Find Me Unafraid tells the uncommon love story between two uncommon people whose collaboration sparked a successful movement to transform the lives of vulnerable girls and the urban poor. With a Foreword by Nicholas Kristof.
This is the story of two young people from completely different worlds: Kennedy Odede from Kibera, the largest slum in Africa, and Jessica Posner from Denver, Colorado. Kennedy foraged for food, lived on the street, and taught himself to read with old newspapers. When an American volunteer gave him the work of Mandela, Garvey, and King, teenaged Kennedy decided he was going to change his life and his community. He bought a soccer ball and started a youth empowerment group he called Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO). Then in 2007, Wesleyan undergraduate Jessica Posner spent a semester abroad in Kenya working with SHOFCO. Breaking all convention, she decided to live in Kibera with Kennedy, and they fell in love.Their connection persisted, and Jessica helped Kennedy to escape political violence and fulfill his lifelong dream of an education, at Wesleyan University. The alchemy of their remarkable union has drawn the support of community members and celebrities alike—The Clintons, Mia Farrow, and Nicholas Kristof are among their fans—and their work has changed the lives of many of Kibera’s most vulnerable population: its girls. Jess and Kennedy founded Kibera’s first tuition-free school for girls, a large, bright blue building, which stands as a bastion of hope in what once felt like a hopeless place. But Jessica and Kennedy are just getting started—they have expanded their model to connect essential services like health care, clean water, and economic empowerment programs. They’ve opened an identical project in Mathare, Kenya’s second largest slum, and intend to expand their remarkably successful program for change.
Ultimately this is a love story about a fight against poverty and hopelessness, the transformation made possible by a true love, and the power of young people to have a deep impact on the world.
I have not often read a book where I was brought to tears so many times. The life of abject poverty of Kennedy and the great love of him and his work, by Jessica are an incredible story of hope and charity.
I had not expected a book about social programs in Kenya to be a page-turner, but it was hard to put this book down. Kennedy ended up in Kiberia, the largest slum in Nairobi, and faced a life without any money or hope, until he realized that he could make change.
Kennedy grew up in Kiberia, Kenya - one of 8 children living in the slums. There was no electrity, no running water, no sanitation, no employment, no education, no health care. He lived on the streets avoiding his abusive father, his younger sisters being raped, opposing tribe members killing their neighbors. At age 16, he was inspired by the written words of Martin Luther King and others: through community there had to be a way to make their lives better. With a 20 cent soccer ball, he started a youth group that became the basis of "Shining Hope for Communities".
In 2007, a student from Wesleyan College opted to do a semester overseas. She chose Kenya - and met Kennedy. The 2 fells in love. Jessica was from a wealthy Jewish family in Denver, well-educated but determined to have an impact on the world. Kennedy lived in a tin house with sewage running through his neighborhood. Over the next several years, the 2 of them work together to build a school, a health center and a water system for the slums. Jessica was able to get Kennedy into Wesleyan - so that he could return to Kenya an educated man. As their story - and efforts became known in both Africa and the rest of the world, they found the support that they needed to break some of the chains of poverty, hunger and women's rights.
One of those oops-I-accidentally-saved-the-world books. She was a naïve American college student studying abroad, he a community organiser who'd grown up in—and still lived in—the infamous Kibera slums. She convinced him to let her stay with him instead of in a more comfortable homestay, and so it went.
Eventually they built a school in Kibera for young girls, but the bulk of the story does not focus on that. I imagine that there was a fairly heavy editorial hand, but the emphasis is on Odede's youth and Posner's first trip to Kenya. Very much written for a Western audience. Sometimes I wished for a bit more probing—there's a point, for example, when Posner gets incensed about Kenyan women's rights: "In a lecture, we learned that traditionally before marriage, everything a Kenyan woman has belongs to her father. And that traditionally it is not culturally acceptable for women to live alone single, so women move from their father's to their husband's home and transfer all belongings to their husband!" I say indignantly... "And I heard on the radio that people believe that to rape in marriage is actually impossible" (55). She's not wrong that those are problematic—but what about the Western world? The same 'woman's property is not her own' thing applied in Western civilization for centuries. In weddings, the father still 'gives the bride away', and traditionally, the bride's hand is literally transferred from her father to the groom, so that she's never left alone/adrift/independent. As for marital rape, it's only been a crime in every US state since 1993 (it wasn't criminalised in Britain until the early 90s, either), and numerous states still treat it differently (less severely) than non-marital rape.
