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Riverdale News & Stories

Kennedy Odede: "With Hope, Everything Is Possible"
Posted 02/25/2016 02:45PM

Born in the Kibera slum of Nairobi, Kenya, Kennedy Odede was, in his words, "not a good kid."

His mother was 15 years old when he was born. There was no money for food or schooling. He was always hungry. When he was 10, he ran away from home and began living on the streets, begging for food, using drugs, and collecting old newspapers, which he used to teach himself to read and write. "It was a very, very tough life," he said.

Along the way, he met an American who gave him a biography of Martin Luther King, Jr. "I was inspired," Odede told Riverdale Middle Schoolers on Wednesday. "This man, doing that struggle, he never gave up. I wanted to be the Martin Luther King, Jr. of my community. From then on, I had a dream. I dreamed of change. But I didn't know how. This story gave me hope."

He organized friends and acquaintances with the idea that they could change Kibera, one of the most impoverished areas in the world. In 2004, he began Shining Hope for Communities, organizing theater performances throughout the slum to educate people about gender violence and HIV/AIDS.

In 2007, Jessica Posner, a student at Wesleyan University, came to Kibera and met Odede. She took up his cause, and helped him apply to college in America. In 2008, she returned to Wesleyan with Odede; he graduated with honors in 2012. They married shortly afterwards. Together they started the Kibera School for Girls. In 2011, Nicholas Kristof profiled the work in his column for The New York Times, and the program took off. 

In October, they published a book, Find Me Unfraid, which tells the story of their partnership. 

Odede told students that they are privileged to be at Riverdale, receiving an excellent education, and he reminded them that millions of children do not have access to school. He encouraged them to think about how they could use their education to help others. "Please, please do not take this education for granted," he said. 

Change can start with one person, he continued. "To do something good, you don't need money," he said. "We can have an impact on other people's lives." 

To watch a video of Odede's talk, click here.


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