Lessons from Shining Hope

As a sophomore at Wesleyan University, I had the great privilege to cross paths with Kennedy Odede, then a freshman. Kennedy grew up in Kibera, the largest slum in Kenya. In 2004, he started a grass roots movement called “Shining Hope for Communities” (SHOFCO) and became a visionary change maker and community organizer. By the time he left Kenya to get an education, he was popularly known as the “mayor” of Kibera since it was he who regularly responded to his community’s day-to-day needs and helped them to have a voice.

When Kennedy came to Wesleyan, he did not forget about his home or try to work on issues more “relevant” to Wesleyan students. He began telling the story of his community’s strife with fervor and passion to anyone who would listen. In spite of the fact that Kibera was foreign and far away from us in every possible way, Kennedy was able to make students in Connecticut (myself included) feel powerfully connected to his dream to build a tuition-free school for girls in the slum. Together with his partner Jessica, Kennedy built a core of students, professors and community members who slowly but surely helped to make that dream come true.

Not only is the school a great success, but Kennedy and Jessica have now received grants from Echoing Green, the Do Something Award and Newman’s Own to expand the project to address many other crucial needs in Kibera in addition to education.

As Nicholas Kristof wrote in a recent column about SHOFCO, “Shining Hope is now building a much larger school that is expected to accommodate 500 pupils. It has also bolstered services, including free family planning, for women at a clinic it runs. It trains women entrepreneurs and has just installed a new water tower that is expected to become the slum’s largest source of clean water. It operates a public library and computer center where slum dwellers can earn money by performing Internet piece work. …Shining Hope also oversees a network of public toilets, one of which produces biogas used to cook meals for children at the school. All this may be just a beginning. Kennedy says his dream is to expand Shining Hope across East Africa.”

As a Faiths Act Fellow, it is my task to mobilize people of faith in New York City to care about the issue of malaria. I know how many of the New Yorkers I talk to feel when I first mention the word “malaria,” because it is basically the same feeling I had when Kennedy first talked to me about Kibera. But through his example, I know that if I can tell a true and powerful story about the dire need for malaria education in Sierra Leone, and believe in it, others will too. Kennedy and Jessica have shown me that when young people are truly dedicated to an issue, and committed to addressing it effectively, we can have great impact, and build a global movement that defies geography.

Pictures above are from Shining Hope for Communities. Visit their website to learn more.

Nomi Teutsch is a Faiths Act Fellow at UNITED SIKHS

Comments are closed.