Tsk tsk. Less focus on righteous indignation and romance and more on getting the facts straight, please (she says with righteous indignation).
Anyway, some interesting insights about cross-cultural differences (says Odede: In America, kids are raised to believe that they can do anything. I try to be hopeful and motivated, but the difference between American kids and me is that I am realistic. I know filling out these forms and writing these essays is a waste of time. I can't get into a university in Kenya, let alone an expensive American university (204)), and also about cross-cultural relationships...some of the same challenges found in any relationship, but also some that aren't quite so well charted. I'd be curious to see where they are in another ten years, partly in terms of relationship but more in terms of the work they're doing—in the book it sounds like that work is heavily reliant on grants and donations, so here's hoping that they find more sustainable ways to keep it going.
The best non-fiction book I've read this year! In fact, words cannot describe how fantastic this book was so I'll just write a few tidbits. Kennedy & Jessica's story about founding Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO) and starting the Kibera School for Girls in the slum of Kibera was inspiring, heartbreaking and certainly eye-opening. I love how the book jumped back and forth to tell the story from each of their perspectives. They had big dreams that seemed impossible, but they showed that two people with passion, courage, and perseverance can truly make a difference. In the end, the duo is a powerful force for good that is giving their community not only hope, but also opportunity and vision.
This book affirmed again and again why extreme poverty and the education of girls/women are the cornerstones of my family's global mission. As Kennedy said “Talent is universal, but opportunity is not.” The things that others are forced to endure in their everyday lives are unfathomable and the fact that Kennedy was able to overcome his childhood of extreme poverty, hopelessness and abuse is amazing.
Obviously, I highly recommend giving this life-changing book a read! It has certainly made me appreciate all the things that I overlooked and took for granted as an American and as a woman that was lucky enough to win the birth lottery. And now I'm asking, what does love require of me?
P.S. This e-book is available through the Hennepin County Library.
Wow. This is one of those books that you read and start to wonder about what you're doing with your own life. The story of Kennedy and Jessica is phenomenal, primarily of course because of the impact they are having on the world, but also because of the grit and determination it required for them to get to that point. Clearly there is a lot that had to have gone on that didn't make it into the book (the story definitely got jumpy the further into the timeline it went), but even just what is there is impressive. I love how clearly Kennedy grew to understand the needs of his community and ways in which he could meet them and how passionate Jessica became about supporting and declaring a vision that wasn't originally hers. Together they form an unbeatable team, each able to take the lead on navigating different challenges, and that give and take comes through beautifully in the book. Definitely worth reading, and also an organization worth a further look in general for its purpose, vision, and overall difference-making.
In The Second Mountain, David Brooks describes Kennedy Odede as "one of the most joyful people I know." I love it when I stumble across people like this in my life (it seems to happen less and less often) so I knew I had to read his memoir. The brutal tales he tells about growing up in Kenya's largest slum are heartrending, and the miraculous success that he and Jessica have enjoyed with their projects is awe-inspiring. The SHOFCO organization they created speaks to what boldness and perseverance can accomplish. Meanwhile I'm stuck in my upper-lower-middle-class rut, but I still have hope I might find something to be passionate about and attack it with just a fraction that Mr. Odede displayed. I would recommend this book to anyone.
Wow! This book was full of so much suffering but so much perseverance and hope! Deeply insightful look into extreme poverty in a slum in Kenya, and how one man dreamed and worked to change the futures of an entire community. Truly a must-read!
