The world is facing a global uprising along with a deadly health pandemic, and there are large groups of individuals dealing with job loss and food insecurity due to COVID-19. When you consider those affected in developing nations, the circumstances are seemingly worse. “At this time everybody’s just quarantined at home. There is nothing we can do,” exclaims Bersherb, a young woman who was rescued by the international nonprofit RefuSHE and is now stationed in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi.
Bersherb, who preferred not to disclose her last name, and her mother escaped from Eritrea to Kenya due to their religion not being accepted in their country. When arriving to Kenya, that’s when she first met reps from RefuSHE. “I was taking lunch to my mom and the police were [rounding up] Somalis, Ethiopians and refugees. Mostly, they were taking Somalis,” she tells ESSENCE. “They just took me. I got arrested for actually no reason.” Because Bersherb did not have any Kenyan identification, she was kept in jail until the UN brought her to RefuSHE.
RefuSHE is an organization devoted to protecting, educating and empowering refugee women and girls. Through various efforts, the organization is able to help young women throughout East Africa. “I didn’t know how to speak any English or any Swahili, and RefuSHE has helped me a lot. I have education, shelter and a lot of sisters I didn’t have,” Bersherb explains. “They have also helped me to gain more skills. Right now I’m doing tailoring.”
RefuSHE’s latest initiative — a virtual fashion challenge taking place this Thursday, June 18— allows women like Bersherb the opportunity to apply the skills they’ve learned from their relationship with the organization to enter the competition.
The virtual fashion challenge will highlight RefuSHE’s Artisan Collective, a program which Bersherb is a member of, that fosters leadership and business skills through the design and production of hand-dyed fabrics and scarves. “The Artisan Collective is all about making scarves and dresses,” Bersherb shares. “Most girls, we just design. We get them [the idea] from our head.”
For the challenge, seven up-and-coming fashion designers were tasked with creating a unique runway look that incorporates handmade fabric by members of RefuSHE’s Artisan Collective. Each bolt of fabric and design is inspired by the story of one of the young women at RefuSHE. The looks will be revealed on Thursday, June 18, at 6:30 p.m. CST in a one-of-a-kind virtual runway experience where audience members will have the opportunity to choose the winning outfit based on its creativity, originality and ability to tell the story of the young woman behind the fabric.
The virtual experience starts with a two-hour program on June 18, and continues through June 20. For more information, visit refushe.org.