Right after school on Friday, my family and I went to the airport to catch our flight to Nairobi, Kenya (sorry it took so long for me to post this reflection – I kind of underestimated the difficulty I would have accessing the internet here – I’m not exactly the most tech-savvy person). We’ve spent the last few days here, volunteering for an organization called Shining Hope for Communities, or SHOFCO for short (yeah, I don’t really understand where the O’s come from in that acronym, but that’s what they call it). We originally found out about SHOFCO because its founder, Kennedy Odede, was in my sister’s class at Wesleyan. Kennedy is originally from Kibera, the largest slum in Nairobi and one of the largest in the world. Kibera has tons of problems stemming from its poverty, including a lack of plumbing and a shockingly low life expectancy. But Shining Hope lives up to its name and provides the community with many important services. These include running an elementary school for girls, running a medical clinic that sees hundreds of patients a day, providing clean water, providing legal assistance for victims of rape and domestic violence, and running a mincro-finance program that has helped hundreds of local businesses start up. My family and I have been helping build new latrines for the school. We have basically been following whatever instructions we get and doing whatever manual labor tasks are needed (my personal favorite is cement-mixing, but others seem to prefer bricklaying).
I have already learned a ton from working with SHOFCO, but I think the thing that has struck me the most is how much change can be effected with so few resources. Compared to many of the larger, international NGO’s that have worked in Kibera, SHOFCO is tiny, but seems to have had a much greater impact on the community. I have been blown away by the number of incredibly simple but incredibly effective solutions to problems I have seen here. The one that sticks out most in my memory is that the stove that is used to cook all of the school’s food is powered by methane gathered from the school’s latrines (I know it sounds gross at first, but I promise you can’t taste it. The methane is just for burning as fuel. Honestly, I really don’t know why everyone in the world doesn’t cook this way). This whole experience has really shown me that the most important thing in running a successful program is not money or resources, but rather it is having a few, hard-working people who know the community and have a few brilliant ideas.
SHOFCO’s website: http://shininghopeforcommunities.org/
Above: SHOFCO logo painted on a house, 400 metros away from the school.
Below: Part of the tour Kennedy Odede took us on involved visiting recess at the school SHOFCO runs. In the picture, my cousin is being swarmed by a group of 4th grade girls.