girl refugees smiling and talking on stage
Esperance Gikundiro on Stage – Angelina Jolie with Refugee Girls in East Africa

In this podcast episode, we are talking with RefuSHE CEO, Jaydan Adlin and board member and a refugee herself, Esperance Gikundiro on what the reality is for refugee girls in East Africa and how RefuSHE has become a safe space and a home for women to rebuild their lives and reach their full potential.

Be Your Change podcast.

Today, I am excited to speak with two women changemakers who are sharing with us their work and journey on helping girls refugees to rebuild their lives: Jailan Adly and Esperance Gikundiro, board member and a refugee herself.

Modern Slavery: A Harsh Reality

A $150 billion industry

sex trafficking
Source Homeland Security

The International Labor Organization estimates that more than:

  • 40 million people around the world were victims of modern slavery in 2016.
  • Out of these 40 million, 25 million are forced labor and 15 million forced marriage.
  • 152 million children aged between 5 and 17 are in child labor – roughly half the US population

Additionally, Human trafficking is a $150 billion industry: it includes sex trafficking, child labor, and modern slavery meaning people who are forced into situations.

Women are disproportionately affected

  • 80% of the Human trafficking population are women and girls (29 million)
  • Women count for 99% of the victims of forced labor in the sex industry and 84% of forced marriages.
human trafficking
Human Trafficking | Public Awareness Campaign Poster Series.

The Refugee Crisis And Modern Slavery Go Hand-in-Hand

Human trafficking is intrinsically linked to the refugee crisis. In 2015, more than 65 million people were displaced. When you are forced to leave your home, and even your country, you become highly vulnerable to any form of crime and exploitation.

refugee girls
Source World Economic Forum – UNCHR

Refugee: Awareness And Collaboration Are On The Rise

Although these numbers are heartbreaking, the hope is that many organizations and people are now collaborating to end this massive problem of human trafficking. RefuSHE is one of the organizations on the ground making a difference in East Africa.

What Is RefuSHE?

Jailan Adly is the CEO of RefusHE and she talks to us about her work.

RefuSHE is a global organization that works with refugee girls in East Africa.10 years ago our founders started RefuSHE because they were working in the refugee community in Kenya and saw that there was a gap in services when it came to unaccompanied separated or orphaned young refugee girls. These girls really needed a much more holistic approach. They needed protection and ways to gain the skills needed to be able to take care of themselves and their family as they grew up. The organization is about 10 people in the US but about 60 staff members are actually in Kenya. That's where our operations are.

RefuSHE: An Impact On 30,000 Girls and Women Refugees

Directly and indirectly, we've touched almost 30,000 girls and women. We run direct programs for young women and girls, including our safe house. We provide temporary safe shelter for the most acute security concerns. Girls stay in the safe house anywhere from three to six months. Some of them need to stay longer because every case is different in terms of security needs.

refugee women
RefuSHE impact

The Different Programs Helping The Refugees Girls

School Education

We also run an accelerated school. It's a four-year program, starting with basic literacy. As most of the girls coming in are not from Kenya, we bring them up to speed on English and Swahili. We also teach them basic mathematics and then, as they get into more advanced levels, science and history. We're now at the point where our curriculum gets them ready to sit for the Kenya board exams. This means they can then transition to a Kenyan school. It also prepares the girls that might be resettled out of Kenya to be able to easily slide into the high school system or be prepared for college as well.

Daycare Center

We have a daycare center on-site. Many of the girls that come have suffered sexual violence and a lot of them come pregnant from that. The daycare center allows them to go to school while their kids are taken care of on the campus and receiving the nutrition they need, and education as well. Mothers remain close to their kids and we prepare the kids for integration into Kenyan schools at the same time.

A Community Outreach Program for Refugee

We have a community outreach program where we actually work with refugee women and girls that might not be coming to our campus, including some of the older refugee women. We also have programs for men and boys as well in the communities around sexual-based and gender-based violence.

You know, if we want to break the cycle of violence, we also have to have these conversations with men and boys.

Oftentimes, considering the cultures that they're coming from, these are not typical conversations. Our case managers have really worked out in the community to break some of these stereotypes, taboos and be able to have these conversations.

