Posted by Jen Rose in Organizations Edit

Heshima Kenya, the first organization devoted to empowering unaccompanied refugee minors (UAMs) living in Nairobi, was co-founded by Talyn Good and my friend Anne Sweeney. I first met Anne at Oxford's Refugee Studies Centre in July of 2003. Anne was on her way back to the States from Nairobi, where she worked with an agency that assisted refugees to process for resettlement to a third country. Anne struck me as full of passion, possessing a sharp wit and a radiant smile. We became fast friends. She often told me about urban refugees living in the slums of Nairobi. She railed against the lack of protection for the most vulnerable of the urban refugees: women and, especially, separated and or orphaned children. Social services didn't reach this population traumatized by war, forced displacement and abuse.

A few years later Anne and I were both living in DC. I had completed my master's degree and was working in refugee resettlement and Anne was working on her own master's degree. She had recently returned to Nairobi to study Swahili and reconnected with Talyn Good, a friend and former colleague. Talyn was as passionate as Anne about urban refugee children. These women decided to use their experience in refugee-related work to form a nonprofit dedicated to providing comprehensive social services to UAMs. In May 2007, Anne and Talyn co-founded Heshima Kenya as a registered NGO based in Nairobi and a US nonprofit. “Heshima” is the Swahili word for respect, honor and dignity.

Kenya's camp confinement policy limits humanitarian aid and legal recognition for refugees living outside camps. The majority of urban refugees live in chronic poverty without legal documentation or adequate access to basic resources in Nairobi. UNHCR estimates that of the 100,000 refugees residing in Nairobi, more than 5,000 are unaccompanied refugee minors.

After 17 years of refugee crisis in the region, Heshima Kenya is building the first organization in Kenya that specializes in identifying, protecting, and providing social services to Nairobi’s separated and orphaned refugee children and youth. Together with the refugee community and their partner organizations, Heshima Kenya meets basic needs, provides avenues for self-sufficiency, and ensures that vulnerable children achieve leadership skills to inspire peace and social change within their communities. The programs targets unaccompanied adolescent girls, 13 to 18 years old, from Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea, a population exceptionally vulnerable to abuse, exploitation and neglect. The organization increases lasting social capital by fostering community support, acceptance and recognition of these girls.

In one short year, Heshima Kenya has grown from two staff to seven and developed an active volunteer and intern program. It has been recognized by the Department of State and the Echoing Green foundation for not only providing comprehensive services to a vulnerable population and for creating change within a community which has been neglected for over 17 years.

Anne and Talyn have created a safe haven for what was once an invisible group. They have helped girls believe they have the power to tell their stories and change their lives.

Heshima Kenya
PO Box 408077
Chicago, Illinois 60640

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