Odede’s extra-ordinary work that saw President Uhuru award him a HSC

Monday, December 21st, 2020 00:00 |
SHOFCO CEO Kennedy Odede

Kennedy Odede has always been the bearer of good news for a population that rarely gets such, the slum community.

A man who has dedicated his life to feeding, educating and treating millions of this population for free yet he's not rich, just kind-hearted.

And as the saying goes…no good deed goes unrewarded, Odede was the recipient of good news last week when he was awarded the Head of State Commendation (HSC) by President Uhuru Kenyatta for his unique contribution to the society.

In a Kenya Gazette notice dated December 18, 2020, the Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO) founder and CEO was among 158 eminent Kenyans warded the HSC which is reserved for people who exhibit exemplary qualities, or achievements of heroism, patriotism or leadership, made an exemplary contribution to the country in the economic, scientific, academic, sports, journalism, business, security or other fields.

Odede was recognised for his incredible work in Kenyan urban slums during the Covid-19 period.

This is the second time the Head of State is recognising the SHOFCO boss this year, having mentioned him during his Mashujaa Day celebration speech on October 20 in Kisii County.

For starters, Odede has served as a member of the National Covid-19 Emergency Response Fund board which was tasked with mobilising resources for an emergency response towards containing the spread, effects and impact of the pandemic

However, unbeknownst to many, Odede was doing much more behind the scenes than what was seen or heard in public.

At the height of the coronavirus pandemic, Odede came through for all 14 urban slums SHOFCO has a presence in Nairobi, Kisumu and Mombasa in a way even the government could not manage.

Since March, they organised several training opportunities for Community Health Volunteers through partnerships with the Ministry of Health and other Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs).

Once this was done, they armed the volunteers with free masks, soaps and sanitizers as they went door-to-door educating the slum population on the need to take precaution against the deadly virus.

It also helped that SHOFCO have a database of the slum dwellers and the volunteers live in the area.

“The coronavirus messaging was so westernised; it did not work for people who live in informal settlements. We needed a radically different approach. Information had to come from people they trust, either religious leaders or local people on the ground. That is how we managed to contain the virus,” Odede said in April.

It did not end there. SHOFCO installed 301 handwashing stations at entry points in each of the 14 slums they work in, brought in tens of millions of litres of free water, and with the help of other partners, sourced over 400,000 bars of soaps for distribution.

The organisation also reached close to 2 million households in slums with their free masks and sanitisers. With this, the fear among the government and the general population that slums would be the hardest hit by the pandemic due to their unique challenges such us lack of running water, masks, and the inability to practice social distancing was quickly extinguished.

If anything, it is the suburbs who were, and still do, report more cases of new Covid-19 infections than slums, all thanks to Odede’s SHOFCO.

With the hygienic measures in place and working, Odede went an extra mile, including food and cash relief to the programme, a big boost since most of these families had either lost jobs or had their businesses suffering.

“Most people here do menial jobs and when the pandemic struck, they lost them. Because they live from hand to mouth, it was difficult to get food and pay rent. Escaping to the village was not possible due the cessation of movement in and out of Nairobi that was in place from March to July and so depression set in. This is how they commit suicide or domestic violence and so the relief food and cash helped a great deal,” Julia Njoki, a SHOFCO volunteer in Mathare told this writer in September.

With schools also closed due to the pandemic, there was also the added burden of more mouths to feed for parents who can hardly afford two meals a day.

For most parents in the informal settlements, school is always the saviour as their children get lunch at the institutions and they only have to worry about one meal.

But Odede came to the rescue again. Over 600 children, who attend SHOFCO's School for Girls in Kibera and Mathare, have had an unrestricted access to free meals at the institutions during the entire period that schools have been closed.

While the country’s leadership has been bickering as those in positions of power plunder public resources meant to treat and cushion the citizens against Covid1-9 and its effects, Odede used the little he had to make a major difference among millions of Kenya’s most vulnerable population.

You wonder what he could have done if he had more. “I want to thank His Excellency President Uhuru Kenyatta for this award. I did not expect it. It is an indication that he has seen what we have done in the communities during this pandemic period," said Odede, upon receiving the HSC.

As he says, he was not expecting it, because it has never been about him but about a community that is so dear to his heart.

Odede has been doing this since 2004 when he founded SHOFCO as a way of giving back to society after overcoming a tough childhood from the informal settlement of Kibera, Kenya and Africa’s largest slum.

SHOFCO is now a grassroots movement that catalyses large-scale transformation in urban slums by providing critical services for all, community advocacy platforms, education and leadership development for women and girls.

Odede’s challenge now is that while he has been doing so much under the radar, the HSC award now props him into public light, perhaps adding the weight of expectations?

What is certain, however, is that he is not about to stop. If anything, he was already planning ahead even before the President feted him.

The SHOFCO CEO is among Kenyans who have been vocal about Kenya getting its house in order as far as the Covid-19 vaccine is concerned.

Until last week, when Kenya announced that it plans to order 24 million doses of the vaccine, Odede had been concerned about the muted approach the country had taken on the issue and even proposed a synchronized approach involving government and private sector which will help in distribution once the vaccine lands in the country, cutting out cartels and ensuring those who really need it get it.

The slum community was also not far away from his mind, expressing his desire to see this population among those first in line due to their unique challenges while also being ready to use SHOFCO resources and networks to help the government distribute the Covid-19 vaccine in the informal settlements.

The HSC award comes just days after Odede was named the Star Person of the Year after the slum community nominated him following the advice and help he offered them during the dark period of the pandemic.

He has also won numerous international awards such as the 2018 the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize, 2014 People’s Choice Award for Outstanding Social Entrepreneur, Muhammed Ali Humanitarian Award among others.   

And given he is not about to stop supporting the slum community, a lot more are surely lined up.

Congratulations, Kennedy Odede, HSC.

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