With the spotlight shining down on her 4-foot-something frame, 12-year-old Eunice Akoth stepped into character.
“Every mighty king was once a crying baby!
Every great tree was once a tiny seed!
Every tall building was once in paper!
And so I dream my dream!” she yelled.
Taking wide, confident strides across the stage, and punctuating every other word with a fist pump, Eunice captivated the audience at the Women in the World Summit on Friday. Her declaration was a response to her life growing up in Kibera, Africa’s largest urban slum, sprawling across Nairobi, Kenya.
“Most of the kids in Kibera are raped, some are neglected by their parents, some are homeless,” she said, fighting back tears after the performance. “Most of them have dreams, but they don’t know how they can achieve them, so I had to write a poem that tells them that they can achieve their dreams.”
Eunice is a sixth-grader at Kibera’s all-girls school, the first of its kind, co-founded by Kennedy Odede and Jessica Posner Odede. The husband and wife team behind the Shining Hope For Communities foundation—which pairs free education with health care, clean water, and other social services—accompanied Akoth to the Summit.
“I heard about this amazing community organizer, really bringing people together and helping them change their own realities,” Jessica said, “and I was just so inspired by that.”
Back in 2007, Jessica traveled to Kenya as a study-abroad student, drawn in by the work Odede was doing in his hometown. She saw how much he valued education, even scouring the streets for newspapers as a run-away at the age of 10 to teach himself how to read. Jessica joined Odede’s SHOFCO organization, which he founded in 2004, after saving 20 cents to buy a soccer ball and get people together. His goal was simple: gender equality, making the world better for his mother and sister.
The soccer fields became discussion halls, where Kibera’s young men bonded over a unifying purpose. “Everybody loves their mom,” Odede said, “I asked them, ‘Do you like the way your mother and sister are being treated? No? So let’s change it!’”
The idea evolved into SHOFCO, not just a school for 500 of Kibera’s children but also a safe haven for the community. More than 200 locals are staff members, serving a population of 76,000. There are beds for young women who have been victims of sexual violence at home. There’s a clinic on campus, providing quality healthcare. Many theatrical and cultural programs draw members of the community to the school. For Odede, educating young women has evolved into uplifting an entire community and shaping attitudes.
“People are now viewing women differently. I want my daughter to be like Eunice. That’s a change of mind,” Odede said.
He believes this formula—creating a girls’ school that provides various social services—has the potential to transform slums beyond Kenya, and produce more driven and confident kids like Eunice.
“I don’t want to get in trouble, but down in my heart, I think that if the world can have women leaders, the world can change,” he said.
Watch the full panel here: