Getting Started

Kiberia School for Girls: Nairobi, Kenya

I've been back in Kenya for a couple days and already my senses have been overloaded by the smell of diesel and burning trash and the uncomfortable feeling of black dust clinging to newly washed clothes. But there's also the joy in greeting old friends and excitement in the work ahead. How great to be back after a semester of school!

While Saturday's edition of Kenya's popular newspaper, the Daily Nation, read, “Africa's Moment,” celebrating the triumphant first games of Africa's first World Cup, Sunday's edition was a harsh reversal: “Bloody Sunday: 5 dead and 75 injured in bombing of prayer vigil after anti-constitution protest rally.” As Kenya gears up for a referendum vote August 3rd to approve a new Constitution, the violence was a harsh reminder of the ongoing tension that surrounds politics in Kenya, a struggle which emanates from the Kibera Slums, also the epicenter of post-election violence in 2008 and where Shining Hope is based. A constant reminder of Kibera's need for change and the importance of our hard work.

As I settled in last night with the other volunteers, we began to plan for an intimidating and packed summer. With integral support from Dell, VH1, and the Newman Foundation, to name a few, Shining Hope has the means to realize some incredible dreams for our community here in Kibera. We plan to expand the school by adding a new class of students and hire at least one more teacher. We will put the finishing touches on our bio-digester, a sustainable latrine that converts human waste into methane and fertilizer, which includes providing the residents of our community their only access to clean water that's affordable. We'll also be breaking ground on a number of construction projects, including physical expansions to the school, a dorm facility for especially at-risk young girls, and the construction of the Johanna Justin-Jinich Memorial Clinic.

Below you'll find some pictures of how the school is doing now. Today we've been interviewing prospective students for our incoming baby class, as well as older girls to fill out the bigger grades. Already over 300 families have shown up for fewer than 20 spots! In a place where no adequate records are provided by the government for children, the first challenge is figuring out the age of each applicant, if they've been to school, and even if they are who they say they are. For many girls, the Kibera School for Girls is the only chance they will have to attend school, so you can imagine how hard parents work to get their children in. I'm amazed at how smart these girls are. Already at 5 or 6 years old, many children who have never been to school can count to 100, or even read and speak in multiple languages. But balancing the girls' talents with their family's demonstrated need is the hardest part. Needless to say, the competition is fierce.

We're also working on getting running water to the school. Since Kibera has no government services, all of the water is sold in jerrycans from vendors who usually have to steal water from the city. Some vendors get their water legally, but either way the price is exorbitantly high and the water is unclean. Lack of clean, affordable water is one of the most significant factors contributing to disease in Kibera. Once we're connected to the city's water lines, we'll be working with Cardinal Resources to install a water filtration system that will ensure the water is safe to use. We plan on selling this water at 1/5th the current market price, which will still allow us enough of an income to maintain the system and cover the running costs of our bio-digestor, which it will be located next to.

Finally, we've scouted out a plot of land for the health clinic and are in the process of planning its construction. We're also looking for qualified nurses and other health professionals to hire and are eagerly awaiting the arrival of the American Friends of Kenya, one of our partners that have pledged to support our effort and get our clinic up and running.