Developing Entrepreneurship

Girl Refugee

We have also helped women form savings groups so that they can pool their money together, help one another out if there's, you know, one family that is in need. And then also use those savings groups and seed grants that we provide to be able to start and support their own businesses.

Being refugees, oftentimes they're unable to get work permits. And so, the way for them to be able to support their family is more personalized entrepreneurial businesses like tailoring, jewelry making, hairdressing… It's already competitive out there in the marketplace, and we want to help them break into that and so they can serve the other refugee community members as well.

Protecting Girls And Women Refugee Outside The Safe House

Our women are also there to provide support to our girls that live out in the community. Those that aren't in the safe house. We put them either in foster families or in group housing. And then the women add a second layer of kind of mentorship. They also then lookout in the community if a new girl shows up that's unaccompanied or separated or has lost her family and refer them to our programs. So through that program as well, we've hit families indirectly. And so those are, those are kind of the numbers that we've been able to reach.

Safe House: An Undisclosed Location To Protect Girls and Women Refugees

Our safe house is separate from our main campus. It's an undisclosed location and we move it actually every two years. It provides safe shelter for minors, in our case, mostly girls, even though we do have a few young boys under the age of 10, who don't have families and have security concerns. Security concerns can range depending on each girl's particular story, what country she's coming from. In some cases, they're political refugees coming from places where there's actually a warring tribe and so there might be people after them. That is why they need a shelter outside of the community that's undisclosed so that they're not found. Or they have suffered massive trauma, especially around kind of sexual trauma.

The need for healing, trauma counseling, psychosocial counseling is really important to do in a safe space where there are only women and are well taken care of.

Rebuilding Family

The Safehouse is not just a shelter, but it's really a family we build. Girls are provided with food and hygiene kits. Mothers have access to diapers and baby formula. The case managers take them to medical appointments to make sure that they are healthy and well taken care of.

Legal Support and Advice

We have a legal and advocacy program manager that works on their cases to either help them get their paperwork in order and hopefully be resettled out of Kenya. Especially for those with security concerns, Kenya is close to their home countries. And so, it's not necessarily the safest there either because they are a little bit too easy to find. For those cases specifically, we work with implementing partners to try to get them resettled out, as much as possible and kind of away from the safety concerns.

Artisan Collective, More Than A Scarf: An Healing Program To Empower Girls Refugee

refugee girl sewing
girl making a scarf

The artisan collective is a program where girls make scarves and other items which are then sold under the RefuShe brand, both online and through various different outlets. It was created to be a training and healing program.

This artisan collective program is just one component of our larger girls’ empowerment program. In addition to the classes part of the accelerated program, the girls are also taking vocational training classes. We've been focusing on textiles: girls are learning how to sew and make various different types of textiles.

Once they graduate from that, they have the ability to apply to the artisan collective and join as a member for two years. It's essentially, a slow ramp towards starting their own business. It's the opportunity for them to hone the skills that they learned in class, be able to actually create products.

It's more than just working on the sewing and the tailoring and all of that. It's really a healing mechanism for them. So, we try to find a balance between creating products and maintaining this healing space as well. We sell the products as a way to reinvest into our program and to provide them with a stipend. Women and girls are unable to earn an income because of their refugee status. So, this is a way we can provide them with a stipend, help them start to save money in a savings account so that they can start their own personal business as well. All the proceeds are reinvested into that particular program.

The Refugee Crisis: A Global Challenge

A Declining Refugee Resettlement Rate

The big thing that we are faced with right now as an organization is you know, back when Esperance was in our program 10 years ago, most of our girls were getting resettled. Their cases were acute and severe enough that they were typically the ones that were prioritized for resettlement.

We have been seeing a global climate of declining resettlement rates, especially in the US, Western Europe, Australia. That has impacted host countries like Kenya, Jordan, Mexico, where refugees are still going to come because when your family is in danger, you will do what it takes to get your family to safety.

And that puts a lot of strain on a country like Kenya because they have to take care of their own citizens as well.

