In one of Africa's largest slums, where hope is in short supply, one young man used his life savings to buy a soccer ball and bring opportunity to girls and their families.
Growing up in Kibera, outside Nairobi, Kenya, I experienced life in a place where hope was a rarity, with no roads, running water, sewage systems, or access to basic rights like health care and education. Girls in the community were most at-risk, including the sisters I helped raise, and who were vulnerable to the realities of daily life in poverty. There are so many stories of hardship and struggle, and few opportunities for schooling in Kibera -- especially for girls.
I knew that if girls and women were given opportunities for education and economic empowerment it would create a ripple of change that would improve life for all. With twenty cents savings and a soccer ball, I started a grassroots movement of young people to bring hope to Kibera -- providing education and leadership opportunities for the local community in the hopes of building a healthier and more resilient society.
When I first started Shining Hope for Communities in 2004, I had only spare change in my pocket and big dreams for making a difference in my community. I never imagined having such incredible support and encouragement from U.S. individuals and organizations, including Newman's Own Foundation.
Shining Hope grew, and with the help of Jessica Posner, a Wesleyan University student, we built the Kibera School for Girls, the slum's first tuition-free school for girls. Shining Hope also built a health clinic, bio-latrines, and the largest water tower in Kibera, while providing community services that will reach over 30,000 people this year. A new school building was recently added, increasing the capacity to 100 students. Today we have over 90 local staff members in Kenya helping to provide our services to the community. We have touched the lives of many people and we are still growing. Every day I am invigorated by the energy and momentum of our work.
Our projects are being led from Kibera, and our work in America is to find sustainable resources to help implement projects that originate from within the community. I'm thankful for my teams in America and in Kibera for their efforts to enable us to change lives. Jessica, particularly, brings her passion for management and her organizational skills.
The one thing that makes me truly happy in my heart, though, is the reward I receive when walking the streets of Kibera. I see little girls, telling me with a smile, "Thanks Kennedy for helping me from hunger, and offering me education and a safe place." I always reply, "Thank you, girls -- for doing it yourself. You can be who you want to be." This is more important than anything else I might receive in this world, and my life is changed every day when I talk to our students. They challenge me to continue to do the most I can with my life.