Bringing hope through opportunity
Kennedy Odede grew up in the Kibera slum of Nairobi, Kenya. The size of Central Park and the home to 1.5 million people, Kibera is the largest slum in Africa and one of the most densely populated places on the planet. Helping to raise his sisters in an environment where more than half of all young girls routinely trade sex for food and where only 8% of girls ever have the opportunity to go to school, Kennedy was constantly reminded of the devastating consequences that poverty has on girls. While hope was rare in Kibera, Kennedy had plenty to go around, and was determined to ensure that his community was given the opportunities it so desperately needed and deserved.
With twenty cents in savings and a soccer ball, Kennedy started a grassroots movement to bring hope to Kibera. He wanted to provide educational and leadership opportunities to the local community so that its members could help build a healthier and more resilient society for all. The small grassroots movement soon became Shining Hope for Communities, winner of the 2010 Dell Social Innovation Competition and a 2010 Clinton Global Initiative Outstanding Student Commitment Award.
Shining Hope for Communities seeks to combat intergenerational cycles of poverty and gender inequality by linking tuition-free schools for girls to essential social services for all through a holistic, community-driven approach. In addition to opening the first tuition-free school for girls in Kibera, Shining Hope for Communities has developed several projects that provide access to clean water and sanitation, healthcare, economic opportunities and business skills to people in the community. “Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined such incredible support and encouragement from all over the world,” says Kennedy. “Every day I am invigorated by the energy and momentum of our work.”
Kennedy’s experiences in Kibera instilled in him a commitment to provide girls and women equal access to a bright future, which he was certain would create a positive impact on the entire community. “At that time, I had only spare change in my pocket and big dreams for making a difference in my community,” says Kennedy, remembering back to when he began his work as a social entrepreneur. It was these same big dreams that led Kennedy to complete the 2009 Humanity in Action Fellowship in France when he was a student at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. Throughout his university education, Kennedy worked to expand the impact of Shining Hope for Communities. After graduating from Wesleyan in 2012, he returned to Kibera to implement more of his ambitious ideas.
Shining Hope for Communities works every day to ensure that the girls of Kibera are being given the necessary tools with which to build a path out of poverty for themselves and their families. “I will never forget in my entire life the people who are giving their support so that the girls, boys, women and men of Kibera are now able to pursue their dreams and build a healthier and empowered society,” says Kennedy. From the outstanding progress and motivation of the enrolled students—who express their interest in becoming pilots, doctors and leaders in their community—it would seem that such support will not be forgotten by anyone in Kibera.