Hosting Refugees: A Constant Struggle For The Host Country

There's a constant struggle that Kenya has to go through. How much can they provide refugees while they need to take care of our own citizens? The problem doesn't go away by not having refugees come to a European country or the US. It still exists. And so, we need to be able to provide support not just to refugees, but also to host countries.

We need the global community to come together and give them the resources they need to deal with this problem. It's still a massive impact, not just on them but regionally and then globally. If a country like Kenya is unable to safely manage to take in that many people, it'll destabilize Kenya, which will destabilize East Africa, which will eventually destabilize the entire area. There's a ripple effect globally.

Breaking The Culture Of Dependency

We know that most of the girls won’t probably get resettled outside of Kenya at this point. We need to be able to advocate to help the Kenyan government see the benefit of supporting refugees within Kenya. Then also provide them with longer-term durable solutions to being able to earn an income so that they are able to self-sustain while living in communities around Nairobi. So that we can break the culture of dependency.

If we aren't able to give refugees durable solutions, then the only option is a humanitarian culture of dependency model. It doesn't help anyone out, neither the host country nor the refugees themselves nor on a global level.

A refugee is not a status, it is the consequence of unstable countries

The refugee crisis is a large, unruly problem that seems to be so complicated that it's hard to kind of figure out how to fix it, right? By the time someone is a refugee, so many things have gone wrong to get to that point, right? That it seems almost too late at that point. What happened in the country of origin? How did that destabilization happen? Was it economic, was it environmental? Was it political? All of these things are kind of the root cause that by the time someone is a refugee, you're almost in kind of the Band-Aid solution mode.

A Refugee Want The Same Thing As Anyone Else

Refugees want the same things that we want for our families. And there are ways to actually, as an individual, support a program like ours, or Catholic relief services, or these other organizations that are working to directly work with the refugees. To say: how do we take what is a very difficult situation and make the best of it to help get these families back on their feet. Help start a new beginning, right? We can always close a chapter and start a new one. So how do we make a better start for refugees to be able to kind of take it to the next level, be able to process whatever chapter they have come from, and be able to look towards a better future?

From Refugee To RefuSHE Board Member: the story of Esperance Gikundiro

Esperance Gikundiro is a board member today. She shares with us her story of how she first met the organization. Esperance was in the first generation of girls the organization worked with when they started. She referred to RefuSHE by UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency.

Esperance, When Did You First Met RefusHE?

When I was in Kenya and registered as a refugee., I was without my family. That's why I was referred to RefuSHE because as you know, we help young refugee girls who are not with their families who are under 18. I happened to meet all the qualifications at that time.

I think that's a common question with a common answer because of safety.

People have the wrong assumption of what is a refugee. You have a normal life or mostly a better life than the life you have after becoming a refugee. I grew up in Rwanda most of my life. I grew up having anything I needed with my family. My family had to move out of Rwanda because of safety. There's always war constantly. So, my family moved to Congo because of war

Refugee and Poverty: A heart-Breaking Reality

People assume because you are no longer in your country is because you are poor, but not really. If anything, you have maybe a life of dream, most of the time in your country. But when you leave, it's very hard because in every country you have to go to school. For certain people, you leave your country with a certain level of education and then when you get to another, especially in the US. My dad came here with a master's degree. Now he works in a sewing company. So, it's very hard. It's hard to go back to school for people in their fifties, learn the language and start all over again.

Becoming a refugee doesn't take your intelligence away. It just took your freedom away. That's how I see it.

My dad's been here for three years now. He can speak English now and maybe even if he ever one day finds a professional job, it is never going to be equivalent to what he had in his country.

I don't blame somebody to assume that refugees are poor. It's true. Once you become refugees, you become poor because you have nothing left.

Esperance’s own journey

moved from Rwanda to Congo to Kenya and I'm now in the U.S. I guess I'm going to China next, I'm joking. Every case is personal and individual. So, it depends on the case of that person. Certain girls don't get the chance to leave Kenya. So, most of them, graduate from the program and continue to get help to start their life in Kenya instead of getting resettled. But as Jailan mentioned, most of our girls have security issues. Most of them ended up having the opportunity to leave Kenya.

