By: Dr. Aoife Kenny and Rati Bishnoi
For 67 girls, traveling daily through their slum to attend the Kibera School for Girls means getting a superior education, nutritious food, uniforms, supplies, and a chance at a brighter future—for free.
But education is not the only public good the Kibera School is offering to people living in Kenya’s largest slum. In addition to knowledge, the school provides water, sanitation, and health care services—in partnership with Shining Hope for Communities community center—to better the lives of not only students, but also everyone in the community. Currently, the school and community center have built a 100,000 liter water tower that will provide approximately 2,000 families clean water at below market prices. In addition, students and community members can use an ecological-toilet, the first of nine Kibera and Shining Hope will make for community use.
Kibera and Shining Hope’s young founders Kennedy Odede and Jessica Posner have based their integrated development approach to education, health, and community empowerment on personal experiences and the voices of the community. As a young child growing up in Kibera, Odede experienced the devastating impact “overcrowded living conditions, a lack of running water, little access to toilets, and poor quality food” can have on individuals, and especially the most vulnerable groups: girls and women. Witnessing his mothers and sisters facing abuse and unwanted pregnancy drove Odede to find a way to place girls and women at the center of Kibera’s development.
Keeping people from the neighborhood engaged in school is essential to Kibera School’s success, and Odede and Posner keep close ties with the community. For example, community members helped build the school and parents agree to work there for five weeks, in varying roles, instead of paying school fees. These ties help Odede, Posner, and their staff form relationships with community members that make it easier to talk about specific community needs, engage in discussion to find the best and most achievable solutions, and make change happen.
This approach has helped Odede and Posner establish a health clinic, an income generation and food security project, and keep individual students safe from abuse. For example, Shining Hope’s health clinic—which was designed after conducting focus groups with community members—serves more than 1,000 patients per month. The health clinic has both a community health and women’s center, and is staffed by a nurse midwife, two nurse practitioners, two lab technicians, a clinic manager, a pharmacist, a record keeper, and a team of community health workers. In addition, the Gardens for Growth program has helped create “vertical gardens” that are planted inside burlap sacks to aid growth in small spaces. Kale, onions, and other vegetables grown using the technique can be consumed or sold by community members. Lastly, the community center and school provide housing for girls who face abuse at home and have formed a community gender development committee that serves as a rape response and prevention network.
These community development efforts provided by the girl’s school show that investing in women benefits the whole community. An extensive community study has been conducted and analysis will provide Odede and Posner—and hopefully other communities and grassroots organizations—with useful feedback and ideas for further development.