Friday, November 20, 2009


Dear Friends,

Please view the video below. If it inspires you, please share it with others. You can view it here, via our website or via youtube:

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Community Health

This week we were thrilled to welcome Australian nurse Vanessa Wynn-Jones, who arrived at the school to establish health records and lead HIV/AIDS workshops. Vanessa joined us after spending a week in eastern Kenya, where she worked in rural clinic treating the Massai people.

On Wednesday and Thursday, Vanessa led HIV/AIDS workshops for the Kibera community, first for men and then for women. Vanessa’s first forty minute workshop turned into a three hour discussion on the risks and effects associated with HIV/AIDS. Men from the community would not stop asking questions, eager to have access to her medical expertise. The women also showered Vanessa with questions, not only about HIV, but about other struggles they face in Kibera, such as depression and domestic violence. More than just informational talks, her workshops gave Kibera residents a safe space where they could share their health concerns with one another.

Friday marked the first day of health exams for the KSFG’s students. Vanessa met individually with the girls and their parents to establish medical records for and examine each student. She counseled parents on nutrition and sanitation, offered HIV tests, and referred students in need to medical specialists. These records are an important step in our continued efforts to care for our girls’ health needs, as well as their education.

Though only here for a week, Vanessa plans to return and will be heavily involved in the development of the school’s clinic, which is currently in the early planning stages. We have had such a great time with Vanessa this week, and we cannot overstate our appreciation for her dedication and expertise. Her work is truly a testament to the impact an individual can have on a community, even in six short days.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Wonderful Volunteers!

Everything is moving along wonderfully at the school! Children are busy and loving learning, parents are becoming increasingly involved, and many exciting projects are developing.
This week I'd like to take a moment and reflect on the wonderful volunteers who have so generously shared their time enriching the lives of our students!

This past week Maggie Broadwater worked at the school each day. With her BS in Biochemistry and MS in Biomedical sciences Maggies was the first female scientist our students have ever met. Maggie served as a positive female role model and as an example of the life possibilities that come with an education. She spent the week teaching even our littlest students about the scientific method. The students loved her hands on examples and learned a lot. This week all of our girls say that they want to be scientists when they grow up!

On Wednesday Matt Podolin and Kate O'Reilley-Jones arrived in Kenya. These two '09 Wesleyan graduates will be helping at the school until March, filling in wherever needed and taking on projects of their own to expand the effectiveness of the school and its associated community programs. Sammy McGowan, a student at Brown University, has been working hard this entire semester. He is researching health issues in Kibera so that when our health center opens it will effectively cater to the needs of the community. Rebecca Green, a student at Hamilton College is working to start an after school program for our kindergarten and fist grade students. She will work with youth in the community who will run the program, focusing on the arts, reading, and math.

Through our talented volunteers our students hear and practice English, receive additional individualized attention, and get exposed to new skills and resources!

Below: Sammy McGowan and teacher Madahana Mable.

below: Maggie Broadwater

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Saturday, October 10, 2009


Today I got a heartening phone call from the school. The teachers exclaimed to me that is just one month of experiencing our incredible curriculum our students are a full year ahead of their peers in traditional Kenyan schools. In just one month so much has happened.

45 little girls run to school, eager for 7:30 to come around and the day to begin. School itself is "magic," as four-year-old Lillian Achieng told me. As Lillian said, "at school life is fun." The children learn through exploration, undertaking science experiments in the garden's soil and writing stories about their own lives. In only one month all of our students can identify colors and shapes in English, and write their own names. Many are beginning to speak English instead of Swahili, preparing them for a life outside of the slum.

Each day our children also eat a healthy meal of maize and beans. This is their only meal that they can count on eating each day. It costs a mere $00.20 per child, per day. Imagine if everyone reading this blog spent $00.20 less on food a day... we could fund our feeding program for a year. Indeed, our feeding program costs a mere $175.00 per month. Along with this program we are teaching our students about nutrition and sustainable agriculture. Because of this food our students can focus in class. Because of this food our HIV positive students can take their medication. Integrating nutrition education into our curriculum is a cornerstone of our philosophy. Now that we are back in the US we are working tirelessly to secure funding for the continuation of this program. Anything, even $00.20, makes a difference. This fact continues to amaze me as I think about how much we spend on food here in America. Making a difference in the lives of our children is so very easy.

