Finding More Than Refuge in a Foreign Land
- By The Global Fund for Children on February 6th, 2013
- Category: Featured, Grassroots Girls Initiative, Sub-Saharan Africa, Success Stories
GRANTEE PARTNER: Heshima Kenya
LOCATION: Nairobi, Kenya
Imagine arriving alone in a strange land. Your parents have been killed. When you fled to another family’s home, you were raped and became pregnant.
Now you are not the only one who needs help. Your child—who is partially deaf and blind and has cerebral palsy—needs regular therapy and care. You cannot leave him to find work or go to school.
And then, finally, you find safety. A refuge where there are other young people like you, where your son can be cared for, and where you can heal and make plans for the future.
This is the true story of Faith and her son, Kevin—and Heshima Kenya, the organization that changed their lives.
When Faith arrived at the doors of Heshima Kenya, a GFC grantee partner that protects and supports unaccompanied refugees, she had no reason to believe her life would turn around. Other than her son, everything had been taken from her.
“At first I was so scared of the unknown,” says Faith, who is originally from Rwanda. “I was scared that I would be out there with my child as a refugee in a city that is still very foreign to me. Then finally I said, ‘Let me try.’”
Heshima means “dignity” in Swahili, and the organization works to restore each child’s sense of identity and self-worth. Faith and Kevin moved into Heshima Kenya’s Safe House, where unaccompanied refugee children and youth receive shelter, in addition to counseling, food, clothing, and referrals for medical care. As she started to recover from her harrowing journey, Faith began participating in the Girls’ Empowerment Program, the organization’s core service.
Through the empowerment program, young refugee women and girls strengthen the skills they need to lead independent lives. Girls who have never attended school learn English, Swahili, and math. All participants receive life skills training—including lessons in gender-based violence prevention, HIV prevention, and peace and human rights.
For older girls, Heshima Kenya offers vocational training and a competitive micro-loan program that helps some of the girls start their own businesses. Faith was drawn to the income-generating aspect of the program, called the Maisha Collective.
“I wanted to be independent—to take care of my baby, and feed him with my own money,” she says.
Through the Maisha Collective, girls and young women develop leadership and business skills as they produce hand-dyed scarves and textiles. They are involved in all aspects of production and become skilled artisans who design, create, and market the products for national and international sale.
Faith’s hard work with the Maisha Collective paid off—last year, she and Kevin moved into their first home as a family, a goal that only a few years ago Faith assumed she would never achieve.
“Now, I’m proud of myself—and it’s not scary, because I’m not alone. I still have Heshima Kenya,” she says.
Last year, the organization served more than 130 unaccompanied children and youth who had fled persecution and violence in places like Somalia, Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Like Faith and Kevin, each of these refugees found a new home in Heshima Kenya.
Names have been changed for this story.