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Kennedy Odede found his first grey hair at six. Named after John F. Kennedy, he grew up as the eldest of eight children in Kibera, a teeming Kenyan slum without sewage systems, roads, running water, or access to basic needs, like health care and education. At ten, he was alone on the streets. Homeless and in despair at sixteen, Kennedy was given a book of Martin Luther King's speeches. Inspired, he bought a twenty-cent soccer ball and started a youth group, determined to bring the hope he'd found into the lives of his fellow citizens. He called it Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO).
Several years later, Jessica Posner, an irrepressible Wesleyan student, went abroad to work with SHOFCO and, despite Kennedy's incredulous objections, moved into his tiny house. They fell in love. When Kennedy was threatened by political violence, Jessica helped him win a full scholarship to Wesleyan and brought him to America. Torn between his lifelong wish for an education and an abiding loyalty to his community, Kennedy, with Jessica at his side, decided to start a school for Kibera's most vulnerable population: girls.
The alchemy of their remarkable union and the small, joyful world their brilliant collaboration has made in Kibera have drawn the support of community members and celebrities alike. With this support, Jessica and Kennedy have been able to provide water, health care, and entrepreneurial programs, which now serve more than seventy-six thousand people, and have replicated this model in Mathare, another Kenyan slum. Because of their efforts, hundreds of young girls have the potential to become Kenya's future leaders, and tens of thousands of people living in poverty have access to clean water, health care, and economic empowerment programs. Their girls attend school every day in crisp blue uniforms and red sweaters. Filled with hope and ambition for the future, they adhere to a rigorous curriculum and outperform students from the most expensive schools in Kenya. By elevating these girls, Jessica and Kennedy have started a subtle yet powerful revolution in each community, and have dedicated themselves to bringing the same resolve and enthusiasm to urban slums beyond Kibera and Mathare.
Jessica and Kennedy's story is many things: a tender love story, a tale of how true leaders are made, and an account of the successful melding of the best in two cultures. Few have fought as tenaciously and ingeniously against poverty and hopelessness as these two young people. Their story vividly illustrates the power of young, hopeful people to have an impact on the world, and stands as a testament to the transformations made possible by true love.
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