At the safe house run by Heshima Kenya there is a little boy named Innocent. And a baby named Lucky. These little kids don’t know it, but they are essentially running for their lives.
Their mothers are both refugees, teenagers, unaccompanied, escaping war and genocide. And these young ladies named their children Innocent and Lucky. Adjective names are quite popular in East Africa, but seem especially poignant in a refugee safe house.
According to their vision statement, 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. Their 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.”
One girl is 9-years-old and alone in the world. She is beautiful. Strikingly beautiful. And hopeful. Independent. Graciously declined my offer to help her carry two heavy bags of laundry.
Another young woman is missing two fingers because she was rounded up and tortured with a machete when she was a young girl.
A 2-year-old girl also lives in the safe house. She was orphaned when her mother died from AIDS when she was a baby. She is HIV positive and sweeter than sugar.
One young woman has some physical and psychosocial challenges. She was found alone on the streets of Nairobi, a refugee girl abandoned by her family most likely because of her illness. Traumatized. She had been facing ongoing sexual assault by the guys on the streets. Now, even though she still needs help with feeding and clothing herself, she is flourishing, smiling, joking. I learned of her story last year when she colored me a picture that was sent to me because of a little support I had given the organization. Can’t describe the honor I felt meeting her in person. She insisted that she pose for me to take a picture. But for her safety, I cannot post it here.
There are over 40 people living in the Heshima Kenya safe house. From the Congo, Somalia, Sudan, northern Uganda… A majority are young mothers ages 13-18 and their toddlers. Residents rotate duties for cleaning, cooking, and making children’s meals.
And last week, we all got together to sit down and watch a movie on the small, older TV set in the corner. The only flick my friends and I could find at the DVD store appropriate for adolescent girls was the Fame remake. The girls loved it and the babies sat on the floor munching salty snacks and pretending to read books to each other.
One thing you will notice about the children here is that none use pacifiers. They are generally quiet, joyful, mischievous and loving, even to us strangers. Except Innocent, he was a little weirded out by our white “muzungu” faces. He was so sweet.
I was proud to be wearing my Maisha Collective scarf that I had bought last year back in Chicago. The girls instantly knew that it was one of the many scarves they had created here by hand, diligently twisting every tassel.
While the young women attend classes in English, Swahili, Math, Parenting, Heshima Kenya provides a loving nursery for the babies. Heshima also provides counseling, fresh vegetable gardens, and most importantly, case management advocacy.
I sat with them and couldn’t for the life of me imagine their lives. To be alone in the world. Running. Mothering. Giggling like teenage girls around the world giggle.
Things they need include mosquito nets, DVDs appropriate for African teen girls and toddlers, books, teddy bears, Crocs and sandals, books for children as well as for teens learning English as a second language, and clothing. Maybe you could be the one to find a way to collect donations or money. Maybe you will be the one to help. Myself, I want to find a way to build some dance programming.
Amongst fears of Kenya election violence in March and a rise terrorism and unrelenting urban crime and sexual assaults, we all need to make sure Innocent and his mother can grow up safe together. The world needs Innocent. Don’t you agree?
To contact Heshima Kenya as well as to read data on the refugee crises and unaccompanied/separated girls in particular, click here.