Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Kennedy Odede’s love story that made life better in Kibera

 By Moses Nyamori Updated Wednesday, September 23rd 2015 at 00:00 GMT +3 Share this story: Kennedy Odede’s life prospects were bleak. He was homeless and hungry. At the age of 10, he survived a near-death beating for stealing a mango. He had gone for three days without food - something the mob at Toi Market in Kibera did not understand, his age notwithstanding. Kennedy Odede and his wife Jessica Posner outside the girl’s school they set up in Kibera. (PHOTOS: COURTESY) The now 29-year-old, who once lived on the streets for three years, recounts how unbearable life was in the slum, more so for women. Odede was outraged with the constant abuse meted out on women living in the slum and it was especially painful when his 16-year-old sister was raped and became pregnant. “I lived in a community where life was really tough and the biting poverty and sexual abuse entrenched in the slum bothered me a lot,” he says. As the eldest of eight children, Odede had to drop out of school in order to assume responsibility of the family. He was however, exceptionally bright and when a visiting American gave him an autobiography of Dr Martin Luther King Jr, it changed his perspective and set him on the path to social activism. Advertisement Odede bought a soccer ball and formed a club. He used this interaction with the slum’s young men to talk to them about social issues and got many to start thinking about and taking action to stop the prevalent sexual abuse. Out of this soccer team idea, in 2004, Odede formed Shining Hope For Communities (Shofco), which he intended to use as a vehicle to combat the poverty, violence, and extreme gender equality affecting his community. His work and growing popularity saw him called to speak about the challenges of growing up in Kibera slum at a forum organised by the United Nations. This was his first taste of global recognition. In 2007, a Wesleyan University student, Jessica Posner, who had a heart to work among slum populations came to Nairobi. Her lecturer had heard Odede speak at the UN forum and he linked the two young people. Jessica insisted on living in the slum and Odede offered her accommodation in the tiny abode he shared with his mother and siblings. Jessica got involved in the work Odede was doing in the slum and even went a step further, securing him a full scholarship to Wesleyan University - a private liberal arts college in the US. When Odede reported to the US-based campus in August 2008, he carried Shofco and Kibera in his heart. His access to education birthed in him a desire to set up a girl’s school in Kibera, convinced that access to quality education would break the poverty cycle that subjected girls to all sorts of abuse. GO TO PAGE 1 2 3 Next »
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At this time, what was still a friendship between Odede and Jessica flourished into a love affair nurtured by the mutual commitment and passion to better the lives of the needy. When she graduated in 2009, they flew back to Kibera with USD10, 000 (approximately Sh1, 052, 995). This was money they had won as a grant from Newman’s Own Foundation, which made it possible for them to build the school, hire teachers, get materials and take in applications. Kibera School for Girls was thus born and with it their dream to offer tuition-free education to girls. The lack of steady funding motivated them to keep pushing, and more grants would later follow. Odede went back to the US for further studies, leaving Jessica behind to oversee not only the school but the other Shofco projects they were involved in. They set up their headquarters at Gatwekera in Kibera. Odede graduated with honours in 2012 and immediately married his sweetheart. Today, the two split their time between Nairobi and New York City where they have another office. Shofco has expanded its reach and now has a health clinic that serves over 300 patients a day, a 100,000-litre water tower that provides clean water for residents and a day care centre that caters to at least 80 children. Last month, Shofco launched a Sacco that allows Kibera residents to access credit without collateral. We caught up with Odede at the launch and he told us that so far, Sh12 million has been raised courtesy of the Shofco Urban Network. The occasion was graced by various dignitaries including US Ambassador to Kenya Robert Godec and British High Commissioner Christian Turner who said they are amazed by the projects initiated by the one-time street child. With over 190 local employees who lead and implement all of Shofco’s programmes, the organisation is easily the largest employer in Kibera. Odede says more is still to come. “Cumulatively, all of our programmes serve more than 80,000 people. This is just the beginning as we have expanded this model to Mathare and are going to do the same throughout Kenya’s urban slums,” says an optimistic Odede. He has nothing but praise for his wife who he says turned his life around. “She is a special person in many ways. It is great to have someone who cares and wants to give her life to make a difference,” he says. GO TO PAGE « Prev 1 2 3 Next »
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