Chicago non-profit helps African refugees create scarves - KMSP-TV

Chicago non-profit helps African refugees create `presents with a purpose`

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

A Chicago non-for-profit group is helping young women and girls who fled their native countries in Africa to create a better life for themselves by crafting scarves.

Each scarf costs about $30, a price that would be a meal to most Chicagoans but for the young ladies who escaped war torn regions in Sudan or the Congo it will provide them with the bare necessities for days.

Those that work at the non-for-profit said it is a challenge for these women as they know no one, don't have family and don't speak the language.

But these challenges are small to the girls and young women compared to what they have already been through.

The girls range from age 18 to 23 years old. One in four of them was raped in their country and has a baby.

They've escaped horrific conditions in Somalia or the Congo to get to Chicago, and Heshima Kenya, where they're safe and they're smiling while making scarves.

"We have the maisha collective. Maisha means life in Swahili and so right now there's 30 young women in that and they make these hand dyed scarves that we sell internationally. They also learn savings concepts. They learn business management concept," said Anne Sweeney who works at the non-for-profit.

Another employee said the work was rewarding because it helps them forget about their past and focus on the here and now.

The scarves come in different sizes and colors ranging in price from $25 to $35.

The girls are allowed to make about a hundred scarves a day between classes.

They dye the scarves, tie them and before the scarves are shipped out for sale a tag with the girls name and native country is attached to each. The girls get a portion of the profits and the rest goes for upkeep of the facility, Heshima Kenya.

Heshima is Swahili for respect, honor and dignity.

There's the Sofia , Zahara, Hawa and then there's one made by a 17-year-old girl from the Congo who came home from school to find it burned down by the militia group. Her parents were inside and couldn't get out in time.

"She had to flee. She was kidnapped and taken as a sex slave for two years. She gave birth to a baby in the woods and she finally somehow, some way, found her way out of that situation and found someone in Nairobi," Sweeney said.

Sweeney said she's heard countless stories like that during her 15 years of working and saving refugees in Africa. Her organization is based on Chicago's North side.

The scarves are the biggest fundraiser for Heshima Kenya and the girls.

"It gives them greater purpose to go to work to take care of their children. Our greatest success story are the young women who are now saying I need to work cause I need to put my son in school," Sweeney said.

To learn more about the organization, or to purchase a scarf, visit Heshima Kenya online.

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