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Kenyan Man Gives Back

Posted by Administrator on September 29, 2009

By: Kate Monohan

Posted 09/29/2009

Kennedy Odede, a 25-year-old who grew up in the Kibera slum outside of Nairobi, Kenya, grew up seeing poverty, death and a brutal patriarchy that led to rape, HIV/AIDS and prostitution every day. Living in a 10-by-10 foot hut in the largest slum in Africa, and the second largest slum worldwide, he longed for more – not just for himself, but also for those in his neighborhood.

“Kibera is my slum, Kibera is my home, Kibera is my life,” Odede said. “I walked everyday on the streets until I keeled and fell down […] I see murders, I see them.”

Odede co-founded The Kibera School for Girls in August with Jessica Posner, a Wesleyan alumna who aided Odede in applying to Wesleyan two years ago. Posner has studied abroad in Kenya and met Odede while there.

“The one thing we need in this place is education, because education is the only way that poverty can change,” Odede said.

In 2005 Odede founded an organization called Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO) to help uplift the Kibera community. Later, he and Jessica sought funding from various organizations to help achieve their goal of building a community center and school for girls in Kibera.

In Kibera, 66 percent of girls are prostitutes by the age of 16, according to SHOFCO’s Web site. Some girls begin prostitution as early as age 6. One of every five children in Kibera dies before the age of 5.

“We wanted to build them [girls in Kibera] a space that they could speak without their minds being strict,” Odede said, explaining that girls in Kibera need to think “outside the box” in order to contribute to society. He added that a classic example of the patriarchy in Kenya was in his own mother, who he said had no potential for success.

“There was nowhere she could be listened to, in this society [women] do not speak,” Odede said. “It’s something, I think, is culturally dominant.”

The Kibera School for Girls is the only public school in Kibera, because the government sees the area as an illegal settlement and doesn’t provide the area with proper resources, according to information on SHOFCO’s Web site.

The school, which opened in August, was a dream that Odede had been hoping for for a long time, he said, and he was thrilled when it finally became a reality.

“Public education is something that most people just never even think about as a possibility in Kenya,” Posner said.

The school has 45 female students in preschool through first grade, and is now up-and-running, Posner said. The school will grow with the students, adding grades as the girls get older, she said. The hope is that eventually the school will supply education through the eighth grade, she added.

“We’re hoping that the school can be a model that we could take and adapt to other situations,” Posner said.

Posner and Odede worked with American Friends of Kenya (AFK), a Norwich-based non-profit organization that works closely with Kenyans to help prevent and treat HIV/AIDS and promote education among children.

Odede and Posner will be joined Wednesday by Marcel and Bethe Dufresne, a husband and wife reporting team, who chronicled the efforts of SHOFCO and AFK for The Hartford Courant, to share their story with the UConn community. The talk is called “Continents Together,” and will also be attended by the founders of AFK, Wayne and Emely Silver.

Marcel Dufresne, an associate professor of journalism at UConn, hopes that students that attend the talk will learn not to take their lifestyle for granted, and that there are many organizations available for young people to join that make an impact on others’ lives.

“We had one young guy on the trip who was 17-years-old and he was going to be a college freshman, and this just opened his eyes, I think, to how much of the world lives,” Dufresne said. “And I don’t think he’ll ever be the same as a result of it.”

Dufresne was the primary photographer on the trip, as his wife, Bethe, did most of the writing, he said. Seventeen of their photos will be on display in the hallway of Konover Auditorium in the Dodd Center until Oct. 14. The photos have lengthy captions that tell many of the stories that he and his wife witnessed while in Kibera this August.

“From a standpoint of a campus community, I do think there is a lot at this talk for people from across the campus,” he said.

There will be information about developing countries’ problems, issues with how American aid is used in Africa and what Americans can do to help people like those that live in the slums of Kibera, he said.

“There’s a lot of volunteer work that people can do here, and if people are also interested in going to Kenya, we’re also really interested in having volunteers at the school,” Posner said.

The school includes a “holistic approach to community uplift,” Posner said.

The project also included a community center, garden and library and provides after-school programs, health programs and many other resources for the people of Kibera, Posner said. This means that students not interested in teaching are also needed to volunteer, she said.

Posner and Odede are watching the school’s progress from a distance, as the community has taken ownership of it now, Odede said. They have plans to return this summer.

“The community members own the school … the school will belong to them forever,” he said.

Odede’s new dream? To share his experiences in Kibera with those in other slums and to help others rise from poverty to have a voice in their community, he said.

“When I was in Kibera seeing the innocent dying from the sprayed bullets by the Police men,” Odede writes in his personal blog. “My heart jump out and I wanted to die with my people. I saw a baby playing not understanding the politic in country and he was an humble baby but he met the bullet on the way. Oh God, what’s happening under the sun? Where are the Angels? Now we need them.”

For more information on how you can help, http://www.Hopetoshine.org

Source: The Daily Campus

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