On a campus where “Wesleyan time” runs about fifteen behind being fashionably late, arriving half an hour before the start of an event is almost unimaginable. Yet on Saturday afternoon, students, parents, and faculty alike poured into PAC 001 to hear the WESeminar on Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO), the University’s chapter of Shining Hope. Five minutes before the panel began, event staff even closed the doors, as the room had filled to capacity.
As latecomers peered in through the windows, Executive Director and Founder of SHOFCO Kennedy Odede ‘12 and other members of the group introduced students and their families to the history of the organization, what they have accomplished in the Kibera slum of Nairobi, Kenya, and their goals for the upcoming year.
“[Kibera] can be compared to Central Park in New York, where more than a million and a half people live,” Odede said. “There are no government schools, hospitals, or sanitation. We live without a future.”
The WESeminar began with Odede giving a brief and poignant story of his life before coming to Wesleyan and his inspiration for starting SHOFCO with other Kibera teenagers in 2004.
“We had no money,” Odede said. “All we were going to do was clean up and try to improve our communities. We started as mostly a supportive group, playing soccer and acting out theater.”
Once Odede came to Wesleyan in 2008, he found the enthusiasm for his project back home was overwhelming, so he and several other like-minded students started Wesleyan Friends for Africa (WFA), a student group focused on awareness and general African events.
“Students here were really excited to do something for my home town,” Odede said. “It enabled us to form a student group, and we decided to raise money to start a school, which has turned into an NGO.”
The group decided to narrow their focus to Kibera and work within SHOFCO.
“This year we decided that the energy was much more focused towards SHOFCO rather than general African events and awareness,” said Alix Haber ’11, co-chair of the SHOFCO Networking committee. “About 40 people came to the first meeting and the freshmen who showed up were really excited about it.”
The group hopes to eventually turn WFA into a collaboration network where different groups focused on African issues can meet and act as resources for each other.
“We want WFA to eventually be a group of student leaders who are focused on the same set of student issues, like awareness of issues facing Africa, or groups like ASHA and the Sudan group,” Haber said. “It can act as a resource for new projects.”
Two student leaders – Nathan Mackenzie ’12, co-chair of the Programming committee, and Max Perel-Slater ’11, co-chair of the Networking committee – also spoke more in depth about the different pieces of SHOFCO-Wesleyan, and the group’s goals for this upcoming year.
“There are three main parts of the organizations: the Kibera School for Girl’s, the community center, and the Johanna Justin-Jinich Community Clinic,” Mackenzie said. “The Community Clinic reaches a larger scope of the community. It will see about 7,000 patients yearly.”
Right now, SHOFCO-Wesleyan is fundraising to sponsor the community health worker program, one part of the JJJ Clinic. Community members have been trained to be medical first responders providing long term care throughout the Kibera slum.
“Essentially these workers will go around to different parts of the community and educate them about health issues in different parts of the community,” Mackenzie said. “Our goal is to eventually completely sponsor these workers through Wesleyan. We hope to support nine educated workers, with five meals a day. It is extremely important to have leaders from within the community.”
SHOFCO-Wesleyan hopes that the clinic will help improve slum residents’ standard of living while positively linking female education with the benefit of health services. The clinic itself will focus on delivering primary care and managing chronic problems, targeting the most commons illnesses in Kibera: maternal mortality, HIV/AIDS, pneumonia, diarrhea, and tuberculosis.
To raise the money for the Community Health Worker program, SHOFCO-Wesleyan is planning to host multiple events throughout the year.
“The two that are specifically for the Community Health Worker program are the raffle and a benefit concert we’re organizing at Psi-U in November,” Mackenzie said. “We are also going to have a dinner of Kenyan food at Psi-U in the coming weeks to sponsor a special weekly meal at the Kibera School for Girls. Additionally, we’re going to have a ‘Pros vs. Joes’ competition where students challenge players from the Wesleyan soccer teams to sponsor the SHOFCO-Youth Soccer Program in Kibera.”
Haveli Restaurant hosted a fundraiser this past Saturday, where people donated a portion of their bill to SHOFCO.
“We are hoping to raise $9,000 for the program,” Perel-Slater said. “There will be a lot of events. The raffle has a lot of great stuff – laser tag, several restaurant gift certificates, two iPods, yoga classes from the WesWELL program, a Sarah Palin bobble head, and about 20 other really great things. We’re also selling bracelets made by women who are HIV positive. One hundred percent of the proceeds go back to these women.”
SHOFCO-Wesleyan isn’t limited to raising money for the clinic, however.
“We’re trying to be a group on campus that will facilitate future projects – being a resource if people have more ideas like Kennedy and Jessica [Posner ’09] to work in other communities,” Perel-Slater said. “We’re also working on awareness.”
Some of the awareness projects SHOFCO-Wesleyan hopes to host are connecting a school in Middletown to The Kibera School for Girls and starting a pen pal program or video exchange. SHOFCO-Wesleyan is also hoping to start publishing a newsletter or publication with pieces written by Kibera youths, as well as publishing these pieces in The Argus and other University publications. They also hope to show a film series on Africa at Wesleyan.
“We are trying to involve as many people as possible to spread the word out to them,” Odede said. “The idea was how we can make the group sustained after we leave. Now, we have two things: we have a campus chapter, and we have the main NGO organization.”
Odede said that he has high hopes for the future.
“The model is proven to work so well, the next idea is to replicate it in other places, identify the local leaders, and shift the programs to them,” Odede said. “My dream is to make sure communities are involved as much as possible. I think they know this program is good for them, but you can’t solve anything without discussing at a round table. That’s my engine, what keeps me moving – the hope for these communities.”