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A Special Series for the 2015 Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship

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An Education at the Kibera University of Life

An Education at the Kibera University of Life

March 19, 2015 | 3538 views

I am a strong believer in the idea that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. This perspective has helped me accept the challenges in my life.

I learned long ago that there is no way you can move forward without facing the obstacles that life puts in front of you. You either let hardship grind you down or build you up. I chose a long time ago to let it build me up, to know that every struggle that I overcame was an accomplishment, every day I lived a success in itself.

I don’t believe in focusing on the past, but the past makes up part of the challenges of the present. Whatever the past holds should be used to help us face the struggles of the present.

I confronted many hardships in my life and for many years even my most basic needs were not guaranteed. I never knew where my next meal would come from.

Almost every one of my close friends lost their lives to bullets. Growing up you never knew where the bullet would fall next. I don’t want to live through that again.

But it did make me stronger. I often tell people that growing up in the Kibera slums of Nairobi, Kenya, was for me an education at the Kibera University of Life.

The lessons I learned growing up in Kibera taught me to appreciate life in many ways. I’ve learned that lives are not numbers. Seeing so many people die in Kibera showed me how every single death represents the loss of a beautiful and complex individual.

So many deaths of my friends and loved ones in Kibera were preventable, if only there were better opportunities and services. Many died solely because they were cursed by the plight of being born into poverty.

Right now my life has shifted and I no longer have to struggle daily to meet my basic needs. Even though this is the case now, I don’t take anything for granted.

Life is short and I want my time to have an impact in other people’s lives. That’s what leadership is all about. And it’s this view that informs me that leadership is always a responsibility and not a question of status. A leader is a servant of the people. Great leaders remind themselves of the difficulties they have overcome in order to strengthen their commitment to their cause.

Since I am now fortunate enough to no longer wonder where my next meal will come from, I need to use my successes to help build up others in my own community.

Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO), which I started with a soccer ball and 20 cents I earned working in a factory, is a monument to turning hardship into success. I started SHOFCO because I could not accept the way things were.

I was able to grow SHOFCO to the organization it is today, serving almost 50,000 people in Kibera and Mathare, because I never let poverty break me down. I saw urban promise where others saw only urban poverty.

SHOFCO has succeeded because we never let the hardships of the past break us down. Instead we have used our own struggles to strengthen our community as we tackle the challenges of the future.


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