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!

Inspiring Peace and Social Change: Miriam's Story

Miriam came to Heshima Kenya in 2009 after living with abusive host families in the slums of Kawangware, located just outside of Nairobi. With these families, Miriam was subject to abuse and was forced to work long hours to complete all of the household chores, including caring for each families’ many children. She experienced extreme poverty – living with 8 other family members in a single room partitioned only with curtains. After rape attempts by one of the sons and the father of her second host family, Miriam finally received help from a neighbor to reach the UNHCR, where she was placed with Heshima Kenya.

“Heshima Kenya has changed my life a lot!” Miriam exclaims, stating she is finally able to access education, has obtained shelter and food, and feels safe. She stresses that while living in the community she was constantly fearful, but is finally free of attacks – like rape and other assault. She feels taken care of as she would if she were living with her own parents. “The other HK girls are like my sisters,” she says, “We all (give each other advice) and console (each other) when we are stressed or have a problem. This is the only family I have and know.” Miriam also demonstrates how the environment and services at Heshima inspire peace, empowering the young women to be catalysts for social change. “The girls are very helpful and we all love each other. We now can live together in harmony in spite of our different ethnic groups and countries. We can live together as sisters who share a common goal.”

Miriam is currently working very hard in school, where her favorite subjects are Kiswahili, Science, Social Studies, English and Mathematics. “I want to excel at it all,” Miriam declares. Additionally, Miriam looks to the other young women who have exited the Safe House as role models because they are able to live responsibly on their own – paying their rent and bills, and budgeting responsibly. She is grateful for the education, language, and income generating skills she is acquiring to help her achieve these goals. Down the road, Miriam aims to become a journalist but is also inspired by the work of Anne Sweeney and Talyn Good, the founders of Heshima Kenya. She, too, would like to assist orphans from war torn countries “I would encourage other Heshima Kenya girls to live with peace, love, and understanding.”

New Maisha Collective Scarves Now Available!

We just received our latest shipment of scarves from Nairobi; the scarves are available for sale on our Etsy site. We have over 10 new designs and colors available for purchase! A bit more about the Maisha Collective: The Maisha Collective: Every Scarf Tells A Story

The Maisha Collective, a project of Heshima Kenya, empowers refugee girls and young women from DR Congo, Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan, and Burundi with economic opportunities to rebuild their lives with peace and dignity. By managing a business collective that designs and produces a line of unique hand-dyed scarves, participants gain life-long business and marketing skills that develop their confidence and prepare them for future independence. The power of purchase inspires their journey to support, empower, and ultimately protect other young refugee women.

All profits are returned directly to Collective participants as weekly wages and support of their ongoing engagement in Heshima Kenya's education and shelter programs.

Positive Impacts from The Safe House

By Jessica Brown - Advocacy and Grants Coordinator

One of the most rewarding things about our work is realizing the positive outcomes from our young women who have worked so hard to overcome their traumatic experiences and strive for a better life. We cannot emphasize enough our pride in their resilience and endurance.

Margaret’s Exceptional Strides

In November, Margaret shared her powerful story that told of the trauma she experienced before arriving at The Safe House. Margaret was forced to flee the Congo due to violent soldier attacks on her village, during which she was separated from her mother, uncle, and the rest of her family. Despite the adversities she experienced, Margaret thrived at The Safe House and in her school. We are happy to report her hard work has had extremely powerful results. Margaret has successfully exited The Safe House and is now living with two other girls also enrolled in Heshima Programs.  She is currently working as an assistant teacher with Heshima Kenya and continues to go to school at night.  Margaret is a wonderful example of the strong capabilities our young women possess.

Natalie: A Natural Leader

Natalie is 17 years old and arrived in the Safe House from the Congo ten months ago.  Despite the hardships she experienced, Natalie persevered to succeed and become a leader to others at the Safe House. Her support and assistance of her fellow peers led to Natalie’s election by the young women to be their representative – they come to her when they have issues, concerns, or questions.  She uses her role to engage the others in unique, positive ways – such as creating a cleanliness competition, where many girls were rewarded with trophies and gifts. She also acts as a liaison for staff, working to sensitively advise young women who are having trouble adjusting to the rules of the Safe House and briefing staff on the outcome.  Most recently, Natalie was elected as the President of the Girl’s Empowerment Program and received a sponsorship to pursue her education. She continues to work hard to further her education and be a strong leader to her peers in the Safe House.

