The plight of refugees is a narrative that continues to play out in the headlines. But before the recent unrest in Syria, many countries in Africa were dealing with their own refugee crisis. Heshima Kenya, a nonprofit based in Nairobi, was founded in 2008 by Anne Sweeney and Talyn Good to protect unaccompanied and separated refugee children and youth, especially young girls. The organization is focused on girls between the ages of 13 and 23 in Somalia, Ethiopia, DR Congo, Sudan, Burundi, and Rwanda. Heshima Kenya provides shelter, education, vocational training, and other support to program participants and their children. Often, they are suffering from the horrific consequences of war, the loss of their families, as well as the lingering effects of kidnapping and rape. The organization has a staff of five in Chicago that works in concert with the Nairobi arm of the operation.
To help fund this important work, Heshima Kenya sells handmade scarves crafted by Maisha Collective, an enterprise launched in-house by the group. In this program, young refugee women learn vocational skills by producing and selling hand-dyed, one-of-a-kind scarves. Of the scarf collection, Chicago-based Executive Director Alisa Roadcup says, “People are caring more and more about where their products are sourced from and who made them. We want to invest in handmade pieces with a powerful story that will stand the test of time.” The scarves are sold on the organization’s website and will take center stage at a unique fashion show on November 12th. Heshima Kenya’s 4th Annual Fashion Challenge tasks local fashion designers with creating a women’s look with one Maisha Collective scarf that is chosen at random. After two weeks, the final creations are presented to a panel of judges from the local fashion community. The best design takes top prize. This year’s designer lineup includes Lagi Nadeau, Michelle Tan, Elda de la Rosa, and Anastasia Chatzka, among others.
Heshima Kenya’s 4th Annual Fashion Challenge takes place November 12 from 6 to 10 p.m. in Room 1520 at 1520 West Fulton Street. Learn more and purchase tickets here.