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Protecting Refugee Women and Girls from Gender Based Violence

Heshima Kenya is the first and only organization in Kenya devoted to protecting and empowering urban unaccompanied refugee girls.

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What problem does your innovation solve?

50% of the world's refugees are women and girls. They face unique challenges, including sexual and gender-based violence and health complications due to early pregnancy and/or physical injuries related to abuse. An estimated one in five refugees or displaced women in complex humanitarian settings have experienced sexual and gender-based violence. Heshima Kenya's multi-disciplinary program provides a safe community and specialized education for refugee girls to recover and become leaders.

Explain your innovation.

Heshima Kenya provides holistic programming to meet the full spectrum of the needs of refugee girls. This includes our Girls' Empowerment Project (GEP), a multi-phase program offering a safe community for girls to obtain an education and learn about their human rights while addressing avenues for self-sufficiency and leadership building. Our Safe House is a 52-bed shelter for girls who have experienced war and sexual and gender-based violence, and have security or protection concerns. Case Management provides an array of services including medical care and referrals for counseling. While enrolled in the GEP, girls are invited to join our yearlong tailoring course, which feeds into our social enterprise, The Maisha Collective. Artisans earn a stipend to allow them to save and open their own businesses after they graduate from Heshima Kenya. Heshima Kenya has served over 3,000 girls since 2008, and we continue to grow every year. Since 2014, we have partnered with the UNCHR under Child Protection and worked with Nairobi-based partners to serve more beneficiaries. We partnered with IDEO in 2015 and 2016 on a micro-grant program to help refugee women entrepreneurs in the community through our Community Outreach program. The project was a success, training 74 women with new skills and providing them with loans to start new businesses or strengthen their existing ones.

Who benefits?

Heshima Kenya's primary beneficiary population includes unaccompanied and separated refugee girls. Currently we serve 234 girls in our Girls' Empowerment Project. The age range is between 13 and 23 years old, with the majority fleeing conflict in Somalia, Ethiopia, DR Congo, South Sudan, Rwanda, and Burundi. While our main campus is in Nairobi, we also serve girls in nearby counties including Eastleigh, Kivuli, Kabira, and Githurai, and conduct missions nationally to Meru and Mombasa. Success is measured through pre- and post-evaluation. One of our beneficiaries is Mirele, a young woman who escaped conflict in her home country of Burundi. Left orphaned, she fled alone to seek safety in Kenya. She was sexually and physically abused and left pregnant before coming to Heshima. At Heshima, Mirele found safety and was able to continue her education.

How is your innovation unique?

Heshima Kenya is the first and only organization of its kind to provide holistic programs that meet refugee girls at the full spectrum of their needs, from most basic to self-realized. When refugee girls are supported and empowered to reach their full potential, entire communities and economies benefit. The holistic care and support we provide helps the young women and girls we serve to build informed and safer communities that protect the most vulnerable rather than exploit them.

What are some of your unanswered questions about the idea?

Our GEP curriculum is comprised of four levels. We have only recently added Level Four, in order to build on our evolving curriculum to meet participants’ needs as they mature. Level Four provides training for the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) exam. A significant challenge for beneficiaries in preparation for the KCPE is the language barrier, as the test is administered in English and Kiswahili. We intend to explore how to strengthen girls’ language skills and empower them to feel confident to sit for and pass the test. Furthermore, while we currently provide vocational training in tailoring and dyeing as part of our Maisha Collective program, we intend to introduce additional vocational training.

Tell us more about you.

Heshima Kenya is a 501(c)3 organization and NGO operating in Kenya with offices in Nairobi and Chicago. Our Executive Director is located in Chicago while our Country Director and field staff are in Nairobi. Our expertise is extensive in humanitarian aid, refugee rights and advocacy, and sexual and gender-based violence prevention. Our Executive Director worked closely from 2007-2009 with the Australian Department of Tourism to plan and execute The 2009 Parliament of the World's Religions.

What is the primary type of emergency setting where your innovation would operate?

  • Armed conflict
  • Prolonged displacement

Emergency Setting - Elaborate

Over the past few years, the asylum space in Kenya has become constricted as incidences of terrorism and insecurity were linked to the presence of refugees in the country. There have been calls to repatriate, and subsequent harassment of refugees particularly of Somali origin. There have also been reported instances of denial of entry into the country of Asylum for asylum seekers from the great lakes region and South Sudan. We have increased our focus on working with the Kenyan government.

Where will your innovation be implemented?

