Our Founders: Kennedy Odede & Jessica Posner
In 2004, I started the grassroots movement that became Shining Hope for Communities with twenty-cents and a soccer ball. In my wildest dreams, I could not have believed that Shining Hope would grow into the organization that it is today.
Growing up as the oldest of eight children in Kibera, Africa’s largest slum, I saw my family and community suffocated by devastating poverty—from which there was no escape. Starting at the age of seven, I sold peanuts on the road to put my siblings and myself through school. Despite my efforts, two of my sisters had to drop out after becoming teenage mothers. My father abused my mother, Jane, and kept our family hungry—spending what little money we had on alcohol. Resisting, my mother taught me about gender equality. Had she been able to go to school, my mother felt she would have been able to feed and care for her family. I saw the potential in the many women like my mother. I saw many people’s lives crushed but despite my own poverty, I was determined to change these devastating realities. I could not sit by as I saw little girls forced to trade their bodies for food. I could not stay silent while I saw such wasted human potential.
With no money–only a soccer ball, and my faith in people’s abilities to change their own lives, I built one of the largest community-run organizations in Kibera. SHOFCO worked with more than 3,000 people through its departments focused on AIDS education, female empowerment, health and sanitation, soccer, microfinance, and theatre. Because of this work as the founder of SHOFCO, I became a respected community leader often called the “mayor” of Kibera. After living in Kibera for 23 of my 26 years I intimately understand both the daily challenges and possibilities. I also know what it takes to get out of poverty, and what is needed to transform my community. I can now combat the circle of poverty in which I was born poor, raised poor, and can return to help those who are poor like me to change our society.
Today, Shining Hope for Communities has grown beyond what I could have ever imagined. I look around me and I see that many of the people who I grew up with have been killed by AIDS, prostitution, violence, and by the despair that comes from knowing that no matter how much you deserve it, you will never get a chance at a better future. As I look at The Kibera School for Girls, The Johanna Justin-Jinich Community Clinic, and at all the services we offer and infrastructure that we have built–I know that I am still here for a reason. In a life filled with hopelessness, I saw hope—and I clung to it. I remain deeply touched and inspired by the supporters who have joined us, who believe in my vision, and who have helped us to bring hope to thousands. Together, we are making another world possible.
President & CEO
In 2007, I first met Kennedy when I worked with SHOFCO in Kibera, becoming one of the first outsiders to live inside the slum itself. During my time in Kenya, I was deeply moved by the struggles facing the Kibera community. I was especially inspired by the friendships I formed, one in particular with a young woman named Cathy. Cathy was curious and wanted to learn about the world. She got a sponsor to help her pay school fees, but her mother burned her belongings angry that she was not doing enough housework. Cathy moved in with her father who abused and impregnated her. Not long after I met her, she disappeared and I learned one of Kibera’s most harsh lessons: there is such a thing as too late.
I never forgot how Kennedy always told me about his own dreams of a college education. During Kenya’s 2007 post-election crisis I sent him an email with a link to several applications and a subject line that simply read: apply. Kennedy and I continued to work together in Kibera to change the options available to residents. When he came to Wesleyan University, fulfilling his own dreams of an education, we co-founded Shining Hope for Communities to share this hope with others.
Now, together with the community, we are building an innovative, groundbreaking global model to combat gender inequality and extreme poverty—two of the world’s most devastating and intractable social ills. Every single day we give the Kibera community the tools and resources to change their own lives. I see this deep impact when our students dread the weekend because it’s two days without school, when a parent feels empowered enough to prosecute a man who had been sexually assaulting her five-year old daughter, when hundreds of parents, youth, and other community members meet to undertake massive clean-ups, and when men in the community suggest that we need to keep our library open at night for any girl to study.
Nearly four years ago, after living and working in Kibera, this work became a part of me because I believe that there can be no equality for some when there is such devastating inequality for so many. The possibilities of what can happen when people from around the world come together continue to astonish me.
Co-Founder & Chief Operating Officer