The girls are thousands of miles away from Oak Park, but one purchase you make this weekend could help fund services for them and for their kids.
From Friday through Sunday, about 20 stores in Oak Park and Forest Park are raising funds for a non-profit organization that helps orphaned and unaccompanied girls in Nairobi, Kenya.
For $40, shoppers at these stores can buy scarves made by the girls who are part of the Heshima Kenya organization, which was co-founded in 2007 by Anne Sweeney, an Oak Park and River Forest High School graduate. Money from scarf sales will be donated to the organization.
Heshima provides shelter, education, counseling and health and human rights skills so the girls can become self-sufficient, Sweeney said. They come from Somalia, Sudan, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where they have fled violence.
There are 18 young women currently living in the Maisha Collective, which Sweeney said houses girls that have graduated from Heshima’s education program. The Maisha girls are the ones that have made the hand-dyed scarves to be sold around town.
“Every color of the rainbow is used in these scarves,” said Lisa Dodge, owner of American Artworks Gallery in Forest Park. Dodge said she sold 120 of the scarves during a similar fundraiser over Mother’s Day last year, and is happy to do it again.
Julia Nash, the owner of Flybird in Oak Park, said she supports the organization because it empowers women who are ignored and in need of assistance. Heshima “provides them with basic things we take for granted,” Nash said, including self-respect and dignity. Heshima is the Swahili word for respect, honor and dignity, according to the organization’s website.
Sweeney, who will move to Nairobi to take over the organization’s director position in January, can see the growing confidence in the girls making the scarves. Many of them have lost their families and their homes, Sweeney said, so the fact that they are working and making money to take care of their kids makes them very proud.
“That money is their future, it’s hope,” Sweeney said. “They’re believing in hope again, which is pretty phenomenal.”