Jeantile’s Courage

Courage can be defined as the power or quality of dealing with or facing danger, fear, or pain. Jeantile, 16, demonstrates courage in action.  In her very short time at the Safe House, Jeantile has shown courage to overcome her struggles and has improved immensely. Upon arrival, the horrors and trauma she and her son experienced in her recent past caused Jeantile to exhibit low self-esteem, be reserved around others, and be very possessive of her son. She constantly felt unsafe, and was anxious that she and her son would be displaced and need to make another long journey at any moment’s notice. After continuous counseling, providing assurance, and constant assessment, Jeantile has developed higher self-esteem and a sense of safety and confidence that she and her son are in a secure place. This has led to a healthy detachment from her son, allowing him to attend nursery school to further his development, as she attends education classes at the Girl’s Empowerment Program.  Jeantile demonstrates the bravery and potential that we work to uncover in all of the young women in The Safe House.

Thank you again for your support and commitment, which makes it possible for girls like these to begin to lead empowered lives.

Go Mina!

Please check out this exciting contest and root on our own Auxiliary Council member, Mina Lee. Mina contributed her suave and savvy design expertise to make last year's Fashion Challenge a hit! Mina's company, A Swan Event, has been invited to participate in the Bridgeport Art Center's "Affordable Wedding Contest". A Swan Event is planning a "Shakespeare in Love" theme, which you can read more about here. You can follow A Swan Event on Facebook and Twitter.

The contest will be held on Valentine’s Day. Stay tuned - the winner will be announced the same afternoon! Mina's offered to donate a portion of the award to Heshima Kenya if she wins. Go Mina! And thank you!

Margaret's Voice

One of the most powerful things that Heshima Kenya does is empower girls to share their stories. As our caseworker Osop says, "We give voices to girls who were told never to speak." The following is Margaret's story, told in her own words. Sometimes it is like a story, like it didn't happen to me. It was 2004. It was July. I was 14. Each day in Bukavu [Congo] we would listen to the radio to see if it was safe to go to school. That day it wasn't. It was 6 or 6:30 that night and just starting to get dark when we heard the shooting. They would shoot to scare us so that we would stay in our houses. Then soldiers would go house to house and do things like force fathers to sleep with their daughters while they watched. My mother wanted to hide in the house. My uncle said, "If you hide under the bed, they will find you! Come! We will run!" Outside the streets were full of people running to get away. Some were covered in blood. If an old lady fell, or a baby, people would run right over them because if they stopped, the people in the back would run over them. There were disabled people in wheelchairs by the side of the road, crying. They couldn't push themselves anymore without getting trampled. My uncle held onto my wrist and never let me go.

We didn't see my mother and brother, but my uncle said not to worry, that they were behind or ahead of us. We ran all night. We crossed into Rwanda to a forest. My mother and brother never came. We couldn't go back to look for them because we were afraid we'd be caught. I was crying, crying. "I want my mom. I want my mom." My uncle took me on his back. "Don't worry," he said. "When we reach someplace safe, then we'll look for them." I tried to understand, but my heart wouldn't let me. Eventually he left me with someone and went back to look for his wife, who had also gone missing. "I will come back for you," he said. But he never came. That woman got tired of keeping me and gave me to another woman who brought me to Kenya. That was seven years ago.

God has helped me in so many ways. I got an education. I didn't even pay anything for it. Education is a privilege. Now I help other girls in teh Safe House with their schoolwork. "The hand that gives is the hand that receives." I never saw my mom again, but I try and remember all the good things my mother told me.

Today is th GlobalGiving Girl Effect Challenge Bonus Day. To support more girls like Margaret and help Heshima Kenya receive critical funding from the Girl Effect Fund, visit our fundraising page. Even a donation of just $10 will make a tremendous difference.