We now get very detailed weekly reports from the school and are therefore able to keep up with the amazing progress. The sustainable garden is coming along (see the photo above.) The biodigester will be breaking ground next week. There are four parents interested in learning about this green technology. The engineers will be teaching them, engaging them in this process. The biodigester will provide jobs for the community while it is being constructed, and will put the Kibera School for Girls at the forefront of educational programs based on sustainable education.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Looking for an accountant...

Many people are always asking us how they can help...

Well here's one way! We're looking for someone who knows how to use quick books and could set us up/help keep all of our financial information straight!

If you're interested or know someone who might be please have them email us!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Our Website

Dear Readers,

Don't forget... there is more information on our website:

We are in the process of updating our site upon our return from Kenya, but by next week you will be able to go to our website and see photos and read the stories of all of our students (as well as find much more additional information).  

You can also become a fan of The Kibera School for Girls on facebook.  Become a fan today and show your support for our grassroots movement... and get updates!  

Go here to become a facebook fan:

Stay tuned!  

-Jessica and Kennedy

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The First Day of School

Before leaving to return back to the United States Kennedy and I were lucky enough to witness the first day of school.  

Students began arriving early, clad in their uniforms and with enthusiastic and slightly curious smiles on their faces.  The three classes rotated between rooms, visiting the science and math center, puzzle center, construction center, literacy center, research/social studies center, and art center.  The children looked as if they didn't know what had hit them.... all of a sudden school was fun!  

I watched as students built number towers with blocks (counting as they went) and as others drew pictures of their families and wrote accompanying stories.  Teachers told stories with puppets, and other students carried out their own science experiments measuring water and weighing it on a scale.  

I stepped to the side, as it became clear that this project no longer needed Kennedy and me in the same way--everything was more than under control with Joan and our amazing teachers at the helm.   Another magical moment was lunch time.  Our curriculum specialist Melissa Dearborn generously donated supplies for the first month of our feeding program.  Little tiny girls went back for three servings of the nutritious maize and beans mixture.  I asked how many had eaten breakfast or dinner the night before, and no one raised their hand.  I realized then even further how important our school is because it addresses issues of education, health, nutrition, the well-being of parents, environmental sustainability, and HIV/AIDS and abuse prevention.  I was also struck by the sustainability of the project.  Lunch, for example, is prepared each day by parents, as there are always four parents who work at the school each week in exchange for school fees.  

As I watched the teachers expertly guiding classes I saw that our project is a success.  As Teacher Madahana told me, "This school must work, we will make it work because if the school is a success, I am a success.  If the school fails, I also fail."  

With the committment of our staff, parents and community, I am sure that our school will continue to make a profound difference.  As student Makesh Mumbi told me "I wish I could live at school everyday because school is the happiest place in the world."  

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


There are moments in your life and in the life of a community where it is as if time holds still long enough for everyone to acknowledge a miracle. The dedication ceremony for the Kibera School for Girls was one such moment in our lives and in the life of the Kibera Community. The school is indeed nothing short of miraculous. There are moments in any project as large as this one where one wonders what they have gotten into. There are a million daily details that can never be completed. There is a frenzied pace to every day, such that sometimes it is easy to lose track of the bigger picture. But at our dedication ceremony we all stood back to catch our breath and in doing so realized that what we created together is much bigger, more imaginative, and more transformative than what we could have envisioned on our own. In this spirit on August 18th 2009, along with the school and Kibera communities, we dedicated the Kibera School for Girls compound to belieiving in the power of hope.

The day itself began with an even greater fervor than usual. Our parents and students began to arrive at 8:00 a.m. in freshly pressed uniforms. It became immediately obvious that our children and parents had never been to an event celebrating them. Soon after our partners The American Friends of Kenya arrived to participate in the festivities. We were then joined by the Kenyan press, and George Milkwa, the CEO of the Association of Kenyan Independent Schools.

