On Friday, November 6th, Wesleyan hosted a WESeminar: Find Me Unafraid: Love, Loss, and Hope in an African Slum. Kennedy Odede ’12, founder of SHOFCO, spoke about developing a community organization in Kibera, Nairobi, meeting his wife, Jessica Posner Odede ’09 through is work, and graduating from Wesleyan. Kennedy and Jessica shared their story through their novel Find Me Unafraid: Love, Loss, and Hope in an African Slum. Kennedy started Shining Hope for Communities with a soccer ball and a commitment to building strength and hope in his community. It grew to support a community theater initiative, a school for girls, housing for students in dangerous situations, a community health center, and a water sanitation initiative. SHOFCO inspired young people in Mathare, Kenya’s second-largest slum, to start their own initiative. After his talk, Kennedy signed copies of his books for the audience.
Luciana Contreras ’16, shared her reflections on the evening below:
The room was silent until his powerful story reached the audience—and that did not take long. Kennedy Odede’s voice filled the chapel Friday evening in his WesSeminar entitled “Find Me Unafraid: Love, Loss and Hope in an African Slum”. He smiled as he began to tell the story that brought him to his wife, to Wes and back to his village to build a School for Girls. As a child, Odede was extremely impoverished, resorting to drugs and stealing at age ten before beginning to work in a factory for $1 per 10 hours so that he could try and escape the challenges of living in Kibera, a slum in Nairobi, Kenya each day. He watched his mother and sisters endure abuse and sexual assault. He watched his best friends die. He began Shining Hope for Communities with a soccer ball, working to give some feeling of hope for his community. Odede quickly earned the nickname “Mayor.”
Even with Kennedy’s efforts, his people continued to struggle. Life was likely to continue along this trajectory until he met Jessica Posner, a woman who would change his life and he hers. Posner began to work at SHOFCO and encouraged Odede to apply for a scholarship to Wes. He thrived as a student in his first opportunity of higher education and looked back with nostalgia Friday night as he recalled taking a two-hour shower when he first arrived here in Middletown. Here, the dream to create gender equality through education began.
It is clear why individuals call Kennedy and his wife inspirational. Together, they have helped to revitalize the largest urban slum in Africa through Shining Hope for Communities, empowering young women at the Kibera School for Girls and bringing resources, like water and healthcare, to the people living in urban poverty there.
Kennedy and Jessica will be keynote speakers at the Wesleyan Social Impact Summit on campus this weekend. Their book tour has taken them to NYC, Denver, San Francisco, and DC. Their last stop is in Boston later this month.