Kennedy Odede’s Book Launch

Kennedy Odede talks about his book, Find me Unafraid, and his vision for mothers in Kenya.

When Kennedy Odede, founder of Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO) met Jessica Posner, an American undergrad, in 2007 he could not have envisioned the impact this powerful partnership would have. Kennedy grew up in Kibera, one of the largest slums in Africa, where he founded a youth empowerment group. Jessica was a volunteer who planned on living in Kenya for only one semester, that is, until she and Kennedy fell in love. Today she and Kennedy are married. They live and work together in Kenya where they founded the first tuition-free school for girls in Kibera. Find Me Unafraid (Ecco, October 13, 2015) is their story — filled with love, leadership and the coming together of two cultures. We asked Kennedy to share his story, his plans for SHOFCO and his vision for changing the lives of girls, women and mothers in Kenya.

My mom was just 15 when she had me. She delivered me — a breech baby — by herself in a remote village in Kenya. There were two outcomes that seemed likely: one of us could have died or we both could have died. But, by some miracle, we survived.

While my mother and I were lucky, thousands of women around the world are not. 289,000 women die every year because of complications during pregnancy and childbirth, most of which are preventable. These women are not just mothers — they are sisters, daughters, aunts, community-builders, and change-makers. They are the very foundation of our communities.

And though those numbers are sobering, for me it was just another part of growing up in the slums of Kibera. There were not enough resources, awareness, or health education to change this. But, we should no longer have to face this challenge in the 21st century and I’m determined to make sure we don’t have to in the future.

This is just one of the many reasons I started SHOFCO. My wife and co-founder, Jessica Posner Odede and I believe that educating girls and empowering women unlock the potential of entire communities. But to do this, we have to approach it holistically — so in addition to education, we provide access to affordable, clean water and sanitation, community empowerment programs and free health clinics.

Through our health clinic, we started the Maternal and Child Health program in Kibera, which includes: antenatal care, postnatal care and child welfare care. In 2014, the clinic opened a fully equipped maternal and child health wing and treated over 1,000 patients. While our program is still growing and evolving, through our antenatal care, mothers get standard medical exams, lab tests and receive nutrition counseling.

Recently, as part of our incentivized pre and postnatal care, we provide mothers with baby blankets to ensure that they go to their necessary clinic appointments. Once a mother completes all her postnatal visits, undergoes a hospital delivery, and brings her baby to the clinic for immunization, we give her a baby blanket. They’re not always coming just for the health of their child, but for the baby towels or nutrition that they simply can’t afford.

Most importantly, for us to fight for maternal health care, we have to understand the culture of the communities we want to serve. Unless we try and understand their challenges and situations, we’ll never be able to help. In collaboration with other organizations, I envision SHOFCO’s services growing and working with the government to expand our services. We’ll keep pushing awareness, providing resources and education to ensure that maternal health crisis is something of the past. That’s my dream.

Kennedy Odede is the founder of Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO). SHOFCO combats extreme poverty and gender inequity in Kenya by linking tuition-free schools for girls to a set of high-value, holistic community services. These services include: health, community empowerment, and clean water and sanitation. In our model, a girls’ school becomes a portal for large-scale social change.

Kennedy was born and raised in the slums of Kibera, where he was inspired to start SHOFCO as a grassroots movement. Kennedy and his wife, Jessica Posner-Odede, officially launched SHOFCO in 2009. You can read about both of their journeys, the work that inspired them and their love story in their upcoming book, “Find Me Unafraid,” to be released on October 13th.

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