Kaylie Cordingley

Girl Power: SHOFCO’s tuition-free schools in Kenya linking communities to health services

Kennedy Odede started Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO) in 2004 with only passion, 20 cents and a soccer ball. He was born and raised in the Kibera slum, one of the largest slums in Africa, where he experienced extreme poverty, violence and a lack of opportunity. However, he also witnessed the palpable hope that persists in slums and recognized that people sought something different for themselves, their families and their communities.

The Kenyan government does not officially recognize the existence of Kibera, a densely populated space the size of Central Park. This reality means the government does not provide to Kiberians services that are available in much of the rest of Kenya, such as the construction or maintenance of roads, schools, hospitals, infrastructure for clean water access, electricity or sanitation facilities.

Extreme poverty and its effects permeate daily life in the slum. Life expectancy in Kibera is far lower than in the rest of Kenya, and one in five children dies before his or her fifth birthday. Women are disproportionately affected by the extremes of Kibera, with higher HIV rates, lower economic mobility and less of a chance to be formally educated.

Women like Kennedy’s mother inspired him to address the prohibitive level of gender inequity in Kibera. He grew up in an environment where women were routinely raped, abused and sexually assaulted, and where girls as young as 6 sold, or were forced to sell, their bodies to survive. Despite these realities, Kennedy saw the power of Kiberian women to be agents of great community change, especially when given education and economic opportunities.

In 2007, Kennedy met Jessica Posner, a bright and driven American study abroad student, and together they came up with the model that SHOFCO utilizes today. SHOFCO’s innovation is to link girls’ education to tangible community progress. The organization does this by creating robust, high-quality girls’ schools and linking communitywide services to them.

(A birthday party in Kibera, left.)

The Kibera School for Girls (KSG), the slum’s first tuition-free girls’ school, accepts the brightest and most vulnerable girls from Kibera. Students are given a holistic education, one that includes hands-on academic instruction, health care, meals and psychosocial support. Girls who have been sexually abused or are in danger in their homes can live in Margaret’s Safe Place, where they are able to seek a vibrant education in the safety of a warm and loving home. SHOFCO runs a community center, cyber café, economic empowerment programs for men and women, water and sanitation projects, a gender-based violence task force and many other programs that address extreme poverty and inequality in the community.

SHOFCO also opened a health clinic, which is open to all members of the community. It specializes in primary, women’s and pediatric health care, including maternal visits, immunizations, family planning services and HIV care. The clinic had 24,700 direct beneficiaries in 2013, and that number is expected to increase to 40,000 in 2014.

Shining Hope for Communities’ health initiative was recently given the Ashoka Changemakers and General Electric Health on the Ground: Uncovering Solutions that Save Lives award, which recognizes organizations that are making health care more accessible to the most vulnerable in urban and semi-urban areas of the developing world. SHOFCO was recognized for its PatientPower model of health care in Kibera, which relies on a simple and cost-effective grassroots approach to delivering health services.

(A classroom in the tuition-free grils’ school, right.)

Growing up in Kibera, Kennedy experienced a divide between health care providers and patients, so much so that he says he never felt in control of his own health. The PatientPower model seeks to address this pervasive issue by having community leaders be active in high-level positions in health care delivery systems. Because these leaders have experienced receiving health care in these communities, they have a unique ability to improve upon the system and understand intimately the needs of other community members seeking care.

This model empowers not only those seeking care, but also skilled local providers who have now become drivers of change in their own communities. The approach is truly grassroots, involving members of the Kibera community in all levels of SHOFCO’s programs and administration. Local leadership and ownership is key to creating a trusting environment and cultivating a knowledgeable staff, from which lasting changes can flourish. A grassroots methodology uplifts people and maintains their dignity as drivers of their own and their community’s destiny.

Since no one solution can alleviate the multifaceted effects of extreme poverty, all elements must be addressed in order to have genuine, sustainable change in communities. The PatientPower model thus also focuses on holistic health care by connecting clinic care with programs for psychosocial support, economic empowerment, water and sanitation, education and violence prevention.

Because of the trust that SHOFCO has earned in the Kibera community, it’s able to actively work with community members to not only gauge the impact of the organization’s work, but also to improve upon it. SHOFCO utilizes a “bottom-up” approach to tracking its programs, using GPS technology to create a community baseline report. From that baseline, SHOFCO can draw information about who uses its services and what programs should be prioritized and further developed.

(An appointment at a SHOFCO health clinic, left.)

The organization can also gauge shifting attitudes surrounding its guiding principle of fostering robust gender equity. For example, SHOFCO’s GPS information shows that 83 percent of men involved in SHOFCO programs disagree with the statement, “I think if a wife disobeys her husband he has the right to hit her,” compared to only 60 percent of non-participating men.

This year, SHOFCO will extend its programs to another Kenyan slum, Mathare, followed by other slums in the coming years. SHOFCO leaders hope to scale their model to many locations in Kenya and for other organizations and communities to utilize SHOFCO’s grassroots model of integrated solutions to issues of gender inequity.

SHOFCO’s financial support has been growing significantly every year, with roughly 60 percent of its funds coming from grants and 35 percent from individuals. With this growing support from donors, exposure from important supporters such as Nicholas Kristof and former President Bill Clinton, and Kenyans’ deep, unending reserves of passion and hope, SHOFCO has been able to expand its programs and increase its impact. Every day, SHOFCO builds on its mission to support people in slums who are finding their own solutions and working toward achieving the positive aspirations of their entire communities.

Kaylie Cordingley is the communications and development associate at Shining Hope for Communities.

Education, Health Care
public health, reproductive health, skill development