Emily Southwood The non-profit organization called I Am Heshima has proudly relaunched its website (www.iamheshima.org) to help continue its impressive efforts in global community development. Founded in 2008 by Lexis Beattie and Frederick Marika, the group focuses on improving the life prospects of Kenyan children, under the directive: “It takes a whole community to raise a child. This is our community and these are our children.” Beattie, a native of Hemmingford, developed I Am Heshima after travelling to Kenya as a humanitarian volunteer only to discover she had fallen into what’s known as a “voluntourism trap”: the volunteers were valued for the money they spent rather than the good they wanted to do, and the children she had wanted to help were being abused, used for profitable gain, and living lives of broken promises. Determined to create change and provide dignified opportunities, she co-founded I Am Heshima, basing the name on a Swahili word meaning respect, dignity and honour. She has spent the last 10 years developing a roster of programs, an impressive team of volunteers, 13 Kenyan employees, and a community of 600 children and empowered youth. The year 2018 saw the launch of several new programs for the organization. The aim for 2019 is to continue implementing change with the help of the revamped website, newly built by Natasha Tutino. I Am Heshima, founded in 2008, focuses on improving the life prospects of Kenyan children. (photo provided) At home in the Valley, I Am Heshima is currently collecting school supplies and soccer items for its trip to Kenya on June 11 (visit the website for the list of requested items). Locals can also look forward to a new collection of ethically hand-made jewellery and art and crafts set to launch in August 2019. The line will be available at craft fairs throughout the Haut-Saint-Laurent, full time at Ormstown’s Serenplicity, through the online shop, or by hosting a Heshima event with the collection on display. Also forthcoming, prospective volunteers can anticipate the opportunity to travel to Kenya with I Am Heshima in 2020. When asked about the success of the group’s current outreach, Lexis had much to report. In 2018, the Under the Mango Tree program was developed as a once-weekly free learning space outside of school hours, where students with educational and/or social needs receive one-on-one support. Due to its effectiveness, the program will now run three days a week. Also new, the Heshima Football Club now boasts a girls’ team. In other vital support to young women, Heshima’s My Time program continues to provide sanitary pads, underwear, rights education and counselling to now 300 girls, who no longer have to miss out on opportunities because of their periods. Among other successes, the Academic Scholarship program presently supports a growing number of ambitious students who all have victories to celebrate, such as Kelvine, a university student pursuing a social work certificate. Due to pressing need, 20 partial academic scholarships were additionally funded for students starting high school in 2019. Last but not least, the Leadership program incites those receiving an academic scholarship to “pay back” their education by giving to their communities. The students manage this program themselves — surveying the community, identifying people in need, and mobilizing action plans. The organization holds one last goal for 2019, which is to pull together as many positive role models as possible, people from all across Kenya, Africa and the world who have defied the odds, to deliver workshops and motivational messages. Lexis speaks to the motivation behind her own efforts when she says, “The best life lesson I have learned is that I am the author of my own story and I have the power to influence the world — we all do. We now also have a virtual village, which gives us the ability to resonate with billions of people who feel our vibe and want to join our tribe. We love and appreciate you for being an integral part of our family!” For more information, see www.iamheshima.org.