When Kennedy and I arrived at the school we found the parents and children singing. One mother stood in the center leading a call and response song. She lifted her voice in praise singing the lyrics, "That's why we love you God, when we think there is no hope you prove us wrong. When we search for death you give us life. That's why we love you, you show us that there is a brighter day, a day of peace, a second chance, you teach us to keep singing songs of hope." I felt shivers go down my back as the kids clapped and danced while singing along.

During the ceremony itself several parents told their stories about growing up hoping for an education themselves, and their elation that their children will receive more education than they did. Three student representatives spoke as well about their beautiful new school and excitement to begin learning. The CEO of the Kenyan Association of Independent Schools also spoke, lauding revolutionary and ground breaking educational models like ours. Finally, our partners the American Friends of Kenya spoke and the Executive Director gave her silver wings to the school after Jackie Kemuto, one such student representative, declared her dream to be a pilot.

From the look of this start, these kids will fly high.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Parents, Students, Teachers: Teamwork

It’s been another busy and heart warming week at The Kibera School for Girls. Construction is almost complete, we will get power beginning tomorrow, and the families couldn’t be more excited.

Today we had another workshop with parents and students to discuss the differences between our school and other Kenyan schools and to emphasize the import role that parents must play in their child’s education to ensure their success. This was an incredibly productive meeting. We began by giving the students (clad in their uniforms they are simply too adorable) a gift of a nutrition bar and pair of new underwear each. They were very excited, as because of their extreme poverty our kids are unable to afford something as basic as underwear. We then gave the parents soda as well to kick off the celebratory air.

The meeting was lead by Headmistress Joan and our three incredible teachers Janet, Madahana, and Naomi. We also were very lucky to have two of our Kenyan board members Odoch and Donna Pido in attendance. Odoch is the Director of the SIT Nairobi Study Abroad Program, and Donna is an anthropology professor and expert on women’s empowerment in Kenya. The Pidos will be helping to guide the school while Kennedy and I are in the United States and it was great to have them in attendance.

Our meeting included the discussion of several topics. We talked about our goals for our students to go to high school and college, able to pursue their passions and interests and have a career of their choosing. We focused on how parents can support their children academically and emotionally at home by providing encouragement, and telling their child that they are capable of anything. We also stressed how important it is that parents don’t beat their children, as this makes them less able to learn and grow because they live in fear. Instead, we discussed alternative discipline strategies, to which the parents were very receptive. I don’t think they had ever discussed this issue before. Parents were also very enthusiastic about the power of learning through play and the changes our school brings to the Kenyan educational scene. After the meeting we all walked to the school site together for both parents and children to see their school for the first time. The procession of forty-five little girls in uniform and forty-five parents was quite a joyful sight.

It was breathtaking to watch the expressions on the faces of the children as they saw their beautiful new school for the first time. Several asked me if we could have school seven days a week.

Tomorrow we are planting our sustainable garden along with our parents and the NGO Trees for the Future. As we believe in a holistic approach to community uplift we are going to teach parents how to make vertical gardens, which grow in a burlap sack and can be grown anywhere, in the hopes that many will be able to start small vegetable selling businesses or provide fresh vegetables for their families. Our parents are already incredibly involved, several asked me today if there was anything they could do to help with preparations!

Already our school feels like an incredibly supportive, tight knit community.

Great pictures here (click on the slideshow to enlarge!)

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Uniform Distribution: The miracle of joy

It's been a long, tiring, but all in all amazing week.  Construction is almost complete on the school, and construction of the health center has begun as well!  We have been meeting with different contractors regarding our biodigester and finally found a great company that does eco-sustainable work for community projects.  Our biodigester construction will start in September thanks to a generous donation, and will include the construction of 5 toilets, two showers with water heated by the biodigester, and a kitchen powered by the methane gas produced from the digester.  

However, the highlight of this week was today when we distributed uniforms to all of our students.  For all of our students these uniforms were the first brand new clothes that these children have ever been given.  In addition, uniforms are the only clothes that most of our children have.  The excitement as 45 little girls tried on uniforms, traded sizes, swapped styles, and paraded around was incredible.  The happiness from parents, students, and teachers alike was simply uncontainable.  

