What a Kenyan Slum Can Teach America About Politics
Don’t put your hope in elected officials. Real change has to start locally.
Many Americans who voted in last week’s midterm elections were hungry for change. They pinned their hopes on politicians who they felt embodied the values and diversity of the nation as a whole, and who could lift up their communities.
The result will be a Congress significantly more representative of America today. But merely putting people in office will not produce the seismic change needed to sufficiently improve local communities and the lives of the most disenfranchised people. The stunningly diverse 116th Congress, which starts in January, was made possible by grass-roots community organizing around the country. But those same communities can’t stop there. Real change must come from the ground up.
We saw this in Flint, Mich., where political leaders failed to maintain safe water infrastructure for poor and black residents. As a result, children and families drank water contaminated with lead, poisoning a generation. Elected officials at the state and federal levels did nothing.
Instead, local activists, doctors, and families exposed the contamination and forced the authorities to take action. Volunteers spread awareness about the risks of drinking tap water. Bottled water drives gave the community strength to withstand the crisis. Flint is not out of danger, but it is on a better path today precisely because its residents took on the challenge themselves.
I’ve seen this same dynamic in my hometown, Kibera, one of the largest slums in Kenya.
As in Flint, clean water is not easily accessible to Kibera residents; without formal piping into the slum, much of our water is easily contaminated with disease. To make things worse, enterprising locals tap into the nearest pipes and re-sell contaminated water as “safe,” at exorbitant prices.
With each election cycle, my community placed faith in politicians who promised to provide clean water, as well as to tackle systemic poverty, endemic corruption and myriad other problems that plague our society. But time and again they struggled to deliver.
Tired of waiting for those solutions, my mother took matters into her own hands. She organized a group of women who gathered each week to pool their money to help start a business, care for a sick child or buy school supplies. They were mostly illiterate; since I could read and write, they asked me, a 9-year-old, to keep the books.
One day, many years later, a woman in the community proposed expanding on the group’s model, making it more of an official, organized operation, with an agenda we could present to the public and politicians. I saw an opportunity to combine the efforts of Kibera’s many community groups — churches and mosques, groups of young people and old, community centers, and assemblies of craftspeople. We created a unified urban movement.
By organizing through these groups, we are able to tackle bigger problems, starting with water. We created a network of aboveground pipes that reduced the spread of disease, cut the cost of a jerrycan of potable water (about five gallons) by 60 percent and prevented local cartels from siphoning off water to sell to private vendors.
The community took on new problems. For example, most Kiberans lacked official ID cards, meaning they could not take advantage of employment or government services. We simply did not exist in the eyes of our government. Many people did not even know how to register, or even have the resources to do so. We organized an effort to get thousands of people their first ID cards, ever.
Recently this community movement held its own, unofficial elections. Community leaders organized themselves, and elected representatives to, for the first time, form a unified community congress to lead their own agenda. These community leaders seek to influence government to bring resources to communities like mine, to create accountability mechanisms and to address systemic challenges like land rights and inequality.
Flint and Kibera are reminders that the power of politics is the people. The process of community organizing will bring forth the leaders who can truly represent their communities and advocate change, whether or not those leaders hold political office.
Many of the most impactful leaders never wanted to be politicians. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Muhammad Ali and, in Kenya, heroes like the environmental activist Wangari Maathai — their legacies speak to the truth that political office is not everything.
We should look first to our neighborhoods, towns, schools, churches, mosques, and temples to identify the leaders who represent our needs and values. Empower them, and the politicians will follow suit.
Kennedy Odede is a co-founder and the chief executive of Shining Hope for Communities, a Kenya-based organization working to reduce poverty and create systemic change in the country’s urban slums.
Conrad N. Hilton Foundation Announces Kenya-Based Grassroots Nonprofit as 2018 Recipient of Hilton Humanitarian Prize
SHOFCO (Shining Hope for Communities) to receive world’s largest annual humanitarian award for its community-led approach to transforming lives in Kenyan urban slums
[Nairobi, Kenya] 22 August 2018 – The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation announced today that the grassroots nonprofit organization SHOFCO (Shining Hope for Communities) is this year’s recipient of the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize. A distinguished panel of independent international jurors selected SHOFCO, which catalyzes large-scale transformation in urban slums by providing critical services for all, community advocacy platforms, and education and leadership development for women and girls.
