by Kolapo Olapoju
In 2004, Kennedy Odede, a young Kenyan started the ‘Shining Hope for Communities ‘, an advocacy outreach which combats gender inequality and extreme poverty in urban slums by linking tuition free schools for girls to holistic social services for all.
Odede says while growing up in Kibera, he lived the realities of an urban slum. He said, “However, through all of the hardship I also witnessed the incredible ingenuity and industriousness of women like my mother, who persisted despite obstacles, abuse, and a profound lack of opportunity. I realized that gender inequality is at the core of urban poverty and there is no single solution to urban poverty’s oppression; the challenges are interconnected and require integrated, community-led solutions.”
With just 20 cents, Odede bought a soccer ball and started the SHOFCO movement to organize young people in Kibera to confront gender violence, HIV/AIDS, and to generate innovative economic alternatives.
“Through grassroots organizing Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO) was founded, with a vision of building urban promise from urban poverty. SHOFCO’s model places a free school for girls in the center of holistic community services that include a comprehensive health clinic, clean water and toilets, youth services and economic empowerment initiatives, allowing the school to become a portal for large-scale social change.”
“This model fosters gender equality by connecting needed services to girls’ education, building a community that values women and girls. Through local leadership, SHOFCO also builds a community invested in its own future—transforming the face of urban poverty.”
At 18-years-old, young Odede had assumed the role of a social entrepreneur and was making a change in his country. He attributes his escape from the slums of Kibera to his reading of books by Former Nelson Mandela and Black Martin Luther King Jr.
“When I was seventeen, I was given two books: a biography of Martin Luther King Jr. and of Nelson Mandela. These books changed my life. Growing up in Kibera, I experienced the cycles of structural violence, gender inequality, and hopelessness firsthand and never thought there could be a way out. But these books made me realize that at the same time, there were countless women who never gave up despite the obstacles, abuse, and lack of opportunity they faced.”
“These women and girls made me realize that I had to do something—the problems around me were too urgent. I decided that we could change our own community. I had a job in a factory where I earned $1 for 10 hours of labor. I saved 20 cents and bought a soccer ball—and started a movement bringing young people together to change our own realities.”
More than evident when you come across Odede, is his unwavering passion for the “Shining Hope for Communities” program.
“Jessica and I are always busy meeting people, writing, and collaborating on how we can best actualize the vision of those we serve. SHOFCO really is a full-time job, a lifestyle even, but we have amazing family and friends who keep us grounded and remind us to take time for ourselves as well. SHOFCO also has a fabulous team of dedicated individuals who work tirelessly to make every day run smoothly in each program and on an administrative level. SHOFCO is deeply collaborative and functions so well because of its amazing team.”
‘Excited’ was the word the ‘community organizer’ used to describe his reaction, when he discovered he had been nominated for the ‘The Future Africa Awards’. “I was so excited when I heard that I had been nominated for The Future Africa Award. It is an amazing honor to be recognized for my contributions and to be listed along other inspiring African leaders. I feel inspired by this opportunity and hope that it can help to share the stories of those living through the realities of urban poverty every day. I further hope that my story can inspire others to take action in their communities and know that change is absolutely attainable.”
From growing up in abject penury in Kibera, – the largest slum in Africa, to becoming an internationally recognized activist and young leader, Odede’s journey is beyond remarkable, and it has just began.
According to him, ‘The Future Africa Awards’ is an honour that brings with it a strong platform that would positively impact the SHOFCO.
“It is a particularly special honor to be recognized by African bodies, as SHOFCO is a grassroots, home-grown organization. The most important partners in SHOFCO’s work are the people of Nairobi’s slums themselves because grassroots means that a community is invested in its own future.
“By winning The Future Africa Award, SHOFCO would gain even more legitimacy as an African organization on the forefront of grassroots innovation. We are always looking to forge strong, effective partnerships with African leaders and organizations, and winning the award would raise our profile further and allow us to create these connections and collaborate with vital partners.”
Having recognized the inspiration which lies in his life’s story, he plans to tell it to the world and inspire others.
“I would be able to further tell my story as a kid growing up in the slum who was inspired to change his community—and did. From there, we would be given a platform to shed light on other slum stories, which would not only help to raise the profile of those living in urban poverty but also could inspire others to take action themselves.“