Our GEP and Safe House are located in Nairobi, but we also operate in Kitengela, Kasarani, and Eastleigh. We conducted 3 national missions to Mombasa, Nakuru, and Meru to conduct Best Interest Assessments (BIAs).

Experience in Implementation Country(ies)

  • Yes, for more than one year.

In-country Networks

We strongly believe in collaboration with external partners and seek new partnerships and forums to share and seek information about changing trends, policies, and community-based care response mechanisms to reduce duplication of services and maximize resources. Our current partners and taskforce memberships include: UNHCR Kenya, The Department of Adult Education; Nairobi-based Charitable Children’s Institutions (CCI); The Urban Refugee Protection Network; RefugePoint, HIAS, and DRA.

Sector Expertise

  • I've worked in a sector related to my innovation for more than a year.

Sector Expertise - Elaborate

Heshima Kenya has served over 3000 girls since 2008. In recognition of Heshima Kenya's credibility as a leading children's rights and refugee advocacy organization, we were named the UNHCR Implementing Partner for Child Protection in 2015. We are a certified Charitable Children's Institution and have a great working relationship with the Department of Refugee Affairs.

Innovation Maturity

  • Roll-out/Ready to Scale: I have completed a pilot and am ready or in the process of expanding.

Organization Status

  • We are a registered non-profit, charity, NGO, or community-based organization.

Organization Location

We are headquartered in Chicago, IL and based in Nairobi, Kenya.


How has your Idea changed based on feedback?

Based on feedback, a lot of comments and contributions to our idea were interested in supporting our Heshima Kenya alumni through the additional funds and enabling them to continue their business and financial literacy education. While we were already planning on starting this alumni program, with this idea and additional funding we would support the expansion of those classes as well as additional skills-building courses for the alumni.

Who will implement this Idea?

This idea would be implemented by Heshima Kenya staff in Nairobi.

What challenges do your end-users face? (1) What is the biggest challenge that your end-users face on a day-to-day, individual level? (2) What is the biggest systems-level challenge that affects your end-users?

Because our beneficiaries are refugees, they are unable to legally work in Kenya. Therefore, we strive to continue to provide holistic care and programming to our beneficiaries in order to equip them with the knowledge and skills they need to start and run their own entrepreneurial businesses in the markets where they are allowed to sell whatever products they make if they do stay in Kenya. Another challenge refugees face is the political stigma surrounding the refugee crisis. We strive to protect our girls at our GEP and Safe House location and advocate for the rights of our girls. Finally, a third challenge is the resettlement process, because it is highly involved and also requires sometime for the beneficiaries to hear back about their status.

How is your organization considering sustainable growth in order to continue making an impact over time?

Our funding sources include the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, NoVo Foundation, Imago Dei Fund, Zakat Foundation, various family funds, individual donors, and sales from our social-enterprise program the Maisha Collective. We are always striving on increasing our donor base and also diversifying our donor base for contingency planning. Whenever we start any new project we strive to keep the project going for at least a year while searching for additional funding throughout the year to keep the project going in the future.

Tell us about your vision for this project: (1) share one sentence about the impact that you would like to see from this project in five years and (2) what is the biggest question/hurdle you need to address to get there?

Impact: By 2018, we envision brining in more beneficiaries into our programming and establishing our Heshima Kenya alumni program pilot project. Question: How do we sustain our Heshima Kenya alumni program to train more alumni and empower them to receive the specialized education and skills they need in order for their businesses to thrive in the community?

How do you currently measure (or plan to measure) outcomes for this project?

We plan on tracking education scores for all beneficiaries in the GEP as well as the alumni program. We will also do pre and post testing to evaluate growth and impact of the project and also do counseling sessions with each girl and determine satisfaction levels.

What is the timeline for your project Idea? What are the key steps for implementation in the next 1-3 years?

We plan on adding 50 additional beneficiaries and enrolling 12 Heshima Kenya alumni into our alumni training program over the next 2 years.

My organization's operational budget for 2016 was:

  • Above $1,000,000 USD

How many of your team’s paid, full-time staff are currently based in the location where the beneficiaries of your proposed Idea live?

  • Over 50 paid, full-time staff

Is your organization registered in the country that you intend to implement your Idea in?

  • We are registered in all countries where we plan to implement.

How long have you and your colleagues been working on this Idea together?

  • Between 6 months and 1 year

What do you need the most support with for your innovation?

  • Business Development / Partnerships Support
  • Understanding User and/or Community
  • Organizational Design


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Photo of Gal Ken

waiting to see what it can do. Hoping you all are right

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