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Shining Hope for Communities

Project Overview

Combatting gender inequality and extreme poverty in the Kibera slum of Nairobi by linking tuition-free schools for girls to accessible social services for all.

Identifying the Problem

There are 1.5 million people who live in Kibera, a Nairobi slum the size of Central Park. Social services are virtually nonexistent, and the effects on those who live in Kibera are tragically obvious. While the life expectancy in the rest of Kenya is 50 years of age, it is only 30 years of age in Kibera. One out of five children in Kibera does not live to see his or her fifth birthday.

The effects of poverty and neglect are even more profound for girls living in the slum. Young women in Kibera contract HIV at a rate five times that of their male counterparts. And by the age of 16, 66% of girls are routinely trading sex for food. Education for girls is often undervalued in Kibera, and the lack of access to quality health care and resources often prevent female students from staying in school. Kennedy grew up in Kibera, and saw firsthand how extreme poverty and gender inequality devastated the lives of girls and women. “I could not sit by as I saw little girls forced to trade their bodies for food,” he says. “I could not stay silent while I saw such wasted human potential.”

Creating A Solution

Kennedy knew that educating girls would have a tremendous impact in the community. Studies have shown that educating a girl in places like Kibera means that she will earn more, invest 90% of her earnings in her family, be three times less likely to become HIV positive, and have fewer, healthier children more likely to live past age five. In 2004, Kennedy started Shining Hope for Communities through the simple act of purchasing a soccer ball. The 20 cent price tag was daunting, but Kennedy was ready to make the investment because he had complete faith in the potential of the people living in Kibera to come together to improve their community. Motivated by the hope he had in his community, he started an informal soccer league, which became a community organization, which became Shining Hope. 

Kennedy wanted Shining Hope to prove to the people of Kibera that educating and empowering girls has a direct impact on the improvement of the entire community. The central component of Shining Hope is the Kibera School for Girls, the community’s first tuition-free school for girls. Run by a staff of expert female teachers, the school provides both students and community members with positive female role models. Its innovative curriculum fosters leadership, critical thinking and creativity, and its support system provides free health care, food and psychosocial services to students, which ensures that they will not only complete their education, but have the necessary tools for building productive lives for themselves and their families. The Kibera School for Girls also has a truly unique system of payment. Instead of charging for tuition and other associated fees, the school requires parents of the students to agree to work at the school and the associated community center, which helps foster a sense of commitment to the community and investment in their daughters’ education.

Shining Hope links several community services to the Kibera School for Girls. One is the Shining Hope Community Center, which hosts a community library and cyber café from which the community center runs adult literacy and computer/business skill classes. The community center provides a safe and productive space for people in Kibera for youth group meetings, counseling and support groups, girls empowerment programming and much more.

Additionally, Shining Hope developed and runs the Johanna Justin-Jinich Community Clinic, which specializes in providing quality primary health care and offers a program focused on women and children’s health. The organization has also implemented the Toilet Access Project (TAP), which consists of a bio-latrine center adjacent to the Kibera School for Girls and a community toilet project that builds sanitary toilets throughout Kibera to mitigate the environmental and sanitation crisis created by 1.5 million residents sharing 600 toilets. 

Gardens for Growth is a sustainable gardens project located behind the Kibera School for Girls that supplies the students with kale and onions, nutritious vegetables essential for growth and development. The project also teaches the community how to grow "vertical gardens" with very little land and other resources. The Clean Water Project is the largest single water point in Kibera, a community where running water in homes is a rare luxury. The project currently provides clean water to the residents of Kibera, and will one day expand to provide community-wide health and hygiene education and training. 

The results of the Shining Hope model are threefold. First, by linking community services with a girls’ school, the organization makes it clear that benefiting girls benefits the entire community. Second, this realization helps enforce gender equality and make girls and women valued members of society. Finally, the hope that the organization’s community services bring to Kibera inspires the entire community to believe in themselves and their future. Such is the motto of Shining Hope: “We bring hope to women because through women, we bring hope to entire communities.” As this music video shows, Shining Hope has certainly succeeded in empowering the girls of Kibera, whose joy and enthusiasm is contagious!

Lessons Learned

Before Kennedy even started to pursue funding for Shining Hope, he and his team spent a great deal of time developing the goal and vision of the organization. He then researched other similar organizations to find out which funders would be interested in supporting Shining Hope. He found this approach to be extremely helpful, along with gaining a familiarity with the grant process itself. Kennedy advises others to never forget to consider the scale of the organization. “Some grantors give to small or young organizations while others give primarily to well-developed organizations,” he says. “This is also critical to keep in mind and could save you lots of time!”

One of Kennedy’s biggest challenges over the years has been the ability to lead operations in Kenya while also growing donor support in the United States. While he recognizes the importance of being in the United States in order to grow support for Shining Hope, his absence from Kenya has made it difficult to be a leader on the ground there. “I feel I have one foot in each country and it has been hard to commit to both aspects of the organization,” he says. Kennedy’s solution has been to be realistic and honest about his own capabilities and priorities. He also stresses the importance of finding others you can work with, which makes the entire process easier and much more enjoyable.

Get Involved!

There are so many ways you can help support Shining Hope. You can donate to the organization, sponsor a student or staff member, make an in-kind donation or even volunteer!


A project of this magnitude required plenty of fundraising, grant applications, and many other types of support. Shining Hope has won the 2010 Dell Social Innovation Competition, the 2010 Do Something Award, a 2010 Outstanding Student Commitment Award from the Clinton Global Initiative University and a 100 Projects for Peace award by Projects for Peace. A complete list of Shining Hope’s partner organizations can be found here.

Awards & Recognition

Shining Hope for Communities was recognized as an extraordinary Senior Fellow project at the First Annual Humanity in Action International Conference, held in Amsterdam. The project's partnership "Building a Better Kibera" was also featured as an outstanding partnership at the Clinton Global Initiative's 2013 annual meeting

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About This Project

HIA Program:

France France 2009

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