Life, Dignity, and Opportunity for Women Refugees in Kenya

by Michelle Wijaya June 01, 2016

Life, Dignity, and Opportunity for Women Refugees in Kenya

One of our newest partners, Heshima Kenya, shared this story about one of the artisans, Elizabeth, who works in their Maisha Collective, dyeing beautiful scarves. Heshima means “respect, honor, and dignity” in Swahili, while Maisha means “life.”

  “I wanted to be independent - to take care of my baby, and feed him with my own money. At first I was so scared of the unknown - 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 I finally said, let me try. Now, I'm proud of myself - and it’s not scary, because I'm not alone - I still have Heshima Kenya.” -  Elizabeth


Elizabeth fled Rwanda in 2008 after her parents were killed. She became pregnant as a result of sexual assault while staying with a host family in Uganda. Upon learning of her pregnancy, her host family forced her to leave. Elizabeth gave birth to a beautiful baby boy, Kevin, who was born with an array of complications – he is partially blind, deaf, and requires regular therapy because he has cerebral palsy and is epileptic. Caring for Kevin made it difficult for Elizabeth to find a safe home, receive an education, or earn any income. Her situation seemed hopeless. 


Then Elizabeth and Kevin found Heshima Kenya. Heshima Kenya is the first and only organization in Kenya devoted to protecting and empowering urban unaccompanied refugee children and youth. They moved into the Safe House and received support from the case management services that Heshima Kenya provides. When Elizabeth was ready, she joined the Maisha Collective, the income generation component of Heshima Kenya. The Maisha Collective is a 14-month apprenticeship where the young women learn to manage a business collective that designs and produces a line of unique tie-and-dye scarves. Participants gain life-long business and marketing skills that develop their confidence and prepare them for future independence, which will in turn improve their communities. While enrolled in the Maisha Collective, Elizabeth earnestly saved her earnings so she could live independently. Through the Maisha Collective, Heshima Kenya provides long-term and sustainable solutions to help young refugee women and girls become safe, economically self-sufficient and independent. All Maisha members receive case management, psychosocial care, medical care, legal, advocacy, full-time daycare for their children, a monthly stipend, meals and are enrolled in our basic education program.


Elizabeth’s hard work proved successful: in March, she and Kevin moved to their first home as a family, a challenge Elizabeth assumed she would never achieve because of her son’s disability. She will continue to participate in the Maisha Collective and Heshima Kenya will support Kevin’s medical care.

 Heshima Kenya is proud to have redefined how holistic models of protection work for this vulnerable population, with empowerment and sustainability at the core of our programming. 70% of Maisha graduates are now economically independent.

See our collection of beautiful scarves hand-dyed by the women artisans of Maisha Collective.

Michelle Wijaya
Michelle Wijaya

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