It started with a soccer ball. That’s it. This movement that embraced one of the largest urban slums in Africa, Kibera. Kennedy grew up living a devastating day-to-day life in extreme poverty. He wasn’t fortunate enough to receive formal education or the basic needs a child should have. Because of this, Kennedy was driven to do more for the people of Kibera. Inspired by a book he read about Martin Luther King Junior, in 2004 while working at a factory, Kennedy used 20 precious cents to purchase a soccer ball. Just 20 cents brought the people of Kibera together. This movement started Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO).
Creative, fearless, and bold, Jessica was born in Denver, Colorado. Always passionate about the arts and theater, she pursued these interests at Wesleyan University. While at Wesleyan, she decided to study abroad in Kenya where she heard about community organizing program in a Nairobi slum. She became one of the first outsiders to live deep inside the slum and was deeply moved by the struggles facing the Kibera community. While in Kibera she became fluent in Swahili, and became a respected member of the community–gaining perspective of the needs and problems facing Kibera–as well as the opportunities.
During Kenya’s 2007 post-election crisis, Jessica helped Kennedy to apply to U.S. universities. When Kennedy joined Jessica at Wesleyan University on a full-scholarship, fulfilling his own dreams of an education, they co-founded Shining Hope for Communities in 2009 with the slum’s first free school for girls. While Kennedy finished his college education, Jessica moved back to Kenya. Together, they created the SHOFCO model which centers around a girl’s school and then builds holistic community services focused on health, clean water and sanitation, ending gender based violence and economic empowerment. Their grassroots and holistic approach is now growing, as SHOFCO replicates this model to the Mathare slum and hopefully across Kenya’s urban slums. In 2015, SHOFCO employs over 210 people with plans to serve over 76,000 individuals. Today, SHOFCO changes the realities of life in extreme poverty. Tomorrow, it creates the next generation of female leaders. This is Kennedy and Jessica’s uncommon love story, and the uncommon transformation it inspired.