A Royal Visit: HRH The Countess of Wessex Visits RefuSHE
On a sunny September day in Nairobi, the air buzzed with excitement when Her Royal Highness The Countess of Wessex, Sophie Helen Rhys-Jones, stepped onto RefuSHE’s Girls Empowerment Program and Artisan Collective campus. She was greeted by staff and one of the girls in our daycare program, who shyly presented her with flowers. The Countess recently adopted the UK’s Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda and the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative (PSVI) as pillars of her work, which center around gender equality, SGBV prevention, and girls’ education. Her visit to RefuSHE with the British High Commissioner Jane Marriott and Foreign & Commonwealth Office’s Special Envoy for Gender Equality Joanna Roper was a part of this commitment to advancing rights and education for girls around the world.
The Countess first met with women refugee leaders from the community and learned more about the challenges that are faced by refugees, especially women, in Nairobi’s market. She had many questions to ask about their experiences and hopes for the future, while she browsed through an array of handmade products – from cards to oven mitts to baskets. The women radiated pride in sharing their stories and the handiwork of our Women’s Ambassador groups, which provide a support network for refugee women entrepreneurs in Nairobi.
Next, The Countess was led to a demonstration of the traditional art of resist-dye, practiced by RefuSHE’s Artisan Collective, who create hand-dyed textile goods like scarves, home decor, and other accessories. The artisans walked her through how the fabric is tied in different patterns, dyed, and finished by hand-tasseling and sewing, depending on the style. She even tried her hand at sewing a scarf in our workshop (photo above), with guidance from one of our Artisan Leaders, Denise, and our Production Coordinator, Sharon!
After the Artisan Collective’s demonstration, the campus celebration began with few words from our staff and Fallone, a Girls Empowerment Program student. Then, a soft African melody began and a few of the girls danced onto the red carpet. It wasn’t long before Gizele, a 15-year-old refugee from the DRC, took The Countess’s hands and asked her to join in the traditional East African dance! Everyone clapped and cheered, and the girls beamed as they shared a part of their native culture with our distinguished guest.
When the dance ended, The Countess was seated at the head of the runway and the crowd grew quiet. The Artisan Collective fashion show was about to begin. Celine Dion’s voice in “I’m Alive” filled the air, and the models strutted down the catwalk in outfits created by our artisans, featuring the hand-dyed fabrics they design. Each girl stepped out to a burst of cheers and hollers from their friends, and our guests marveled at the stylish looks coming down the runway.
At the end of her visit, The Countess spent some time talking one-on-one with girls and children at the GEP – hearing their stories, challenges, hopes, and dreams. It was a magical day for all, and one that our girls and staff will certainly always remember!
Special thanks to Her Excellency Jane Marriott, Special Envoy Joanna Roper, and Martin Gichuru from DFID Kenya for joining the day’s festivities and helping advocate on behalf of our girls!