Growing up as the oldest of eight children in Kibera, Africa’s largest slum, Kennedy Odede saw his family and community suffocated by devastating poverty—from which there was no escape. He saw many people’s lives crushed, and was determined to change these devastating realities. He could not sit by while he saw little girls forced to trade their bodies for food. He could not stay silent while he saw such wasted human potential. In 2009, Kennedy co-founded Shining Hope for Communities with fellow activist Jessica Posner. Together, along with the assistance of many dedicated supporters, they have transformed this vision for change into a reality.
Shining Hope for Communities has developed a community-driven model to combat inter-generational cycles of gender inequity in the midst of extreme poverty. They link tuition-free schools for girls to accessible services for all. In August 2009, they founded The Kibera School for Girls, the first entirely free school for girls in Kibera. The school gives the most needy and brightest girls the education they deserve to become engines of economic prosperity and social change for their communities. They also provide the community-at-large with tangible benefits through social services operating adjacent to the school. This includes a community health clinic providing desperately needed access to primary and women’s heath care, plus a community center hosting youth advocacy and outreach, programs, sports, and a cyber center. By investing in health and economic success through a school for girls, Shining Hope for Communities has demonstrated that empowering women benefits the whole community and cultivates an ethos that makes women respected members of society.