After we finished distributing uniforms I visited the homes of several students in the afternoon.  In the slide show below you can see the photos from the home of Melvin Apiyo, a pre-school student.  Melvin lives in a single room with her nine brothers and sisters, as both her parents are HIV positive, often sick, and unable to find work.  Their house is almost falling down, indeed it is almost as if Melvin lives outside.  When I first went to visit I didn't see anyone at home so I began to leave.  However, Melvin came running from around the corner with about 10 other children to see what a white person was doing in their neighborhood.  I asked Melvin if she wanted to show me her house and she opened the door with great pride as about 20 plus children gathered to look on.  As I took pictures and Melvin posed the kids exclaimed in Swahili look at Melvin!  Wow!  Melvin eh!  Melvin, usually a shy but incredibly precocious child just kept posing, loving the attention.  When we took a picture together the kids went wild over Melvin.  She stood smiling as she became the neighborhood celebrity, and then ran inside her house to show the crowd her beautiful new uniform.  As I left I heard every child exclaiming, I want to go to that school, including Melvin's three brothers!  

Friday, July 31, 2009

Sharing this project


Left: Max helps to build.  

A very special component of this project so far has been sharing it with my family.  Max, my brother,  arrived in Kenya along with Kennedy and I and immediately jumped right into work on the school.  He and I interviewed over 20 teachers while Kennedy worked to put all of the nuts and bolts of the land and construction in place.  While Kennedy talked with the District Commissioner of Nairobi, the District Office of Kibera, and local gangs securing permission to build Max and I, along with our headmistress and teachers, interviewed hundreds of students.  There has simply been more work to do than what Kennedy and I can do by ourselves.  Every minute there is a phone call to make, an exciting new development, a meeting to attend, a school to construct.... there is no such thing as down time.  We've been so lucky to have Max dive right in and juggle some of the balls we'd surely drop on our own.  

And if sharing all of this with Max wasn't special enough, my family arrived in Kenya this week eager to lend a hand.  My mom will be doing a workshop with teachers and the principal on developmental psychology and helping with the special emotional needs of our students who live such difficult lives.  My dad will be helping to build furniture, and just lend a hand.  My little sister Raphae will be helping to set up classrooms, and pitch in where ever 
needed.  Sharing this work with my family has made this time even more meaningful.  

This week construction is wrapping up.  We're all but finished with everything except for cementing the floor, and finishing the leveling of the ground.  Teachers are busy reading a lot of material prepared by education specialist Melissa Dearborn, immersing themselves in this very different style.  The kids are so excited, they wish school would begin tomorrow.  On August 5th we will have our next meeting with students to hand out uniforms and interview students about their lives to share with all of you!  As soon as the construction finishes we will be adding our water tank, electricity, and exploring the possibility of building a biodigester and adding solar panels!  

Stay tuned!  

Below:  Kennedy directs the construction of the library.  

Below 2:  Kennedy sits with first grade student Beldin Atieno and her mother to go over Beldin's contract.  Beldin signed with a smile.  

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Thanks to the community... construction is well underway!


 From left K/1 teacher Madahana Mable, Kennedy Odede, Jessica Posner, pre-school teacher Janet Olesi, Headmistress Joan Okumu, k/1 teacher Naomi Njuku 

Every morning at 5:30 a.m. our construction site is bustling with activity.  Late into the evening people are still at work, sometimes not stopping before 8:30 or 9:00 p.m.  Then all night several young men keep watch, guarding the materials and the site, protecting a project that has become so very important to this vibrant and needy community.  All day young men from the Kibera community saw, hammer, chip away at rocks to level the ground, building our beautiful school.  All the while, they laugh and joke--the air is alive with their excitement.  As the youths work women cook and laugh, commenting on the construction and giving their own instructions.  Children stand on the side watching the progress, barely able to contain their excitement.  In only six days our school has begin to take shape, thanks to an outpouring of generous support from the Kibera community.  

