When we first started Flore Foundation, Ren and I thought about what Flore would want. We try our best to look at every interaction and opportunity through this lens. It has led us to where we are today, staying true to ourselves. I recall Flore’s excitement when she heard from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) that she was assigned to a position at a refugee camp in Dadaab, Kenya. She instantly recognized that her role within the camp provided her with the opportunity to help refugees along their journey to resettlement. While the camp in Kenya is known as a place for protracted displacement, Flore remained hopeful. She shared stories about the innovative people who lived in the camps, including many born there. Kenya was a special place for Flore, a country where she saw firsthand the power of perseverance and the determination to pursue a livelihood.
Months ago, we discovered RefuSHE, a non-profit in Nairobi, Kenya, serving displaced girls and young women in the urban setting. We connected with RefuSHE leaders and learned that we had a common background as graduates of The George Washington University, The Elliott School of International Affairs, where we were all introduced to the world of international development. With a common mission focused on economic independence for refugees and our connection with The Elliott School in Washington, D.C., RefuSHE and Flore Foundation were bound to become partners.
The more we understood RefuSHE’s holistic model, the more confident we felt that it fit what Flore valued most as an advocate for human rights. The women and girls in the RefuSHE program fled their homes across East Africa. They have experienced significant trauma due to conflict and war, the loss of family and friends, and sexual violence. In extreme circumstances, sexual assault results in pregnancy and subsequently, the financial and emotional burden of caring for a child.
RefuSHE seeks to empower unaccompanied, separated, or orphaned refugee girls through education and by providing a safe environment in which they may thrive and become independent young women. A strength of this organization is that they promote healing and the fulfilment of a self-sustainable livelihood by creating an environment that is trauma-informed and addresses their mental health. Further, providing opportunities for financial skill development and economic independence is a vital component of their mission. RefuSHE creates a community to nurture and guide refugees toward a brighter future.
RefuSHE ‘s Artisan Collective, a microenterprise, enables women and girls to
learn a craft and develop business skills to be able one day to support themselves and their families. As the participants advance through the program, they have apprenticeship opportunities with a local business owner. These placements teach the artisans necessary business skills, such as marketing and accounting, that prepare them to be entrepreneurs. In the final stage of the program, they access capital in the form of a small business loan, furthering their experience with finance. In these developmental phases, the participants are given a stipend, taught how to save for and invest in their business, and they receive compensation for goods sold. For the first time, these displaced women have a means to a livelihood and a community before them.
An organization like RefuSHE that applies such a holistic formula to ensure safety, access to mental health care, education, and economic opportunity is seldom seen. Such a comprehensive approach significantly improves the likelihood of these young women becoming successful employees and potential business owners. When we at Flore Foundation discussed awarding a grant to the RefuSHE Artisan Collective Program, our answer was obvious – this is what Flore would have wanted.