The Girl Effect in Action!

Have you heard of the Girl Effect? The Girl Effect is the “unique and undisputable potential of adolescent girls to end poverty for themselves and the world.” Sound familiar? At Heshima Kenya, the Girl Effect is happening every day. It happens when Bontu, 21, is able to live on her own and support her baby thanks to the education and training she received from our Girl’s Empowerment Project. It’s Iragi, 18, writing a Heshima Kenya anthem and leading other girls as they perform the song (posted below). It’s all the girls, from Somalia, DR Congo, Ethiopia and Burundi, who put aside their cultural and ethnic differences and celebrate their diversity, working together to learn about their rights and educate their communities. We know that Heshima Kenya is the Girl Effect in action, but now is our chance to prove it. Beginning October 15, Heshima Kenya will be participating in the GlobalGiving Girl Effect Challenge. Win the challenge, and we’ll be an official part of the international Girl Effect campaign, receiving recognition and funding that will help us continue to provide essential shelter, education, and support for adolescent refugee girls in Nairobi, Kenya. And we need you to help us win!

Starting October 15, we will be trying to get the most unique donors on our Girl’s Empowerment Project page on GlobalGiving. That means we want as many different people as possible to give $10 or more, and then – here’s the important part! – encourage 10 friends to do the same. Passing it on means you’re helping girls have their stories heard. In the words of one Heshima girl, “I believe I am a leader because I don’t have to be old to have my voice heard. It all depends on how much I believe and use my brain.”

We believe in the Girl Effect! Help Heshima Kenya win the Challenge – stay tuned in the coming days for more information about how you can help.

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

The Maisha Collective is now online!

We are excited to announce that last week, Heshima Kenya launched its online store on Etsy, an online marketplace for handmade items. Scarves from our 2011 Maisha Collective line are now available for purchase online and at Heshima Kenya's office at 4917 N. Damen in Chicago. Check out our Etsy page and buy a scarf today! Here are a few styles that you will find at our online store.

Please stay tuned to find out more about opportunities to purchase Maisha Collective scarves, and about new designs that we have in store!

Would you like to model your Maisha Collective scarf for Heshima Kenya? Send us a photo of you wearing your scarf and tell us a little bit about how you share Heshima Kenya’s vision! We might just feature you on our blog and Facebook page. Send your photos to

The most special people on Earth

Asho is the class clown who gets straight A’s, immediately endearing her to her peers and teachers alike. She keeps those around her laughing with her lighthearted jokes, while maintaining a distanced independence and maturity beyond her 17 years that hints at her troubled past. Originally from southern Somalia, Asho chooses not to talk about her old life there and is very much acclimated to her new home in Nairobi after two years with Heshima. With her big sister style of tough love and self-assured independence, Asho was enthusiastic to talk candidly about the role of women in her society.

“Women are the most special people on Earth” Asho begins, with characteristic, unabashed directness.  She describes the importance of women’s role both as tender care-givers and as leaders, however repressed they are in the latter role today.  Without pause, she explains matter-of-factly how women “are mistreated by men in all different cultures around the world.”  Asho describes this gender inequality as a cultural problem, displaying a mature understanding that relegating women to doing house chores is a cultural decision, not an inherent problem with men. She laments that currently in her Somali culture, “when [men] hear a woman will be a leader, they put their fingers in their ears to show that they will not trust women with confidence.”

A woman with confidence is exactly what Asho is. She has taken on leadership roles within Heshima’s Girls Empowerment Project and photographed for this blog. Regardless of the gender discrimination Asho has seen or personally faced in her 17 short years, she remains a role model at Heshima in her maturity and openhearted understanding that all people are equal. “What men can do” she says, “We women can do with the same ability.”

Written by Beth Goldberg

"Dancing Made Us One": Celebrating Diversity

For the past couple of months, the girls have been preparing for Heshima Kenya's Cultural Day, where they sing and dance to express their different culture and heritage to others. This is a way of embracing their identity, building confidence and releasing stress, while having fun at the same time. They are also able to teach others more about who they are, beyond what can be seen in their day to day activities.

