Kenya girls saved by Anne & friends

Our daughter-in-law in Kenya, her report on her work with refugee women and girls:

Sent: Thursday, July 26, 2012 1:48 PM
Subject: Nairobi News!

Hello Everyone,

I hope this finds you all very well!

I can’t thank you enough for your patience and understanding with my lack of communication throughout the past several months!  I would like to share some updates with you, and to also thank you for supporting the Yoga Challenge and our second annual Fashion Challenge in October – it is going to be an amazing event!

It has certainly been a whirlwind couple of months for my husband and me since arriving in Kenya last January, but it’s also been amazing to be back and to witness the tremendous impact of Heshima Kenya’s programs.  I’ve worked with refugees for nearly 14 years, and I unequivocally find the refugee crisis in Kenya to be among the most horrifying humanitarian situations in the world, not only in scope but also because the majority of these refugees will never return home – this includes many of the 200,000 refugees who fled DR Congo two weeks ago. I think what is most daunting for myself – and our staff – is when we think about these girls’ lives without our programs and the support network it provides.  It makes us believe more in what we do each day.

131 young girls and women have been supported by Heshima Kenya’s programs since January 2012: 40% are from DRC, 31% Somalia, 16% Ethiopia, 1% Sudan , 7% Rwanda, 2% Burundi and 4 % Kenya.  We get to know the girls on such a personal level and witness their lives with peace; to know the profound impact that education will have on their futures and for their children; to see girls smile after grieving for so long.  Adnan, a 15-year-old girl from Somalia who joined our programs a year and a half ago, couldn’t speak after being assaulted by a gang of street boys.  Not only is she mentally challenged and epileptic, she also was abused by her mother who left her abandoned on the streets after the assault. Heshima Kenya was able to get a placement order for Adnan to stay at our Safe House and she is now attending a special education school during the day. Adnan is writing her name, speaking Swahili, and is helping staff and the girls look after the little kids at the shelter, twelve of whom are children of young mothers in the program. Other girls like Clementine from DR Congo are also thriving within the peace and security of Heshima Kenya’s programs. 17-year-old Clementine came to Heshima Kenya in January after losing her family and fleeing Congo to Kenya.  After finding a place to sleep at a local church in Nairobi, she was raped on the steps and became pregnant. When I first met Clementine, she couldn’t speak and slept for days.  She was completely traumatized, both physically and emotionally, and refused to hold her baby boy after being born. Six months later, Clementine is now one of our leaders – she is still residing at the Safe House but hopes to join the Maisha Collective soon where she will earn money, care for her baby independently, and possibly live with another Heshima girl within Nairobi. The other week Clementine presented a doll she made as part of a larger art therapy project. She spoke proudly in front of a group of 30 peers and talked about what her doll meant to her. It was truly humbling to witness. Clementine is learning tools to recover with peace, raise her baby with confidence, and believe in herself and the possibilities she has in life.

Some updates to share:

Recently Heshima Kenya has been receiving increased referrals of younger children, mainly siblings below 12 years of age, including 4-year-old Flora and her 11-year-old brother, Emilie, who is HIV positive and from DR Congo.  Along with the challenge of identifying safe foster care families, securing education sponsorship has also become an issue because of cost – nearly $600 per year a child because of transportation and general fees. 

The Maisha Collective has experienced exciting growth in the past couple months. IOM, the international organization responsible for arranging travel for refugees to the United States, recently ordered 1,200 scarves for its refugee travel kits. This means you may see a Maisha scarf on a newly arrived refugee in Chicago! We’ve also had a slew of other orders because of the tremendous work of the Chicago team and our new partnership brochure.  This success truly speaks to the grassroots efforts of our supporters in the US and the power and beauty behind each scarf, especially when we’ve done minimal marketing.  We still search for seed support to help manage the overall program in Chicago and Kenya, but with the help of a local Kenyan designer who is consulting with HK twice per week, we are finally on the path to creating new items – most importantly, the girls are committed to balancing their classes in the morning with making Maisha scarves in the afternoon – all while attending to their babies!

We received a $150,000 grant from Bright Future International for our Safe House program in January. This has allowed up to build the resource and staff capacity of our shelter program, including hiring a nurse, additional security guards, and purchasing a second van.  We also received a two-year grant of $100,000 from American Jewish World Services. This grant will allow us to focus on outreach in the Somali community, especially identifying and supporting unaccompanied refugee girls and young women who fled drought and violence in Somalia in 2011 and remain undocumented and without protection in Nairobi.  We will also be mobilizing graduates of our programs to support with outreach and training.

We are in the final stages of completing our customized database that will capture demographic data of the girls served in our programs since January 2008 to date.  We hope to share this information with partner organizations, including UNHCR and the State Department, to help close significant gaps in knowledge about this specific population. We are also preparing to produce a larger research piece early next year about migration trends and violations experienced by girls and young women near the borders of Ethiopia, Somalia, and Uganda/DR Congo.

Imgrad Krop, a local Kenyan journalist, will be volunteering with Heshima Kenya next month to help create a series of video news stories written and produced by the Heshima girls. Our goal is to produce a news piece each quarter and share on our new website that we will hopefully launching next month.

Our Safe House is the first shelter of its kind for refugee children in Kenya to be legally recognized by the Children’s Department of Kenya.  This is a tremendous victory after 22 years of refugee crisis and will hopefully be the first among a handful of wins led by Heshima Kenya in helping the government recognize the specialized needs and rights of refugees. 

Finally, I feel extremely privileged to know first-hand about the power behind the army that got us here — that army is made up of all of you, and I know with certainty that Heshima Kenya could not have grown to where we are today without your support.  There are thousands of non-profits here in Kenya and the US that are built from the bottom-up, just like Heshima Kenya.  They are simply trying to survive and will most likely not make it because they lack opportunities to connect with supporters. Yes, of course leadership and donations are critical, but without Heshima Kenya’s fundamental base of auxiliary members, I know that we would have only remained a great idea.  You are our ambassadors that drive Heshima Kenya’s story and get people to care about the thousands of vulnerable girls and young women in Nairobi who are trying to find their voice.

All the best to you,

Anne Sweeney
Executive Director
Heshima Kenya

Heshima (Swahili): Respect, Honor, Dignity

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