This blog posted was originally posted on the Heshima Kenya Heshima Highlights blog on Feb. 23rd 2012.

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.”

You can invest in the lives of young women like Miriam by purchasing products from Heshima Kenya’s Maisha Collective project. ‘The Maisha Collective is a peer-driven initiative that fosters leadership and business management skills through the design and production of unique hand-dyed scarves and textiles. In managing the collective, 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.
100 percent of the proceeds are reinvested into Heshima Kenya’s programs and the savings of Maisha Collective members. To order a scarf visit our online Etsy shop.’

In honor of International Women’s Day today check out more inspiring stories from Ecumenical Women at the United Nations. Also consider taking part in today’s International Women’s Day Action to support Anna Louis Inn Noon – 1pm at 400 Broadway!

Heshima Kenya specializes in identifying and protecting unaccompanied and separated refugee children and youth, especially girls, young women and their children living in Nairobi, Kenya. Our shelter, education and community outreach services, coupled with local resources and the refugee community, empower this population to live healthy lives.  By providing resources for long-term support, these girls and young women become catalysts for strengthening networks creating sustainable change within the local and global communities. For summer internship opportunities click here!

Dominique BrownDominique Brown joined the CFJ staff in the fall of 2011, after completing her master’s degree in International Public Service from DePaul University in Chicago. She is a Cincinnati native (well…if you count Florence, KY) who loves yoga, spending time downtown, and cooking. She feels most at home when she is in another country learning about a new culture and has traveled to every continent except Australia and Antarctica. She is passionate about pursuing justice, peace, and fostering intercultural understanding where she can.