They had the opportunity to do their first show when Heshima Kenya had guests from The University College of Volda, Norway visiting in October. The Somalis were first with their traditional dance “Buranbur”, followed by the Rwandese, Congolese and Burundians dancing together.  Some of the Ethiopian girls did an Oromo dance called “Shogoyee”, before the girls all sang together. The show was closed by Zena, singing a song about peace. The girls were also excited to show the visitors what they had rehearsed.  Ayan (15) from Ethiopia says: “The performance was nice, although I was a bit nervous. The other groups had larger numbers but the Ethiopians were few. I practiced in the house and I felt better about it. I hope by practicing more the next performance will be even better."  Esperance (18) from the DR Congo was the one initiating the Cultural Day.   wanted to unite the girls and have them working toward a mutual goal, instead of each girl doing her own things. “I want to learn more about each culture and tribe”, she says. “Now we are more united, because everyone wants to present a good thing.  The rehearsals and performance have made us as one”.


Religious Diversity in the Safe House: Ramadan

This Wednesday marks the beginning of Ramadan, the Islamic month of repentance, the most holy month in Muslim tradition. As many of Heshima Kenya’s participants observe Ramadan, we have been spending a lot of time preparing for how things will change with our schedules and programming. Through these discussions I have learned how difficult – and yet how important – it is to create a place of peace, safety, and respect for religious diversity, especially in Heshima Kenya’s Safe House. The girls who live in the Safe House come from a wide range of backgrounds. They are not only from different countries (such as Somalia, Ethiopia, DR Congo, and Rwanda) but from different religions, tribes, and families. On the other hand, they are all refugees and have very similar histories of violence and trauma. One always hopes that these girls can set aside their differences in recognition of their common pasts and current situations, yet in the face of practical concerns this is unfortunately not always the case.

For example, during the month of Ramadan, the girls who are observing must fast for a straight 13 hours throughout the day. They are able to eat but only after sundown and before dawn. Traditionally, the meal they eat after sundown is a feast of samosas, dates, juice, and rice. For all of the girls who live in the Safe House and mostly eat rice and beans, this is seen as a really special treat. So is it fair to only give these foods to the girls who observe Ramadan?

On the other hand, in a house where the girls are responsible for their own cooking, is it fair to the Muslim girls to have to cook samosas (since they are the only ones who know how to make them) for everyone, when they are the ones who have been fasting all day?

It may seem like a small and trivial matter, but this is a real issue that has been disputed and discussed over and over again by both the girls and the entire staff. If our goal is to create a place of peace, we can’t give something to one girl that we don’t provide for the entire group. We also can’t make divisions along religious lines. Therefore, we have to explain to the girls that while their religious observance and cultural customs are honored and valued, we also have to honor and value the community that we are trying to build at Heshima Kenya. It’s a fine balance that we are constantly trying to maintain.

Fatuma, the GEP coordinator at Heshima Kenya, explained to me that Ramadan is the time when you focus on being the best possible version of yourself. I hope that during Ramadan, despite our religious or cultural differences, we can all work towards being the best possible version of ourselves, to treat each other with respect and dignity.  True Heshima.

Report Back: The Maisha Collective's First Meeting

On July 7, 2010, the members of the Maisha Collective came together for our first official meeting. From now on every week members will be getting together to discuss all of the details of getting Maisha up and running. One of the biggest issues to come up at the meeting was childcare. Out of the five current members of the Maisha Collective, four have very small children that they have to care for while they are working all day on the scarves. Also, when the girls are dyeing the scarves the babies are not allowed to be anywhere nearby because the chemicals are toxic. So who will take care of them? Once they start generating income, they decided to all contribute a portion of their pay to go towards paying for childcare. Even the one member who does not have any children agreed to contribute. Maisha truly is a collective in which all members support each other for the greater good of the group.

Another question was budgeting: how much each member should be paid; how much should be reinvested into Maisha to purchase more materials and dye; how will the members take care of their daily needs and save for the future? Once again the girls all agreed that they should set aside a portion of their monthly income to save for things like school fees, rent, and an emergency fund.