Based in Kibera, SHOFCO was founded by Kennedy Odede as a teenager in 2004 with 20 cents and a soccer ball. In 2007, Kennedy met Jessica Posner, a bright and driven American student studying abroad. Together they devised the model that SHOFCO utilizes today. Kennedy and Jessica’s partnership is a unique, pioneering collaboration in the field of international development.
While growing up in Kibera, Kennedy Odede saw firsthand the devastating consequences of living in urban slums. However, instead of thinking about how to escape his environment, Kennedy saw the potential to transform his community by working side-by-side with his neighbors within the slum. SHOFCO’s programs, which include health care, education and economic empowerment for women and girls, and sustainable delivery of clean water through a cutting-edge aerial piping system, are always demand-driven and community led.
“I applaud SHOFCO’s work to transform the lives of urban slum dwellers, galvanize grassroots change, and reduce social and educational barriers for women and girls,” said Her Excellency, Margaret Kenyatta, The First Lady of the Republic of Kenya. “Their efforts are an example for organizations who seek to create paths out of poverty and inspire hope. That is why I am a proud member of SHOFCO.”
In providing communities with the opportunity to realize their full potential SHOFCO creates sustainable, systemic change within urban slums in line with many of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) laid out by the United Nations in 2015. What began as a grassroots movement in Kibera by Kennedy in 2004 has ignited transformation and hope in six Kenyan slums—including Kibera, Kawangware, Mathare and Mukuru in Nairobi, and Bangladesh and Mshomoroni in Mombusa—reaching more than 220,000 people.
“We are thrilled and honored to receive the 2018 Hilton Humanitarian Prize,” said Kennedy Odede, founder and CEO of SHOFCO. “We will use this tremendous opportunity to start an endowment to ensure the long-term financial health and sustainable growth of our work. This will allow SHOFCO to remain driven by community needs and leadership, not donor demands, now and in the future. The endowment will strengthen our work in partnership with community leaders and help us expand our investments to transform urban slums.”
SHOFCO will be honored at this year’s Hilton Humanitarian Symposium and Prize Ceremony, which will take place in Los Angeles, California on Friday, 19 October 2018 and will be webcast live.
“The jury’s selection of SHOFCO to receive the 2018 Hilton Humanitarian Prize really speaks to the power of local actors, and signals a nod to the next generation of humanitarian and development leaders,” said Hilton Foundation President and CEO Peter Laugharn. “SHOFCO is a remarkable example of citizen-led change, created by people living in very challenging conditions. As Africa and the world urbanize and more informal settlements are created, SHOFCO provides an inspiring example of local creativity and solutions.”
SHOFCO joins the list of 22 previous organizations that have received the Hilton Humanitarian Prize over the last two decades including most recently, icddr,b, The Task Force for Global Health and Landesa. Each year, the Hilton Foundation reviews hundreds of nominations from notable nonprofits throughout the world, and an independent, international panel of distinguished jurors makes the final selection after a rigorous vetting process. The 2018 Hilton Humanitarian Prize jury includes the following individuals: Sir Fazle Hasan Abed; Princess Salimah Aga Khan; Gro Brundtland, M.D., M.P.H.; Hawley Hilton McAuliffe; Strive Masiyiwa; Ann M. Veneman; and Mark Rosenberg, M.D., M.P.P. Nominations for the 2019 Hilton Humanitarian Prize will be accepted from 22 August – 25 October 2018 and should be submitted through the Hilton Foundation website.
SHOFCO (Shining Hope for Communities) is a grassroots movement that catalyzes large-scale transformation in urban slums by providing critical services for all, community advocacy platforms, and education and leadership development for women and girls. Growing up in Kibera, one of the largest slums in Africa, SHOFCO’s founder Kennedy Odede experienced extreme poverty, violence, lack of opportunity, and deep gender inequality. Now, SHOFCO is focused on building solutions to urban poverty by addressing those core obstacles. For more information, please visit www.shofco.org.
About the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation
The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation was created in 1944 by international business pioneer Conrad N. Hilton, who founded Hilton Hotels and left his fortune to help the world’s disadvantaged and vulnerable people. The Foundation currently conducts strategic initiatives in six priority areas: providing safe water, ending chronic homelessness, preventing substance use, helping young children affected by HIV and AIDS, supporting transition age youth in foster care, and extending Conrad Hilton’s support for the work of Catholic Sisters. From its inception, the Foundation has awarded more than $1.6 billion in grants, distributing $114.9 million in the U.S. and around the world in 2017. The Foundation’s current assets are approximately $2.8 billion. For more information, please visit www.hiltonfoundation.org.
