Growing Sustainable Communities in Kibera Through Youth Empowerment
By Victor Odhiambo, Founder and Executive Director Garden of Hope Foundation
The story of the Garden of Hope Foundation began with a burning desire to bring hope to the youth in one of Africa's largest informal settlements, Kibera.
I grew up in this very slum. Faced the same challenges and understood the hopelessness that often engulfs young minds in such an environment. This personal connection fueled my determination to make a difference.
Growing up in Africa's second-largest urban informal settlement, with a population of over 178,000 people living on an average of $1 a day, is not a walk in the park.
I remember growing up, I was sent home from school several times because my parents couldn’t afford to pay my $5 per month school fees. One meal a day was normal. I experienced a lot of violence, crime and drug addiction. Growing up in Kibera, I witnessed firsthand the challenges and hopelessness that young people face daily.
Bringing new hope to my community
I started the Garden of Hope Foundation in 2014 as a way to support my community. Initially, we supported vulnerable women and girls to get access to menstrual products and education. However, as I continued implementing the project, I realised that supporting a community needed a more holistic approach.
I saw first-hand the number of young people in Kenya who couldn’t attend school because of poverty, often ending with them engaging in negative behaviours, such as drug abuse, violence, and crime. I had the opportunity to attend school through a scholarship, which opened doors for me and changed my life. I set up a scholarship programme through the Garden of Hope Foundation that paid for recipients' tuition fees, school uniforms, and school supplies. In the beginning, I supported one student. Today, I support 40 students in gaining access to education.
Alongside our scholarship programme, the Garden of Hope Foundation provides training programmes and education opportunities to young people and women living in urban informal settlements and rural areas, giving them the skills and opportunities to become leaders in their communities. These programmes include leadership training, where individuals are encouraged to actively participate in and initiate development initiatives in their communities, economic empowerment courses which teach young people entrepreneurship skills, and mentorship opportunities, where individuals can have an in-depth discussion around issues affecting their lives and future careers.
The power of One Young World
I joined the One Young World Community as a Delegate at the 2018 Summit at The Hague. Since then, the Garden of Hope Foundation has seen significant progress. The connections established at the Summit have opened doors to strategic partnerships with like-minded organisations, amplifying the reach and impact of our programmes. Through the network I built at the Summit, the Garden of Hope Foundation has gained access to invaluable resources, including mentorship programmes, training modules, and funding opportunities, allowing us to elevate our advocacy efforts.
Seeing our impact every day
The impact of our work is visible in the lives of the youth we serve. Our programmes currently support 20,000 youth directly and a further 15,000 youth indirectly. We have seen young minds flourish academically, develop leadership skills, and create sustainable livelihoods through entrepreneurship. We've witnessed remarkable success stories of individuals who have risen above their circumstances. We have expanded our educational and economic empowerment programmes, currently keeping 143 students in school annually and supporting over 5,200 youth to get access to sustainable employment opportunities.
We aspire to reach even more young people in Kibera and beyond. We want to expand our educational initiatives, offer more vocational training opportunities, and foster an environment where youth are not just beneficiaries but active contributors to the development of their community. We see an environment where youth are actively taking leadership positions.
Overcoming the challenges we face
One significant challenge I face in my leadership role is securing funding and resources to support our programmes. There's a tremendous demand for our services, but resources can be scarce. To overcome this challenge, we have adopted a multifaceted approach. We actively sought partnerships with organisations that shared our mission. We also engaged in effective fundraising and grant-writing efforts to ensure the sustainability of our initiatives. Through persistence and dedication, we've been able to secure the necessary resources to continue our work.
My advice to young leaders
To my fellow young leaders, my advice to you is to stay true to your vision. Be passionate, resilient, and adaptable in the face of challenges; COVID-19 was a real test for us. Collaborate with others who share your goals and seek mentorship from those with experience. Remember that creating meaningful change takes time, and every small step matters. Never underestimate the impact you can have on the lives of others.
How can you support the Garden of Hope Foundation?
I invite the One Young World Community to support the Garden of Hope Foundation mission.
Share our story and impact with your network.
Connect with us via LinkedIn to explore potential collaborations or partnerships.
Visit our website to learn more about our organisation and consider donating to directly contribute to the education and empowerment of vulnerable youth in Kibera.