I enjoyed this book. Definitely worth reading. I am impressed with both these young author activists. Kennedy's prose is left fairly raw, showing his roots clearly in the writing. The story of hope feels good. At the same time, I am not in the least convinced that this SHOFCO effort is fundamentally different from the various NGO's Kennedy criticizes in the opening pages, most of which learned the same lessons about local leadership and ownership that he calls for decades ago. "Is this really a photo of stakeholder buy in, in the nice brochure, or one of buying stakeholders". Shofco is fueled by hard work, idealism and western donor funding. I question their repeated use of the term startup capital since there is clearly no prospect for any other sustained support (we can wait a decade or two and see if I am correct on this score I suppose, but I see no sustainable outcome in the offing based on the information provided in the book). Startup capital, by definition, is only given to entities with a profitable, or at least self supporting, operation planned in the future. No mention of such a future in this book. I fear that to keep enticing donors, new acronyms and new brick and mortar institutions will be required ad infinitem, at the expense of the long boring sustained education, empowerment and health care work, that should ideally be the Kenyan government's core business. Most of the really intractable problems and pitfalls of development projects are not mentioned in the book. The authors are presumably aware of these issues (though I am not sure since they don't mention many of them). Instead they chose to focus on the positive. Jeff Sach's millennium village efforts, for example, come to mind as rather similar to this effort, given the eventual broadening from girls primary education to everything but the kitchen sink (though environment doesn't seem to have come up yet). There is a cholera epidemic in Kibera as I type. This review is getting too long. Bottom line is that I wish these two energetic young idealists and their many followers all the success they can muster. A Wesleyan degree for one of their first students (nice speech!) would indeed provide a fine closure to the story, but my hope for these young students is rather different - valuable degrees and skills learned in Kenya, leading to jobs in Kenya for all of them - indeed even all girls who want them, in addition of course to the one lucky star at Wes.
Wow. Just wow. People like this are so amazing and inspiring. I really was in awe of this story and what they have built from the ground up. This was a good book, def worth reading.
One quote that I loved:
My mom shared some wisdom as we ate: “You have to know in this world that we live in, there are two things: God and small gods. You see, there is one God, but he is very, very busy. He has the problems of everyone in the world to worry about so don’t expect that he will get to yours anytime soon. Then, there are the people we meet. These people become our small gods, able to help us in our daily lives as we struggle along on our journeys.”
The partnership of Kennedy and Jessica has resulted in a successful model for positive change in challenged areas. They do not sugarcoat the problems but the combination of education for girls + social services for the community + clean water and improved sanitation = hope where there once was little of that. Their love story of two people from radically different cultures learning to connect and grow was also inspiring. I hope to read more of their story and the continuing story of the Shining Hope for Communities movement in the future.
This book is co-written by Kennedy Odede and Jessica Posner. Jessica is a young white American college student who travels to Kibera, a slum community in Kenya, as part of a semester abroad program. There she falls in love with local Kenyan activist Kennedy.
If that is all this book was, it would be a cliche....luckily there is quite a bit more to the story although some of the cliches are still there which is why I gave the book 4 rather than 5.
The book takes “turns” by sharing points of view: switching between Kennedy’s story of hunger and abuse in the slums to community organizer and Jessica’s story from young wealthy privileged college girl to Kennedy’s partner in the project. Together they build SHOFCO. SHOFCO starts as a small community center run by Kennedy and is transformed into a girls school and, later, health clinic, income generation, clean water, and community center.