Umoja Community Music Therapy
Our Mission and Vision for Partnership with SHOFCO
Who we are.
Umoja Community Music Therapy is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that promotes sustainable Music Therapy practices in underserved communities through the empowerment and training of women. With a focus on female leadership, Umoja partners with community organizations to train women as community Music Therapists, who will go on to pioneer, implement and sustain Music Therapy services as a means to unite, heal, and serve their communities.
What is Music Therapy?
Music Therapy is the specialized application of supportive music intervention to address therapeutic, and global health outcomes across virtually all domains of functioning; including social, communication, emotional, physical, cognitive, sensory and spiritual needs. Music Therapists develop individualized treatment for people of all ability levels throughout the lifespan and work in a variety of health and community settings as members of an interdisciplinary team.
Within the global setting, Umoja promotes Music Therapy as an evidence-based, accessible, and cost-effective modality for individualized and group therapy, which highlights community and culture-centered approaches. Research by Stige (2016) supports culture-centered Music Therapy as a practice that highlights how humans develop their capacities through participation in society, where culture operates as a resource for action. We believe this paradigm is in alignment with SHOFCO’s mission to empower unified action. Within our partnership with the SHOFCO Women’s Empowerment Project (SWEP), we will champion music, and the Music Therapy profession as a cohesive, culturally rich and powerful tool for social change.
Our organization operates as a collective of four women who work as healthcare professionals in the United States within medical, education, and community settings. Practicing as Music Therapists, our expertise is informed by education and training in the areas of music and theory, psychology, psychotherapy, human development, group dynamics, research, clinical implementation and neuroscience with implications for rehabilitation and wellness. Throughout the past five years, Umoja has traveled throughout East Africa to provide educational in-services and sample sessions to all who are interested in learning how to implement Music Therapy services and develop programs within their communities.
Across the world, women play a vital role in the societal and familial structure of their communities. According to the World Health Organization, one in three women worldwide are victims of sexual assault and intimate partner violence. Within vulnerable communities, women and girls face issues such as gender bias, limited resources, and oppression stemming from prevailing cultural and societal norms surrounding the status of women. In many cases, these issues are compounded by a lack of financial security. Umoja believes in “the girl effect,” or the notion that when a girl has self-belief and is supported by her family and community, when she is empowered with skills, ideas, and knowledge, when she has access to services, role models, and other girls, when she is visible and vocal – she can demand to stay in school, to get health care, and to get married and have children when she chooses.” Through participating in therapy groups and training programs, we hope to provide others with a platform for agency and control, and to inspire community leaders to take the reigns and innovate, in order to design services from the lens of the needs of the community and to utilize Music Therapy as a healing and transformative tool for empowerment.
Plans for SHOFCO:
Cara Smith will be integrating Community Music Therapy training program with the marvelous leaders of SHOFCO while partnering with community advocacy programs, and education and leadership development efforts for women and girls. We will be designing music therapy programs for SHOFCO’s Women’s Empowerment Project (SWEP) and working with the leaders of this program as well as their women’s safety shelter in Kibera, and the Gender-Based Violence education staff.
We accomplish this by connecting local women musicians, teachers, and caregivers or enrolling community leaders interested in becoming community music therapists into our Trauma-Informed Music Therapy Training program. These individuals will participate in an ongoing training and collaboration project with the Umoja team to create the right service for the women and girls who need it and the leaders who implement it. The end goal is to help create sustainable music therapy services for the powerful survivors of violence and trauma and empower women to hone this new found skill in bringing healing and wellness to their community.
Umoja will also be working closely with music teachers at several of SHOFCO’s schools for girls in Nairobi’s slum communities – pioneering music therapy programs that provide a platform for creative emotional expression and empowerment opportunities for teachers and students to utilize music as an engine for community strength, cohesion, and leadership.
This October two executive members of Umoja will be visiting different SHOFCO sites within Nairobi to begin the collaboration process, build relationships, conduct workshops, training and demonstrate music therapy interventions for the girls and women SHOFCO serves. We hope to not only introduce an effective therapy for survivors of trauma but provide a platform for learning and empowerment for those who wish to learn this skill and provide this service.
