Odede ’12 Featured in Courant

A little late on picking this up, but Kennedy Odede ’12 was featured two days ago in the Courant:

Four years ago Wesleyan University student Kennedy Odede was living in the chaotic Nairobi slum where he grew up, in a 10-by-10-foot shack without running water, basic sanitation or electricity. But even there, in Kibera, a young man can get his hands on a computer.

And Odede wasn’t just any young man.

Had he been an urban American trying to lift up his neighbors, instead of a Kenyan slum dweller trying to save some lives, he might have been dubbed a “community organizer.” But Odede was, as his recollections imply, simply taking care of his poor branch of the family of man.

Amid the most desperate poverty in Kenya’s largest slum, where prostitution for girls often comes with or even precedes puberty, Odede had created a youth-based community center and was offering services for women and children with HIV/AIDS. He had made a difference, a few foes and a lot of friends.

But time was running out for the women and children, and Odede was running out of ideas. So he entered a computer search for “Kenya,” adding words like “aid” or “service” or “charity,” and eventually clicked on a Connecticut-based group called American Friends of Kenya.

Although the group was then only a year old, founding director Emely Silver of Norwich was used to receiving, and often rejecting, plaintive pleas for help from Kenyans. A former U.S. Air Force nurse and nursing instructor with a tart sense of humor, Silver has no time for dead-end modes of charity or aid. Odede, she recalls, “was the first one who didn’t ask for money.” He wanted advice about how to manage his projects in the slums.

“Teach me,” he wrote to Silver, who was immediately smitten.

What Odede got was an adopted “grandma,” as he now calls Silver, and a partnership with American Friends of Kenya that will be on full view this month in Kibera when he and his partner, Wesleyan University graduate Jessica Posner, open the slum’s first school for girls.

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