Monday, August 15, 2011

East Africa Day 90 (Thurs Aug 11): Shining Hope for Communities

I don't recall when or how I first heard about Jessica Posner, Co-Founder and CEO of Shining Hope for Communities, and a 2009 Wesleyan grad. Possibly through Echoing Green or Do Something - she has been recognized by both organizations, to put it mildly:) She inspired me to want to come to East Africa this summer, to hear directly from amazing young social entrepreneurs about what inspired them to begin their work.

She's pretty awesome, no? :)

A mutual friend, Rebecca from Echoing Green put me in touch with Jessica, who invited me to visit the organization's sites in Kibera this AM. I took a matatu from Yaya Centre down to Kibera. It was my first time visiting Kibera, Africa's largest slum - really located just minutes away from the Yaya Centre indoor, western-style shopping mall. I found my way to Olympic Primary, which sits on the edge of Kibera, at the end of a paved road that runs through Kibera from the street, where I exited the matatu. I waited outside of the school's gates, where I was met by Shining Hope for Community's Operations Director, Peter. Peter walked me through winding, muddy, uneven back roads, some as wide as a two-way road, and some as narrow as back alleys, until we reached the Shining Hope for Communities location. Along the way we passed many dogs, kids, shops selling the usual assortment of goods, and what were likely homes - I say that because they did not have business signs on them, but the structures were otherwise undistinguishable from each other to my very untrained eye:)

Peter and I first visited one of two community centers owned and built by Shining Hope for Communities. This building has two floors. The bottom floor is a multi-purpose room, which was empty while we were there. But HIV positive women and youth come here to sew Kanga-fabric over-the-shoulder style bags, and to make jewellery, which is exported to the USA for sale. The artisans are paid by the piece. We also visited the upstairs floor, which is divided into two rooms - a community library, and a community cyber (internet center). Both are open to everyone in the community. Many students (I believe I was told 20+) come to the library each night to study, and older community members particularly enjoy reading the newspapers. Books can be read in the library, but cannot be removed from the library. It was so neat and organized just like the libraries I grew up with. Several staff members were sitting around a table when Peter and I stopped by, working on a play that the youth would be performing in the community to educate Kibera residents about different social issues.

The cyber is one of the few internet access points in Kibera. Residents can browse the internet for 1 ksh/minute, print documents, and purchase basic office supplies like pens and notebook paper. No one was using the computers when Peter and I stopped in, which gave me an unobstructed view for a photo:)

We then kept walking through Kibera, passing by the site of the second community center building, which we didn't visit, and then onto Shining Hope for Community's third building. This building houses the girls day school and the community health clinic. Wow - as soon as we got here, I really felt like I was so fortunate to get to see it myself, in person.

Peter and I met up with Jessica in the hallway to the school, and she showed me around the rest of the space.

I got to peek in on three of the classes, all of which were in progress. Each classroom is brightly painted and decorated with a blackboard, and long, low wood tables and benches for the students. I didn't want to disturb the classes by taking photos, but snapped this one of the art room from the outside of the window that opens up to the hallway.

I got to meet Kim, Shining Hope for Community's new Development Director, who happens to be in town from the USA. Jessica then took me to the Community Clinic, where every single seat in the waiting room seemed to be occupied - mostly by women.

We walked upstairs and I got to see the pristine and fully equipped lab, where doctors dressed in long white coats were in a deep discussion. I waited until they had finished, and then snapped this photo of a very beautiful lab!

Jessica said that the community clinic is well-utilized because it provides Kibera residents with a primary care doctor visit, lab work, and prescriptions for 150 ksh. (Compare that to my consultation with my doc at CTTM, which costs 3,000 for the consultation alone. Although the consulation at Nairobi Women's Hospital was 700 ksh.) I love that I also got to take a photo with Jessica, in the hallway outside of the lab.

I got to talk with Jessica and Peter about the organization's future plans. Peter and I passed by a construction site, which you can see from the Lab doorway.

Shining Hope for Communities is building a new classroom building, which will eventually enable the school to educate girls up until 8th grade, at which point they'd take the KCPE and graduate from primary school. I did not mention that the school is completely free, but that in exchange, each girl's parent must work at the school for five weeks each year - helping in the kitchen, cleaning, etc. I love this because it involves the parents in the education of their children. You might also be able to see the water tower, which is under construction directly behind the new classroom building. I assumed that was just for Shining Hope for Communities' needs, but Jessica said that the water will be made available to all Kibera residents for a reasonable fee.

Wow - it is amazing to see the impact that Jessica, her partner and the other team members have had in just the past two years since Shining Hope for Communities was founded. I am so thankful that I got to visit!!

PS - while thoroughly reading through the Shining Hope for Communities' website before visiting today, I found the Summer Institute blog. (Summer volunteers - this was the Institute's first summer.) I particularly loved this post about the volunteers' introduction to the summer! Enjoy:)

After leaving Kibera, I went around the Ngong shopping area, trying to plan a short trip to the Kenyan coast, before I return to the USA. In the end, I decided not to visit the David Sheldrick Trust's location in Tsavo National Park East, where the older rescued elephants are rehabilitated before being released back into the wild. I had wanted to visit since seeing the Disney film "Born To Be Wild" which features the Trust, but it's just too complicated to get there, and I don't have enough time. Instead I'll just go back to the Trust's location inside of Nairobi National Park to "tuck in" my sponsored elephant baby, Mutara, before I leave for the USA:)

I stayed around the general Ngong area, exploring because I was meeting Suraj from Acumen Fund there for coffee at 3pm. We met up at Java House. I tried the vegetarian soup of the day, which was very good - my favorite thing on the menu, thus far. It was great to get to catch up with him. We talked about a lot of things, and I got some really good feedback on my new big idea:) Which I will write about when I'm ready ... in the meantime, Suraj simply told me to go ahead and do it. He's right. I always sit back and work on new big ideas, trying to find the perfect one before beginning. It might be time to (finally) execute. He told me that he is co-hosting a TEDxKibera on Saturday, and invited me to come. I remember reading about the last TEDxKibera event that he organized, back in 2009 when he was an Acumen Fellow - I couldn't miss this one, not while I was in Kenya! So that was it - I can't go to the Kenyan coast on "vacation" this week, anyway - TEDxKibera definitely takes precedence:) It'll be my first TED event, too!

What a great, inspiring day! I feel like I'm just beginning to get somewhere, and now it's almost time to go.

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