The work they are doing is incredible and there is a lot of hope in the book. The four stars comes from two things: sometimes the style of the book is a bit clunky and could have used an editor. There were times I felt like I had already read a passage or an idea was already explored only to be reading the same thing again. The second thing is the first half of the book there is alot of discussion on the model of western aid and development....Kennedy and Jessica both express disapproval about the (often very problematic) issue of foreign aid. Yet, once Kennedy and Jessica start their project, it is funded almost entirely by foreign aid. There is no discussion on the reasons for the about face...no discussion about finding the balance between the foreign aid having a grassroots organization born in the community. I totally understand why they would seek/use/need foreign aid for the projects they are doing. But to be so down on it then just start taking it without exploring the issue bothered me. This is what made the book feel a bit more like a feel good story (cliche) and less like an honest examination of the struggles and ultimate triumphs that the writers have experienced.
All that to say, at the end of the day, this book is a powerful read and the authors should be commended for all their amazing work.
Kennedy is an amazing man. Growing up in Kibera, the biggest slum outside Nairobi, Kennedy was knocked down by hunger, lack of education and violence, yet he continued to get up again and again. He fought not only for himself, but for his family and everyone else around him in need.
As a young man, he organized a group of friends and started SHOFCO, an organization that works to empower the residents, particularly the women, he meets a dynamic young American woman named Jessica. Jessica arrives in Kenya to work with SHOFCO through Wesleyan University where she is a student. Jessica quickly develops a relationship with Kennedy and the people of Kibera. She helps Kennedy to come to America to attend college so that he can realize his dreams of helping the people of Kibera. Kennedy and Jessica begin to make plans for expanding SHOFCO. Together, they built a school, a community center, a clinic and a source for clean water in Kibera. They are continuing to expand services in Kibera and in other slums in Kenya and beyond.
The writing isn’t stellar, but the story sure is. This is one of those books that makes you just sick about what is happening to people in the slums. What a reminder of my privileged and safe and comfortable life. This book made me feel alternately sick at the suffering described and incredibly impressed and hopeful at the work Kennedy’s organization is doing.
I REALLY loved this book. It was definitely hard to read (while also being beautiful and profound), but I appreciate authors who can be honest and vulnerable, while not being dramatic or over the top. I wish I could explain it better. I truly could not put this book down, shared several of the stories with my husband and my children and will be thinking of it for weeks to come.
One of the best books I’ve read in a long time. It’s amazing what one person can achieve with the dreams and dedication and perseverance despite the circumstances that they’re born in. Like they say it only takes one person to start making a change
This book follows the story of two people: Jessica Posner and Kennedy Odede. The first part of the book follows their storylines independently, with each chapter alternating between each of their own perspectives. In Kennedy storyline, he is a young boy living in Kibera, the slums of Kenya. The plot is complex and fast paced. To name just a few of his eye opening experiences, Kennedy recounts physical abuse from his father, crime and drugs while living with a group of runaway boys, sexual abuse from a priest in exchange for money, books, and other resources, and instigating hope in his community by starting a community group with a twenty cent soccer ball. On Jessica's side, she recounts her experience living in Kenya with Kennedy. It focuses on the unfamiliarity of some aspects concerning slum life, and her relationship with Kennedy that unfolds chapter by chapter. Both chapters really shed a lot of light onto some of the things that we take for granted in first-world countries such as Canada. The second part intertwines their storylines even further, with the plot focusing more on development and hope. It begins with Kennedy moving to the US in order to seek education at Wesleyan University, and then goes onto describe the development of the organization Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO). SHOFCO is a grassroots organization led by Jessica and Kennedy that provides education and sanctuary for gifted young girls living in Kenyan slums.
I think this is one of the best books I have ever read. I guess five stars might be a little too much, so realistically I'd give it a 4.5 (there's no half star rating on Goodreads). If we look at this book a little more analytically, the diction and sentence structure were quite simple a lot of the time. The book lacked strong figurative language, and seemed very matter-of-fact in the tone. But the story superseded everything. Such a beautiful and emotional story, one you can hardly imagine is real. I can't put my finger on it, but something about this book evoked such strong passion and imagery. I would recommend this book to anyone and everyone, given that their comfortable with some of the harsh realities of African poverty (some readers may find the plot quite disturbing).