The Maisha Collective is unique because its members are also participants in Heshima Kenya’s Girls Empowerment and case management programs. All of the girls agreed that some of their money should go back into Heshima Kenya’s programming so that they can contribute to this work, too.

Once again, I left the meeting feeling so much admiration for the members of the Maisha Collective. With the prospect of starting to earn real money, these girls are faced with tough decisions about how to lead their lives. But, they are rising to the challenge with grace, and putting their future, their group, and their children as a priority.

Maisha Collective at the Nairobi Massai Market

I am happy to announce that the Maisha Collective will now be selling their scarves at Nairobi’s Massai Market every Tuesday. The market is at Westgate Shopping Mall on their rooftop parking lot in Westlands. On Tuesday, tourists and other customers from all over Nairobi (and the world) came and saw our beautiful, handmade scarves, and by the end of the day we had sold a dozen. Not too bad for our first day!

For anyone who has been to a Massai Market before, you know that it can sometimes be a little bit hectic, with hundreds of vendors vying for your attention. Not wanting to be too pushy, we were a little apprehensive about approaching people in the morning. However, by the end of the day we had learned a lot about marketing and promoting our scarves. Our wonderful neighboring vendors taught us the art of bargaining and being personable with would-be customers. They even encourage people to buy our scarves, saying "Have you seen the scarves that our friends made? Not only are they beautiful but they're for a good cause".

As I looked at the scarves blowing in the wind along the walls behind us, the beautiful display of colors on the ground in front of us and the smiles on each of our faces. Here’s to many more successful days at the market to come!

The Maisha Collective: What We Hope For

I want to tell everyone a little bit about the Maisha Collective. Here at Heshima Kenya, some girls wanted an opportunity to have a concrete source of income, so they have come together to form a small business collective. Through the Maisha Collective, members make beautiful handmade tie & dye scarves that they are hoping to sell in the U.S. and Kenya. So far, the response has been great! The other day I interviewed Maisha members about what the Collective means to them and what their hopes are for Maisha. I think it illustrates how these scarves are helping Maisha members build their confidence, independence, and a sense of empowerment. Here is what they had to say:

“The money that I will save from selling the scarves will help me to go to school to learn science so that one day I can become a doctor and help the people from Kakuma Refugee Camp”

“I like Maisha because it is helping us change our lives for the best.  I have very big dreams. I’m dreaming that Maisha will help me rent my own house, survive on my own, and allow my son to go to the best school. One day, I would like Maisha to grow big and to be known all over the world, to be famous!”

“I really like making the scarves because its fun and I enjoy it. My favorite part is rolling the tassles and dyeing the scarves… Eventually I want to run my own business, to be strong enough to do something like Maisha on my own. I want to do this so that I can take care of my child. I hope he will grow up to be a strong boy; I want him to finish his schooling nicely, and I want him to grow up well.”

“I could make scarves for the rest of my life. I just really enjoy it. I see myself having my own store, selling my own scarves, doing things on my own.”

“I like Maisha and making scarves because it’s fun, I love sewing and I’m good at it. It gives me something to do everyday that makes me feel good. My sewing skills will also help me to make money one day. I want to be a businesswoman and run my own business of sewing, making shawls, and scarves.”

“I really want to teach others to do this and I especially want to help young and single mothers learn how to do this. They need this so that they can have a skill and support themselves.”

“My dream for Maisha is that one day will have our own shop, with many girls working in it, and the workers will be able to provide for themselves. I really want Maisha to have its own store. I love doing this and I’m going to continue to do it forever. My past, when I was giving birth to my first born, I didn’t even have food or water to give him. Now that I see he can eat food, he is safe, he has clothes, and he is loved by the other girls, it inspires me to continue to do this work. That’s the biggest reason why I decided to do this.”

I hope that from reading this we can all be inspired to dream big and to not be afraid to articulate those dreams. The Maisha Collective is just getting started, but I believe fully that one day it will become everything these girls want it to be, and more.