There are currently over 600,000 refugees in Kenya's refugee camps, many of whom are unaccompanied, orphaned and separated refugee girls and single young women without family members. Refugee girls and young women face the highest risks of exploitation, assault, forced marriage, and abuse, resulting in extreme barriers to education, medical care, and employment.
These are the kind of things I learned when I started volunteering for Heshima Kenya, an organization that specializes in protecting unaccompanied refugee children and youth, especially girls, living in Nairobi, Kenya. As a mother, especially a mother to a daughter, these statistics have more power over me than they once did.
I know my daughter is lucky: I will do my best to give her every advantage I can. I will try to keep her safe, provide her with a good education, and give her the best start in life. With the help of Heshima Kenya, some of the refugee girls in Nairobi also have advantages: they have a safe place to live, they learn skills to become self-sufficient, and they receive education and medical care.
Still, though, sometimes when I think of the girls that Heshima Kenya helps I feel helpless. Volunteering and donating money is a good start, but sometimes it doesn't feel like enough. I want to do something.
Over the last few years, since my daughter was born, I've felt particularly impotent. I have a daughter to care for and at this young age, she needs me so much that I can't do anything but provide for her. I can't do anything else.
In that sense, motherhood can feel small. Small in comparison to the huge world of suffering and causes and problems to solve. It can feel like I'm locked in this microcosm of my family -- like it's the only thing that I can think about. The day-to-day of caring for a young child is so demanding that it's hard to see beyond my own little world. I don't like that feeling. It feels limited. I wish I could do more, do anything.
But as I dropped my daughter off at school the other day and watched her run into the classroom to hug her best friend -- love and light shining from her happy face -- I realized that I am doing something. I'm raising a little person and I'm doing it with love as my guiding principle. I'm doing my best to ensure that she's kind, empathetic, caring, peaceful and good. I'm making choices about discipline and parenting that I believe will help her become an accepting, compassionate and loving person. And as she gets older I'll try to teach her about the world in a way that will open her eyes to the problems and make her want to be part of the solutions.
This, for now, is my work. This is my contribution. To add another soul to the side of good. To be part of the vast majority standing against the darkness is an act in and of itself. And to add another flame to the light, to bring up another human being to stand on the side of good -- that has to count for something. Motherhood counts.
I will teach my daughter to stand on the side of good against evils of all kinds, like terrorism, human trafficking, sexual assault, genocide and displacement. And, perhaps most importantly, against the more insidious, longer-lasting, and ultimately the most potent evils: poverty and lack of education. Because this is what we know: reducing poverty and educating women is one of the most important things we can do to reduce suffering around the world. Heshima Kenya and organizations like them take on that challenge directly and I feel proud to help.
When I do something as simple as donate to Heshima Kenya, I will use it as a teaching experience. "Sweetie," I'll tell my daughter, "we're giving $25 to a girl in Africa today to help her buy school supplies. So that she can have the things she needs to learn, just like you have crayons and paper and scissors and books." Or maybe another time we'll donate $100 for medical assistance for a year and I'll tell my daughter: "You're so lucky that you have a doctor to take care of you any time you get sick. Today we're donating money so that a girl in Africa has that same advantage."
Maybe one day I can travel to Nairobi and volunteer at the Maisha Collective, where the girls of Heshima Kenya learn how to cut, dye and tie scarves that they then sell -- an important step on the road to self-reliance. And maybe my daughter will come with me. Together, we can see the girls learning and gaining independence while experiencing safety, possibly for the first time in their lives.
But for now, I'm satisfied with my smaller but ultimately important role: a mother to children who will take up the stand against evil. The provider and support system for little beings who will grow up to support their fellow humans. The caretaker of those who will one day care for the world.
Today I know: Motherhood counts.
Make a donation to Heshima Kenya in the RaiseForWomen Challenge, and help empower refugee women and girls from around the world as they start new lives in Nairobi.
Sara Lind has been volunteering for Heshima Kenya since summer 2012. She blogs about parenting and women's issues on the Huffington Post. You can also follow her on her personal blog at www.momentsofexhilaration.com or on Twitter @saraklind.