We thank SHOFCO for their commitment to building long-term female leadership and are beyond humbled to embark in collaboration
Stige, B.(2016-01-21). Culture-Centered Music Therapy. In the Oxford Handbook of Music
Therapy. : Oxford University Press. Retrieved 6 July. 2018, from http://www.oxfordhandbooks.com/view/10.1093/oxfordhb/978199639755.001.0001/oxfordhb-9780199639755-e-1.
First Lady makes a historic tour of Kibera, commissions girls’ school
First Lady Margaret Kenyatta on Friday toured the interior of Kibera and commissioned a Girls’ School funded by Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO), a Non-Governmental Organization based in Nairobi.
The school, situated in the Gatwekera area of Kibera, is geared towards empowering the girl child through education…
Education Shines Hope for Girls in Kenya’s Largest Slum
A post penned by Kennedy on the importance of global education and SHOFCO’s role in promoting that in Kibera, Mathare and beyond.
NYT-Women in the World Praises Eunice’s Poem!
Women in the World in association with the New York Times spotlights Eunice’s powerful delivery of her heartfelt poem “My Dream” in front of thousands at the 6th Annual Women in the World Summit.
“Finding Love in a Hopeless Place” – an interview with Kennedy and Jessica on the Leonard Lopate Show.
Fast Company Spotlights Jessica and Kennedy’s Leadership
In How Two Broke Students Opened a Girls’ School in a Kenyan Slum Fast Company shines a light on the potential of young leaders to create positive change.
Mashable Highlights SHOFCO’s Feature in A Path Appears
In The activists working to transform Africa’s largest slum, one girl at a time Mashable celebrates SHOFCO’s journey to build urban promise and our feature in the PBS documentary, A Path Appears.
Kennedy Writes Second CNN Op-ed
Kennedy writes CNN op-ed about the promise of women and youth in Africa’s Surprising Future
NYT-Women in the World Presents Kennedy and Jessica’s Journey
Women in the World in association with the New York Times details SHOFCO’s exciting evolution.
Forbes Features SHOFCO’s Innovation
Forbes features SHOFCO’s Ashoka Changemakers Award: 2 Innovations Bringing Simplicity Back to Health Care
Kennedy Named One of Forbes’ 30 Under 30
Kennedy Odede Named One of Forbes Magazine’s “30 Under 30: Social Entrepreneurs”
Kennedy Writes Op-Ed for Project Syndicate
Kennedy Odede writes an op-ed about the challenges of urban poverty for Project Syndicate: Africa’s Urban Challenge
Nick Kristof Highlights Kennedy as Aspiring Mandela on NPR
In NPR broadcast, Nick Kristof highlights Kennedy as one of the “aspiring Mandela’s” across the world: Who Is the Next Mandela?
Chelsea Clinton Shares SHOFCO Story in Blog Post
Chelsea Clinton shares SHOFCO’s story in a blog post for MSNBC’s Rock Center: On Assignment: Couple’s love story leads to life-changing school in Kenyan slum
Chelsea Clinton Reports on SHOFCO for Rock Center
Chelsea Clinton reports on Shining Hope for Communities for MSNBC’s Rock Center: Couple’s school becomes a lifeline in Kenyan slum
Kennedy Writes CNN Op-Ed
Kennedy Odede writes CNN op-ed celebrating Nelson Mandela: In an African slum, talking to Mandela
Nick Kristof Features SHOFCO in NYT “Holiday Giving Guide”
Nicholas Kristof features SHOFCO in his New York Times 2012 Holiday Giving Guide: Gifts that Change Lives
VOGUE Features Jessica Posner
VOGUE Magazine features Jessica Posner. Read the full article on Scribd: Vogue – Up Front with Jessica Posner of Shining Hope for Communities
NBC Nightly News Features SHOFCO
Nick Kristof Shares SHOFCO Story in NYT Op-Ed
Nick Kristof shares the story of SHOFCO’s impact in his New York Times Op-Ed: Just Look at What You Did!
The Lancet Highlights SHOFCO
The Lancet features Shining Hope for Communities: Grassroots Project Shines Hope on Nairobi Slum Life
Kennedy Writes Op-Ed for the New York Times
SHOFCO Founder, Kennedy Odede, writes Op-Ed for the New York Times: Slumdog Tourism