A Place Called Home

I actually lived in a safe house for more than three years. That's why Jailan is saying every case is different. Once you're there for the first few months, it's hard because you are from different cultures, religions. Language is the main barrier, more than anything because we come from different countries. We can't speak to each other, but we have to live in the same room. We have to use the same shower and everything. You have to cook food that maybe you never ate in your country or that they never ate in their country. We try to put in the middle of that what works for both of us, but we can't communicate. So, learning the language was the best thing for us because we end up learning so fast. We speak in Swahili and English at the same time.

You get attached to the home. You feel like it's home for real, you really do feel like it's a home. That's what is important to us. It’s a reason why I'm still a part of their RefuShe family today because I know it's different. There are so many different organizations, especially in the US that say we help Refugees. It's a different story to know this really helps refugees because I've been a part of it as a student. I've been a part of it as a refugee girl who needed help and I've been a part of it as a volunteer. I became a board member and now I'm stepping into a new position. To me, it's almost personal, because I know it's real and I have seen the girls' life changing so much. The process of being resettled was a blessing. And I know the ones who are in Kenya, they are in good hands.

Gaining Independence

Being in a safe house for two years, I think we create our own families there. We tend to get attached to that family. So, once you turned 19, honestly, they intend to give you a chance to start a business. We had entrepreneurship classes and then I was trained for seven months.

After seven months, if you're ready, you choose which type of business you want to start. One time I received $300 from the organization, which is so much money there. There is an auditor who comes every now and then to make sure your business is going the way you say it and then they help you grow in your business. It is really helpful to become independent. I think this made me the woman I am today, honestly, because then you know, you can do a business, you can start this, you can start that.

A Traumatic Experience

It's almost unreal. Half of the girls went through trauma that you cannot even describe. So, unfortunately, it's supposed to be a blessing having kids. But when it comes from rape, it doesn't… the pain doesn't go away.

So for most of our girls, unfortunately, they've been in those situations. They've been raped, they have kids.

Healing By Making

So, when we do these scarves, this is not just a scarf. That's something she's doing with her own hands, knowing that she has the power to change that material, you know that color. And then make it a scarf for a bag or a dress or a jumpsuit. But for the girls, it's more than just that, it's different. It's more than just what you see.

How To Get Involved In Supporting Girls Refugees?

Esperance: Mostly supporting or being involved in organizations like RefuSHE or any other organization like Catholic social services. Those are the organization I was attached to. But there are so many organizations that help refugees. I know RefuSHE is the only organization that is doing the type of job we are doing.

To be involved doesn't mean necessarily you have to spend your money. It could be put your time in and understand the story of the refugee girls cause every girl has a different story. Once you are involved in that type of organization or that type of environment, you become aware. And then, like now, we are raising awareness because we know better as an organization. So, I feel like once you get, you try, you learn.

Make The World A Better Place For Refugee Girls

I'm 19. I want to see more girls having success stories, non-necessarily success stories of coming to the US, but success stories of creating their own business and be very self-independent in Kenya. I consider that success more than me coming here because I had the resources. I have a chance to find a job without anybody questioning where I'm from. But in Kenya, unfortunately, that's not the case.

I want to make sure we focus on making sure those girls are going to have a standard life without worrying "where's my food coming from, tomorrow.

Esperance is continuing her journey and is hoping to open her non-profit to be the voice of the voiceless.

I feel like I'm in a position to speaking for those girls who can speak for themselves. I focus on the girls because unfortunately, we have monthly needs. We take for granted in the US, but these are girls somewhere maybe in a rural area in Rwanda or there's a refugee girl in Uganda who can't, unfortunately, have access to sanitary essential products. My main focus is to provide basic needs for refugee girls in Uganda right now.

I want to add visit our website at so you can understand what we do and help us raise awareness to make sure people understand what an organization like RefuSHE does because I know it did my change life.

3 Ways You Can Help

Those are great, tangible, easy ways to help support our programs.

  • Donation: The best support is monetary because that we can then reinvest that back in our programs in Nairobi.
  • Purchasing our products is always incredibly helpful.
  • Hosting events in your cities where you're able to, you know, host a scarf party, talk about RefuSHE, sell some scarves, be able to change the narrative and perception about refugees and talk about the vulnerabilities that refugee girls specifically face.

Learn More