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A glimpse into a day at Heshima Kenya.
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The afternoon is quiet as the girls cluster in small groups seeking shade under the tall trees in the grassy yard. The girls frequently gather in groups by their country of origin, enjoying speaking their native language. Some girls have picked up their babies from the nursery and are nursing or have them laying on a blanket beside them. A group of dedicated Maisha girls sit together and tassle the scarves, nimbly taking clusters of threads in their fingers, twisting and knotting.
This is a time of day I find incredible joy and purpose in wandering among the groups as the music of girl chatter, giggles, and occasional singing weave through the fragrant air. I sit down quietly and am always handed a baby to rock or snuggle, hoping to bring out their smiles as I wiggle and bounce and play clapping games to the amusement of the mothers. Modeling activities and the fun of interacting with a baby, casually and naturally, stimulating sensory development, language, and motor skills, playfully making silly sounds and faces, is a wonderful part of the work I do. These girls conceived their babies under unspeakable circumstances, and bonding, developing parenting skills, and ultimately finding joy in motherhood is a part of the mission of Heshima Kenya. Parenting skills for these young refugee girls may not come naturally or without resentments. Their challenges and burdens may seem daunting, yet they are survivors, blessed with youth and hope. Compassion, empathy, acceptance and patience are the necessary ingredients for success. Safety, counseling, support and caring help to build strength and resilience.
Girl to girl, though they are teens they are also now women, gathered together sharing their lives, their hopes and dreams, gossiping in whispers, joking, questioning, wondering and worrying as women in villages and communities have done since the beginning of time. I may not understand their language but I always feel welcome and join in their laughter. They fill me with life and love and I only wish to give back what they give me.
There is a moment when a girl runs for a plastic bucket and suddenly with a flip flop begins beating a rhythm and a spontaneous song begins, first quietly and then more vigorously. A few, then more girls begin to dance. Oh what an amazing day… a smiling baby in my lap claps along with me.
-Lynne Chizzick is a Senior Travel Editor at Modeliste, as well as the Director of Mode With Meaning which works alongside nonprofit organizations to assist, educate and empower displaced women worldwide. Make a donation today!