You know how they say if you want to get something done, ask the busiest person you know? I’m amending that to — just ask the youngest person you know. If you doubt me, consider the amazing work being done by young folks like Kennedy Odede, Jessica Posner, and a cadre of hopey-changey believers in the Kibera slums of Nairobi, Kenya through Shining Hope for Communities.
Kennedy, 25, grew up in Kibera in abject poverty. As the oldest of eight children, he took on responsibility for his family at age 10, and watched helplessly as his mother was abused and two sisters became teenaged mothers. Reaching out to help others, he became a certified HIV/AIDS counselor, community activist and founded SHOFCO-Kenya to bring AIDS education, female empowerment, health and sanitation, soccer, microfinance, and theatres to more than 3,000 inhabitants of the slums surrounding him.
Jessica met Kennedy in 2007, when she was a Wesleyan student (and probably the only white person living in Kibera) teaching theatre and working with women and girls. The two formed a fast friendship and when violence in Kenya broke out in late 2007, Kennedy fled to Tanzania and was accepted to Wesleyan where he and Posner began to work together to form an organization that would combat gender inequality and extreme poverty in Kibera.
The result of their power-brainstorming is the Kibera School for Girls, opened in August, 2009 as the first free school for girls, offering 67 of the most vulnerable children a high-quality education. But that’s just the tip of this rapidly, radically growing organization. Posner and Odede link the girls’ free schools to holistic community centers that provide residents with desperately needed essential services like sanitary toilets, clean water, community gardens, literacy and computer training, youth soccer, a library and cyber café, sex education, HIV positive empowerment programs, and jobs – all associated with the school to not-so-subtly reinforce the value of women and the power of educating girls.
And Shining Hope is just getting started. Every year Kennedy & Posner intend to add another grade to the School, growing with the girls and expanding programs to combat poverty on multiple levels. It’s a good thing they’re young and undaunted, because the statistics are simply heartbreaking. Kibera houses 1.5 million people, or half of Nairobi’s population, on less than 5% of its landmass. One in five children will die before the age of 5, and 66% of girls will trade sex for food by the age of 16. Girls contract HIV at a rate five times higher than men, and only 8% of them will receive an education.
Shining Hope’s strength lies in its intense community support, earned by Kennedy’s growing up and years of activism there, and a staff of 6 Americans, lots of student volunteers, and dozens of Kenyan employees. The organization responds to and integrally involves the neighborhood in all it does, providing jobs in building its projects and assessing community priorities like a Clean Water Project and expanded Community Clinic in 2011.
For all that these brilliant, accomplished young people are doing to use their talents to answer so much need, my $100 today goes to Shining Hope for Communities. If you want to be overwhelmed with the desire to hop on a plane to Nairobi to pitch in and help, check out Shining Hope’s perennially enthusiastic blog and incredibly sweet videos. Or just send money – that works, too!