In the meantime many other pieces are beginning to fall into place.  We just received a shipment of over 30 boxes from the Americans Friends of Kenya containing incredible school, supplies, the makings of our library, and uniforms.  On August 14th
Trees for The Future will begin to plant our sustainable garden, along with the community.  On August 15th we are planning to paint a community mural to decorate the school building.  We have also been investigating the possibility of solar panels and a biodigester, in line with our eco-sustainable vision.  The District Commissioner of all of Nairobi has even heard about our project, and called to give his support.  As the construction continues teachers, parents, and our headmistress all chip in.  In addition, Jessica has been meeting with the teaching staff to discuss the differences between our curriculum and traditional Kenyan schools.  Our teachers are eager to learn about our style of education based on exploration, hands-on learning, and creativity and ready to make it their own.  They have questions, ideas, and come with a deep belief that Kenyan education is in desperate need of reform.  

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Kibera School For Girls: View from the Ground

Below: Students at The Kibera School for Girls

As the end of our first full week in Kenya draws to a close exhilarated and exhausted can’t even begin to describe how we feel.  This is the first chance we’ve had to sit and reflect about the process of bringing The Kibera School for Girls to life.   Every moment since we first stepped off the plane has been consumed by this project which truly has a life of  it’s own.  This week we have interviewed over 350 students, visited their homes, and painstakingly selected 45 to start off our school with 15 students in pre-school, kindergarten, and first grade.  We have also worked extensively with our incredibly experienced headmistress, as well as selected three outstanding teachers, held two community meetings and one parent/student meeting and workshop.  We’ve begun plans for our sustainable garden, and last but not least… construction is well underway!  All in all, it’s been a good week.

            Our typical days begin at 6:30 a.m.   We are at the Shining Hope for Community Office in Kibera by 7:30 a.m. each day and don't leave before 8:00 or 9:00 p.m.  On the five days that we did student interviews the office was full by 8:00 a.m. with over 50 parents with children waiting patiently in line.  Over the past several days more than 350 students have waited in line for a chance to go to The Kibera School for Girls.  The tension has been high, as in all seriousness these children are waiting in line for a shot at having a very different life.  The desperate need for a free school for at-risk girls is staggering.  As I call child after child for their interviews I can’t help but wish that we could have three schools so we could take everyone who has an urgent need and desire for an education. 

            Our selection process has been governed by democratic principles.  After each child is interviewed a staff member from Kibera goes to visit their home.  As our school targets children who would have no way to pay school fees without us, it is important that we verify each child’s financial and living situation so that we serve those who need us the most.  Much of the time the report from this staff member is heart breaking.  Most of our applicants live in houses made of cardboard or discarded wood with such gaping holes that they might as well be living outside.  Furthermore, inside these houses there are no beds, no furniture, and most do not even have cooking utensils.  All of our accepted students own a single pair of clothes.  In the interviews themselves we, along with our headmistress, lead the child through a series of simple tests that gauge fine motor, cognitive processing, and verbal skills given to us by our education specialist Melissa Dearborn.  From there, we just talk to the child and ask why they want to go to our school, and if they could learn about anything what it is they would choose to learn about.  Finally, we interview their parents or guardians to find out more about the family and the financial situation, as well as about if the child has been involved in prostitution, has been sexually abused, or is at risk.  After this extensive interview process to ensure that we accept the most driven and at-risk students, we put the names of qualified children into a hat and selected randomly.  After we randomly select we also look to make sure that there is diversity of both religious and ethnic representation. The result is that we have forty-five girls whose lives have been changed and who could not be more excited about starting at The Kibera School for Girls.  I’d like to take a moment to introduce a few of our students:

Ashley Adhiambo is four years old and although she has never before gone to school, she taught herself how to write the alphabet.  She is curious about everything, and told us that if she could take a trip anywhere in the world it would be to “a real school.” 

 Ashley’s mother is single and only twenty-years-old.  Her father left as soon as he found out that he was about to have a child.  Ashley’s mother does not have a job, she survives by washing clothes whenever she can get work and earns only 300 shillings per month (the equivalent of $4).  She leaves to look for work early every morning and doesn’t return until late at night, and says that she often worries about Ashley’s safety, as she is left alone and vulnerable in an area of Kibera infamous for rape and abuse of young girls.  Now Ashley’s dream of visiting a real school is coming true along with her mother’s dream of finding a way to give her daughter a life that will be different from her own.  

