Last weekend, Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO) Executive Director Kennedy Odede ’12 served as a panelist with former President Bill Clinton and Sean Penn at the fourth annual Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U) Meeting at the University of California San Diego (UCSD).
Founded in 2007, CGI U is based off of the original Global Initiative Conference, which invites world leaders to find solutions to global issues. CGI U gathers college students from around the world to discuss similar challenges.
“Clinton Global Initiative is a way for more than 90 students around the country to come together and make a commitment to have an impact on the world in the environment, social justice, or any other thing that can change the world,” Odede said. “They come there and get inspired, and sometimes they get some donations to start up something.”
Last year, Odede was accepted from a pool of university students to participate in the conference for his work in his native Kibera, Kenya. Earlier this year, Odede received an email from the Clinton Global Initiative stating that former President Clinton would like him to serve as a panelist beside himself and Penn.
The panel that Odede served on was the capstone event of the two-day conference. Back in Kibera, it was 4 a.m., but Odede’s family and friends gathered to watch the event on TV, he said.
In the video of the panel, which can be streamed from live.cgiu.org, Odede discusses his decision to build a school for girls.
“I saw what my mom was passing through. I saw my sisters become pregnant at the age of 16,” Odede said at one point during the panel. “They were facing these kinds of challenges, but I felt like women were the engine of society.”
Clinton also asked Odede about the difficulty of inspiring hope in a place where people may not believe change is possible.
“Sometimes, you need someone who is an eye opener,” Odede said in response to Clinton. “I invited young people to my house, and I wanted to make them see the problem the way I’m seeing it. Then people need hope to feel motivated.”
Odede credited Clinton as an inspiration, saying that he read his autobiography in Kibera. Odede said that reading about Clinton’s own hardships inspired hope in him, and he used these kinds of stories to later motivate the young people of Kibera.
“I felt that I was able to portray that hope [is possible] using figures, heroes that they can relate to,” Odede said during the panel.
Back on campus, Odede said that the event was an unbelievable experience.
“First I met Sean Penn backstage,” Odede said. “I really liked him; I saw that he was humble. Then Clinton came in and we were just talking, relaxing. He is nice, he asked me about Kenya and about my life, and said it was an honor to have me.”
Odede said it was strange and exciting to receive such compliments from the former President.
“It was really amazing to see someone like Clinton calling me big names,” Odede said. “I just thought, wow.”
In Odede’s online journal, his last entry addresses the honor he felt at serving on a panel with Clinton.
“How can it be that a poor kid who went to an informal school in one of the largest slums in Africa can officially share a panel with an American President?” Odede wrote. “President Bill Clinton was one of my first heroes, but I never dreamed that as a slum boy I would even be in the same room with him.”
Odede stressed that his work in Kibera has been possible because of the support he’s received at Wesleyan and especially wanted to acknowledge the students of SHOFCO-Wesleyan.
“Sometimes it’s difficult to do what we’re doing because of [academic] classes, but [SHOFCO-Wesleyan members have] really been showing me the way, and being there for my community,” Odede said. “It makes me happy to see how kids from different backgrounds and different ways of life are willing to see change. They listened to me; they didn’t just go away. They listened, and they took action. And action is the most important thing in life.”