This book was quite fun to read. I really dug Kenendy's storyline in part one, because it was just so exciting and insightful. I honestly didn't love Jessica's story as much in part one, because at some points it was quite anticlimactic compared to Kennedy's plot. I found part two even better than the first part, because it contrasted the desolation in the first half so strongly. The entire second part radiated the type of warmth you expect a good book to. It was actually quite easy to understand because the vocabulary and sentence structures were all quite elementary. Regardless, an exciting and heart-warming story.
Past just the content of this book, which I could talk about for ages and ages, something I'm taking away from this month is that an interesting plot is the key to a good story. It's analogous to the beauty of haikus; they can be so simple and short, yet so beautiful. This story was simple in its expression, but somehow amazing. I think that often times when I am writing I focus too much on how I describe something that I forget to reflect upon the quality of the plot itself.
The opening begins with part of the poem “Invictus” by William Earnest Henley, with the final lines foretelling this stunning story of Kennedy and Jessica: “And yet the menace of the years/Finds and shall find me unafraid.” These two young people have managed to start two schools for young girls, a health facility, a water tower, a community center for economic empowerment, and numerous toilets throughout what is know as the largest slum in Africa, Kibera, on the edge of Nairobi. Thus far, a few leaders in other slums in Kenya are working to follow their path. You might find this story of hard work and determination difficult to believe, but my hope is that when you read, you will find your own inspiration for change, and the knowledge that when one persists with a dream, amazing things can happen. It’s a love story of two people meeting, two you might never imagine would meet, who’ve accomplished so much, all in their twenties. And that work is just starting. I’ve followed this story since its beginning because Jessica was a student at my school, and I know her family, had her brother in my class. I have told the story, and followed their blog, and been so proud to see what they are doing. Yet, until I read this whole story, I had no idea of the terrible poverty Kennedy faced, the courage that he, then Jessica, showed in order to carry their hopes and rather fantastical dreams so far. Here is one telling moment to share, among many. In one of the tiniest beginning threads, Kennedy, Jessica and a small group of friends gathered to talk of the needs of the Kibera slum. Kennedy is convinced that change can only happen from within a community. He says: “We are here to start a movement. A movement starts with urgency, when you have been pushed to a wall and all you can do is bounce back. That’s what we are doing here. We are bouncing back.” This group that gathers in a tiny shack in Kibera begin to develop a list of the challenges they face: crime, violence, domestic abuse, rape, hopelessness, sanitation. Then they write a second list of actions to counteract the problems. They have one pen, and one takes notes. It’s a story to read, to share and to celebrate!
4.5 I really love cultural / travel memoirs, and this was a really great one. Started listening to the audiobook this morning and couldn’t stop till it was done. The romance was really sweet and very real (after reading a bunch of romance novels realistic relationships now seem novel). I wish we would have seen a bit more of the beginning of the relationship from Odede’s perspective.
I loved Odede's sections best. His childhood, work in Kenya, and perspectives of life in the U.S. were amazing and eye opening. It also goes to prove that SATs and prior education don’t necessarily make a difference in how successful a person will be in University. All that really matters is determination and much of the bureaucracy involved in higher education is simply a system to keep the aristocracy in place. I don’t think this was necessarily this book’s message, but it is just a theory I have.
Jessica Posner took a while to grow on me. Her young self was pretty irritating, but she has accomplished a great deal as she got older. Unfortunately most of the memoir was focused on her early time in Kenya, and only covered her work with her school in the last few chapters (which was by far more interesting). My impression of her early on was that of a naïve pushy woman who couldn't seem to grasp that imposing herself on incredibly poor people might give them unnecessary strain and hardship, or even put them in danger (i.e. forcing herself on her host and accepting him take on many impositions because of this, staying in a dangerous neighborhood simply for the novelty against her friend's advice and putting her host in danger, not understanding why she couldn't stay in the slum after there were post election riots, etc.). She definitely made up for all this and more by helping Odede get a college scholarship in the U.S., starting her school for girls, and helping extremely hopeless people get justice and safety from sexual assault. Maybe her being pushy in the beginning was the only thing that made her later work possible.
