The Kibera School for Girls was founded in 2009 by the Kibera-bornKennedy Odede in partnership with Jessica Posner— who is, like Odede, a graduate of Wesleyan University and co-founder with Odede of the US-based nonprofit Shining Hope for Communities.
Odede decided to set up the school in an attempt to address what he saw as a fundamental gender imbalance between the opportunities available to boys growing up in the slums and those available to girls.
Odede — now 26 and the first Kiberan to graduate from Wesleyan — was brought up by his mother, whose daily struggle to make enough money to put him through school contrasted sharply with his dad’s alcoholism and squandering of the family’s meager resources. As a child, he grew used to hearing his mother talk about the importance of education and how, if she had been allowed to continue with her studies, she would have been able to provide successfully for her family.
Surrounded by women who were often forced to trade their bodies for food and for whom abuse was just part of their daily lives, Odede decided that he could not continue to stand by and watch: “I could not stay silent while I saw such wasted potential,” he stated at a recent TEDx Kibera event. “This is why I decided to found Shining Hope for Communities, because I felt that by tackling women’s problems, I would also help to address poverty in the slums in a more effective way.”
The Kibera School for Girls (KSG) is situated in the heart of the settlement. The school was built to a high standard and includes eight classrooms, a library, and a multipurpose room that was constructed with the help of the community.
In a conversation with Abigail Higgins, the Shining Hope for Communities manager of strategic partnerships, we were told that the underlying assumption of the school is that if you educate a girl, you have educated the whole community.
“We take great pride in our students, for they are already showing leadership in their communities at a young age,” Higgins told us. “The majority of them have taught their extended families and neighbors to read, and when tragedies such as a fire befall someone in their neighborhoods, they are the first to organize food drives and to collect donations.”
Currently, the Kibera School for Girls serves about 100 students ranging from kindergarten level to third grade. Higgins explained how they strive to provide a superior level of education, two daily meals, uniforms, health care, and school supplies, all free of charge. In addition to this, Higgins said, the school also provides students with after-school programs and offers psychological support to girls who have suffered from abuse.
The KSG is run by a staff of expert Kenyan female teachers, all of whom provide positive role models for the girls and the community at large. According to Higgins, the school has performed so well since it started three years ago that some of its second-grade students are now reading at an eighth-grade level.
With the recent completion of an auditorium, some art rooms, and a computer lab, the school expects to double its student intake by the next academic year and to continue to do so in the years to come.
While the curriculum that has been used in Kenya since 1985 mainly emphasizes memorization and passing exams, the KSG strives to make its curriculum a student-centered experience that fosters creativity and critical thinking skills. The idea is that by promoting weekly debates and community service projects, the KSG offers an enabling environment from which students will be able to create their own path out of poverty and become proactive and engaged citizens and leaders who can achieve real change in their society.
“Our model nurtures tomorrow’s leaders while simultaneously creating a community that supports and believes in their own future,” Higgins concludes. “These symbiotic effects strengthen and uplift everyone, exponentially increasing our impact in eradicating gender inequality and poverty.”