Maureen Nyatichi is five years old.  Because her mother cannot pay for her to go to school she spends her days in her house caring for her three younger siblings while her single unemployed mother hustles for a way to feed her children.  Maureen's family own only a single towel, one pair of clothes each, and a discarded fairy tale book that Maureen found in the garbage.  Although she cannot read, Maureen often makes up elaborate tales as she pretends to read from this book in the hopes of distracting herself and her siblings from their pangs of hunger while they hope that their mother will return with something to eat.  Overwhelmed by the difficulty of taking care of her children without any help, Maureen's mother planned to abandon her children at an orphanage to try and survive on her own.  Now that Maureen has been accepted at The Kibera School for Girls her mother will continue to struggle because Maureen and the school have restored her ability to hope.  

Susan Akoth is six years old.  The youngest in a family of eight children, Susan was the first in her family to ever attend school through the support of an older sibling, as both of her parents are unemployed and living with HIV/AIDS.  However, after she finished kindergarten the family stumbled upon further misfortune when her oldest brother took poison.  Instead of killing him as he had hoped the posion put her brother in the hospital for two months.  As her family is unable to pay the medical fees, Susan had to stop school.  Despite the struggles her family has faced to survive, Susan never gave up hope that one day she might return to school.  When she was walking through Kibera searching through the garbage for something to eat she saw a sign advertising a free school for girls. 

On Wednesday we had our first meeting with accepted students and their parents.  At this meeting the neighbor/guardian of five-year-old orphan Alvin Moraa stood and began to cry.  He said that he has spent his life watching the plight of girls in Kibera.  He has stood by as little girls begin to trade sex for food, as five-year-old girls do the housework while their brothers go to school, and later as thirteen and fourteen year old girls begin to have babies of their own.  He said that he looked at Alvin and felt powerless, as he is without money or any way to give her and other girls an education.  He then said that The Kibera School for Girls has already changed Kibera by showing the community that there is another path that they can take.  At this point all of the parents began to cheer as we stood back and saw the power of a project that truly belongs to the community it serves.  

After this meeting, each parent and child came inside the office one by one to sign their contracts.  Parents agree that instead of paying school fees, they will work for the school five weeks out of the year to run sustainable microfinance projects.  They also sign a contract agreeing not to make their daughter do housework over homework, and to emotionally support their daughter as she gains an education.  Students also sign a contract saying that they will try their best, respect themselves, respect other chidlren, and respect the school, giving them ownership in their education from day one.  A few parents look on with bewilderment, as this is clearly not convention in Kibera but the children take the process very seriously.  Four-year-old Ashley Adhiambo meticulously signs her name by drawing a cup.  

Left: Ashley Adhiambo signs her contract along with Headmistress Okumu.  

The community has also rallied to construct the school itself.  Every day over 100 community members, many of whom do not have children attending the school, have volunteered their time to help build.  The community is excited for plans for a sustainable garden donated by Trees For The Future, and several workshops that will teach community members and parents how to grow vegetables in burlap sacks, called vertical gardens, which can be grown anywhere.  The community is also looking forward to the opening of the first free health clinic, a space for women's microfinance projects, and the very first free school.  

It has indeed been quite a week.  

Below: Kennedy speaks at a community meeting.  

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Adventure Begins!

Dear Friends,  

Tomorrow we leave bright and early for Kenya to begin building The Kibera School for Girls and Shining Hope Community Compound.  This compound, a recent development thanks to the American Friends of Kenya, will include The Kibera School for Girls (the first school for girls and only free school in all of Kibera), the Kibera Free Health Clinic (the only free health clinic in the slum), the Dennis Silver Memorial Family Library, The Women's Microfinance Empowerment Center and the SHOFCO Youth Center.  

We're very excited about this amazing beginning.  Our time in Kenya will be non-stop.  We arrive late the 16th and begin meeting with teachers early in the morning on the 17th.  This time will also be tremendously satisfying, humbling, and filled with lessons.  We will keep you posted on all of the details.  Follow the play by play here!

Thanks for your support,

Jess and Kennedy 

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Getting Started!

The Kibera School for Girls is a community-based initiative in Kenya's Kibera slum run by Shining Hope for Communities (  The Kibera School for Girls is the FIRST school for girls and the ONLY free school in the Kibera Slum, the largest slum in Africa.  This blog will document the process of building and setting up the school!  Stay tuned and join us on this journey!