This book was just what I needed to bring back a bit of hope for the future of our world. What Kennedy and Jessica were able to do together is nothing short of a miracle. That Kennedy could overcome the childhood he had and grasp onto education as his lifeline is a beautiful story. The right kind of charity is a fully community effort with local leaders. All charitable organizations could learn valuable lessons from this insightful book.
I absolutely love this book because it shows that not everyone is born into a good life. People are not always lucky to have a home and food. People are not always going to have a friendly neighborhood where the neighbors are welcoming. Kennedy and Jessica have proved that though there are still going to be communities and gangs that don't agree with what you are doing, you can still do it if you believe that there is a point in doing it. I love that they made a difference in Kenya. They showed that the women can do something and they are worth something other than selling out their bodies for food and money. They proved that the kindergarten girls are smart (the other grades are too) and have better learning qualities than the average 3rd grader . Jessica and Kennedy are just absolutely amazing in writing this book. Telling their life in how they met in the chapters the becoming close and telling it together. Kennedy originally telling his life struggles from the past to the present and Jessica telling about her life and what she's doing. At the end of this book Jessica and Kennedy build a school in kiberia called, "Kiberia the school for girls." It is amazing what people can do these days with grants and foundations. I am especially happy with the 50,000 grant from Paul Newman. That grant was able to add a clinic for the school of girls and build a safe house for long term or short term visits and stays. The girls at the school are very smart, but it makes me sad that Jessica and Kennedy were not able to admit all of them into the school. This book has to be my favorite by far this summer.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Find Me Unafraid is an inspiring non-fiction book about an African man named Kennedy Odede and a college student named Jessica Posner who come from completely different worlds but work together to bring positive change to the slums of Kibera. They meet and fall in love when Jessica travels to Africa to volunteer for an organization that Kennedy created called Shining Hope for Communities. The story explores Kennedy’s tragic childhood and how his struggles motivate him to push for change in his community. Initially, Jessica struggles to find her place in this new and foreign world. As they work together, Jessica and Kennedy develop a strong relationship with a common goal in mind to empower the long mistreated women of Kibera and help improve overall living conditions for an impoverished community. I have read many books about the harsh realities of life in different parts of the world; however, what stood out to me is the extraordinary hope this story inspires. Even against seemingly impossible odds, Kennedy and Jessica keep pushing forward, fighting for their dream of a safer, more educated, and healthier community. The story gives perspective to how cruel life can be yet how beautiful it can be when people work together to change it. I think the most important message conveyed by the story is that it’s possible for significant community change to be accomplished by just a couple of young yet passionate individuals. This book is a fascinating and inspirational read for any teenager or adult. I would give this book a rating of 10/10.
This book certainly gave me a window into the nexus of drive, luck, and privilege that is behind turning a passionate idea into a reality. Aspects of this book made me incredibly uncomfortable, particularly the dance around how involved someone coming from obvious connection and privilege can and should be involved in social empowerment of another's community. Sometimes money was refused on those grounds and at others it was welcomed. It is a difficult dance for certain, but as it is a work of non-fiction, how things developed reflected their reality and who am I to question that? I was engaged throughout the book and devoured it within twelve hours. I was extremely interested in Kennedy and Jessica's effort to empower the girls and women in the largest Kenyan slum. I wish however, that I would've gotten more of a sense of Jessica's life and thoughts. I feel like the book really delved deeper into Kennedy's story. Many of the sections I was interested in were glossed over and I wanted a more in depth account. I suppose it was the structure that caused me the most difficulty. It was like two books were compressed into one: the building of an NGO and a fascinating love story. I wanted fair time given to both, and I feel like a lot was sacrificed in each area. Nonetheless, both Kennedy and Jessica are fascinating and inspiring people and I am incredibly moved by their efforts to forge change.