of them were specifically identified for resettlement, and some weren’t. I was there to work with caseworkers to monitor expectations and make sure that the girls were getting what they needed. The times I had been to Heshima Kenya headquarters were to train the staff and explain to everyone that resettlement wasn’t for everyone. Resettlement is not a refugee right, but when one girl would be resettled, it would start a ripple effect and the girls would want to know ‘why not me too?’ We had to explain that for those who were resettled, it was the right choice for them because they had survived so much and endured so much abuse. We had to be careful about expectations, because a lot of these girls are not going home. For some Somali girls, who knows? Things in Somalia are getting better, but for now, I told them to focus on the programming, because these were the things that were giving them the skills to survive.

HK: What do you envision for Heshima Kenya’s future as an organization?

LRH: I think the programming is quite full. I think part of the reason Heshima Kenya is so successful is because it’s so small. The individual caseworkers know all of the girls and their names and stories. One of the key things with refugee casework is identifiability. This isn’t a problem for Heshima. One thing that I would like to see in Kenya, it doesn’t necessarily need to be Heshima Kenya that takes this on, is a similar organization for boys. What we’ve been seeing is boys and young men that don’t have anywhere to go. Heshima Kenya’s programming would serve as a great template for another organization.

Heshima Kenya featured as an outstanding organization by American Jewish World Service!

Heshima Kenya’s feature in the American Jewish World Service’s policy brief Girls at the Center: Lessons from Kenya on Investing in a World Free of AIDS


Heshima Kenya is honored to be highlighted in the recent policy brief issued by the American Jewish World Service, an international development organization that funds and supports our organization in Nairobi. The report focuses on the unique risks adolescent girls face in Sub-Saharan Africa in regards to contracting and treating HIV/ AIDS. The paper demonstrates why girls’ empowerment must be prioritized as a key factor in worldwide efforts to respond to global HIV/AIDS, providing policy recommendations to remedy this and highlighting lessons from six emblematic organizations in Kenya that are proving the value of this approach.

Heshima Kenya is featured as one of these organizations; specifically as an outstanding organization that grants access to Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) resources while acknowledging and responding to a host of interrelated issues in the lives of young refugee women. This population of displaced refugees is especially susceptible to sexual exploitation and violence, and thus HIV/AIDS as well. Hehsima’s Safe House, holistic case management, and comprehensive HIV and SRH information and services, empower young disadvantaged women with the confidence and information to make a positive change in their lives and other women back in their communities.

Alice Eshuchi, a counselor at Heshima, recalls how one girl came to Heshima at 17 years old, traumatized because her baby looked like her father, who had raped her. At first, she was not emotionally equipped to focus on her HIV risk. But Heshima staff counseled her on how to emotionally heal from the rape, learn to love and care for her child and improve her mental and physical health. Once she was ready, they then integrated HIV and broader SRH information and health services into her care.

The report recommends that the U.S. Government, and specifically the Department of State, invest money and resources in efforts to educate young women in the Global South about their reproductive rights and employ a rights-based approach to engage governments in reforming and enforcing laws that protect girls from sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) and discrimination. Empowering young women has the potential to dramatically lower the HIV/AIDS rate of infection. Moreover, the report suggests that the U.S. should cultivate girl-centered and girl-led development programs, of which Heshima Kenya provides a striking example of what empowered girls are capable of accomplishing.

To view the full report:  AJWS Policy Brief

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 

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.

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 ( and our Girls Empowerment Project (

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!

Heshima Kenya Stands With Afghan Women

As an advocate for women’s human rights, Heshima Kenya is honored to be a partner of the Afghan Women’s Shadow Summit. To coincide with the upcoming NATO summit, on Sunday, May 20th, Amnesty International will host a Shadow Summit on the human rights of women in Afghanistan. We believe that the full political, economic and social participation of women in Afghan society is vital to lasting peace, and are proud to support this Summit and its defense of women’s rights.

World leaders and dignitaries will meet in Chicago next week for the NATO summit, where they will consider many urgent questions, including those around Afghanistan’s future after the withdrawal of U.S. troops in 2014.  However, Afghan women are not included in these discussions, despite Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s promise not to abandon Afghan women and the support of their human rights, which are at grave risk as the country looks to transition to Afghan rule. In addition to the Afghan government’s proposed “reintegration and reconciliation” programs with the Taliban and other insurgent groups that threaten women’s rights, Afghan President Hamid Karzai also recently endorsed an edict that would allow husbands to beat their wives in certain situations and encourages gender segregation in workplaces and schools.

The Afghan Women’s Shadow Summit will bring Afghan women’s voices to the forefront. Speakers and panelists include Melanne Verveer, U.S. Ambassador At-Large for Global Women’s Issues; Afifa Azim, General Director and Co-Founder of the Afghan Women's Network; Manizha Naderi, Executive Director of Women for Afghan Women; Illinois Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky; and Mahbouba Seraj, Executive Board Member of Afghan Women's Network, with Jerome McDonnell of WBEZ moderating the panel. The event will include the release of Amnesty International USA's open letter to US President Obama and Afghan President Karzai, urging them to develop a comprehensive action plan to protect the rights of Afghan women.

Immediately following the summit, at 1 p.m., Shadow Summit attendees will process from the Swissotel to Navy Pier for the Fly a Kite for Women's Rights action. Heshima Kenya’s own Alisa Roadcup, Director for U.S. Advocacy and Development, will MC the event, during which we will sign and then fly yellow kites and hear from Afghan women about their experiences. Click here to take action online for women's rights.

Join us on Sunday as we stand with Afghan women and demand that their rights not be bargained away. The Afghan Women Shadow Summit will take place Sunday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Swissotel Downtown Chicago, 323 E Wacker Drive. The event is free and open to the public. For more information, visit:

Global Giving Bonus Day: Tomorrow, March 14th, 2012!

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 donate to Heshima Kenya’s Safe House and our 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!